photo by rpongsaj
Edit: Since writing this article, I’ve learned that the escalator I was writing is the third longest continuous span escalator in the world. I think I feel justified in my fear (even though I’ve overcome it).
When riding the elevator Wednesday morning, I realized how far I’ve come since I applied for the job. I used to have a paralyzing fear of escalators. On the hot August morning I interviewed, I nearly fainted as I was riding up from the insanely deep station.
Now, I ride it easily, I can even walk up and down the stairs if I want. I don’t panic and I hardly even think of falling (though I’m careful).
How did I change all this? The biggest part was doing it every morning and every night. I got used to it and the fear went away. But in order to be able to ride in the first place, I practiced a few different psychological hacks.
First, take the fear seriously and consider the consequences.
If you’re afraid of something, there’s probably a reason it’s scary. I’m not advocating becoming enslaved by your fear, but I found that taking this one seriously helped.
Here’s how. I thought about what might happen if I fell. I came up with this scenario:
- I fall.
- The higher up I am, the more people are behind me.
- The more people are behind me, the more people will break my fall.
- So I’m actually protected by a cushion of people.
It’s not perfect, but it worked. Since I travel during rush hour, it’s not hard to have dozens of people behind me by the time I’m halfway up. Eventually I stopped needing this, but it was a good start.
Second, use humor.
Before going to work, I’d periodically consider my favorite comedy routines by such entertainers as Mitch Hedberg or Ellen. I’d focus on those funny thoughts instead of what was going on.
If it works for you, you can focus on puppies and kittens or The Office or Office Space or whatever else makes you smile and laugh.
Third, focus on the people around you.
If you’re the creative type, make up stories about them. Is that guy in the suit a boring patent attorney? Maybe he pretends to be, but he’s actually a secret spy who saved the world last week.
Maybe the lady is a high-powered executive who strips by night (ok, that was weird but you get the idea).
Fourth, practice prayer and meditation.
Whether by calming your mind or focusing on peace with God, meditation and prayer are excellent ways to handle your fears. I enjoy the songs of the Taize community–meditative peaceful chants. A simple mantra, a hymn, a piece of scripture, a poem, even a breath can calm you down and help you get through the scary situation.
In the end…
It all comes down to practice. If you practice things like riding the escalator (or elevator for those of us who are claustrophobic), you’ll get better at it.
These may not work for all fears and some fears are quite justifiable. But give them a try next time you’re trying to get over an irrational fear!