Fear is one of the most powerful, controlling emotions that we can all relate to. Whether you're afraid of thunderstorms, the dentist, or losing a loved one, fear can control our everyday decisions and, ultimately, our lives. And naturally, we go out of our way to avoid the things we fear most.

But when the intensity of the fear turns into anxiety or a phobia, it becomes problematic. If you have a phobia, you may benefit from doing exposure therapy with a professional. Exposure therapy is based around a hierarchy of feared situations, starting from the easier, less stressful ones to the most challenging fears you can imagine. You start with the more approachable ones first, and over time, work your way up to the harder ones. Many people find comfort in knowing that there's a plan for working progressively through their fears.

Alongside working with an experienced therapist, here are 7 suggestions that can help you overcome your worst fears.

  1. Start small. Let yourself sit with your fear for a few minutes at a time.  Start with situations that are slightly challenging but manageable. For someone with a vomit phobia, that might include reading an article that mentions vomit or nausea. Over time the more complex situations appear more approachable. The goal is to deal with any situation that might reasonably arise, without excessive distress and without running away.

  2. Use humor. If you perceive your fear with humor, you trick your mind into looking at it differently. For example, if your worst fear is snakes, try verbalizing your fears in a funny voice. Or envision a ridiculous, worst-case scenario.

  3. Do it on purpose. Exposing ourselves to fear with purpose and making the conscious decision to engage your fears, rather than waiting for frightening things to happen to you. Anticipating and waiting for your fears to happen is a nerve-wracking way of tackling them. Intention and purpose give you more control and predictability, making the entire process more effective.

  4. Repeat. It's no doubt that a single exposure takes courage, but it's unlikely that it'll dismantle our fear entirely. Just like flying on a plane one time per year won't eliminate your fear of flying. To conquer your fear, you'd need to fly repeatedly and frequently. 

  5. Expect ups and downs. Some days will be better than others. Our reactions and progress depend on many factors, and it won't always be the same. Go easy on yourself through the ups and downs, and remember to find time to relax in the meantime.

  6. Record your progress. Try keeping a journal over a couple of weeks and recognize any patterns you notice. Do you start sweating every time your doorbell rings? Do you tend to feel more anxious in the morning or before bed? How do you react or respond to your fears when they arise? Note anything that seems significant. Transferring your fear patterns and symptoms into writing can help demystify them. They are no longer so substantial and insurmountable.

  7. Visualize. Often recommended for tackling fears, visualization asks you to imagine yourself in a situation confidently facing your fear, whatever it is. Try to be as detailed as possible. If you're afraid of taking tests, visualize what it would feel like to sit in your seat confidently, what your pencil would feel like, who's sitting next to you, and so on. Your mind doesn't know the difference between what's real and what's imagined, so you'll respond as if it were actually happening.

If you feel you need more support, working with a licensed therapist may be beneficial. They can help you better understand your fears, and guide you along the process of overcoming them.