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Steps to Overcome Your Fears: Mrs. Micah Redux

photo by rpongsaj

This is a post from November which I’d like to share again, since fewer people were reading back then. It describes something I found quite useful. The escalator I describe is apparently the 3rd longest contiguous escalator (in the world?). Darn long anyway.

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:

  1. I fall.
  2. The higher up I am, the more people are behind me.
  3. The more people are behind me, the more people will break my fall.
  4. 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!

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May 21, 2008 at 12:22 pm

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Vered May 17, 2008 at 12:42 pm

Was it Eleanor Roosevelt who said that we should do something that scares us every day? Stepping out of our comfort zone is an important part in achieving personal growth. These are great tips – thank you.

Susan May 17, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Mrs. Micah, I love this, and I can totally identify – just in a different setting. My irrational fears crop up when I go for singing auditions. I get that flight or fight response – heart racing, shallow breathing, dry mouth, shaky hands – which is not conducive to the best singing. And it only happens with singing auditions, not cold readings from a script, not dance.

It’s all a frustrating, mental game, I know.I do little exercises like s-l-o-w, deep breathing, thinking about something funny, or repeating a phrase over and over, like “You are going to do great!” That, and a prayer before facing the casting panel, seems to bring my nerves down to a manageable level!

David Carter May 17, 2008 at 11:33 pm

I used to (still do a little) have a fear of failure. I wouldn’t even do things that I wanted to try because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to accomplish much and then I would have lost my efforts and possibly time/money.
I have overcome this a lot, not by using any of these tips I just got over it, not sure how. I actually started my own online business and blog and am looking into other things.
These were small steps something like buying real estate property still scare me. lol looking at possible consequences might not help for that one.

fathersez May 18, 2008 at 12:14 am

I have had feelings of real fear when I find myself alone in unfamiliar outstation driving in Ghana and it became night.

On occassions like this I use prayer.

Shilpan | May 18, 2008 at 11:41 am

Mrs. Micah,

You have an awesome blog and this post. I like metaphors and examples. You have effectively used your own experience to teach us how to transcend fear into a positive experience.

Needless to say, I’ve subscribed to your blog.

Please visit my blog when you get a chance.

Funny about Money May 18, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Wow! Good for you…that’s quite an accomplishment. It’s not easy to work yourself out of a fear, whether it’s a reasonable one or not.

Moi, I hate elevators, having been in one that fell 11 floors before we passengers managed to stop it by pushing buttons. To this day, I’ll walk up several flights of steps unless there’s no way to find the stairs.

Emily @ Taking Charge May 19, 2008 at 4:26 pm

Yikes — that sounds like the escalator in one of the DC subways — it seriously feels neverending! I really like all your ideas to overcoming fears. I have weird little fears like that as well, and some of the things you mentioned I’d heard of, but had never thought about making up stories about people around me or thinking about Mitch Hedberg (RIP) jokes. Love the ideas! Congrats on overcoming your fears.

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