Irrational Fears And How To Overcome Them

comicbook man running with fear
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Once upon a time, a team of explorers discovered a remote, uninhabited island surrounded by turquoise waters. 

They set up shop there and soon realized that the island had all the makings of a veritable paradise: an endless supply of fruits and veggies, pristine water to drink from, agreeable weather and breathtaking scenery.

Needless to say, things were looking up!

During the daytime, the explorers collected samples of flora species to examine in their makeshift lab on the beach. At nighttime, they huddled around a campfire a wild boar pinioned above crackling flames (AKA dinner) singing ABBA songs and counting their lucky stars over their groundbreaking discovery.

But soon, in the middle of the night, they heard a war cry coming from deep within the inland forest a BOOM BOOM BOOM of jungle drums like the footsteps of a giant. These were the drums of an undiscovered indigenous tribe that wished to remain undiscovered. It communicated to the intruder-explorers that their presence was totally unwelcome.

The booms were slow at first, resonant and roughly three seconds apart. But soon, they grew louder and quicker and became so intense, in fact, that you could feel them reverberating inside of you…

jungle floor with trees and mist

WELCOME TO MY HUMBLE ABOBE

This is what it feels like in my new LA condo 😳

Hubbie and I are the explorers.

Our upstairs neighbor is the tribe showing us who’s the fucking boss.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

Have you ever lived below Godzilla? I mean, below neighbors that don’t give a fuck so they walk like elephants and jump around like monkeys?

Welcome to my life!

After purchasing our condo in May of 2020, Hubbie and I have been subjected to these thuds daily. It’s challenging to work from home, to study, to record music, or do anything that requires the quiet enjoyment of our home.

So yeah, it sucks wrinkly balls, but we’re hopeful that the decisions we make to address this situation will lead us to improved conditions.

One potential decision is to move on.

Not to sell our condo (because we love it except for the constant thudding), but to rent it out to qualified candidates and hope/pray/conspire-with-the-universe that these individuals will take good care of it.

And it’s oh so scary!

DECIDOPHOBIA

In 1973, a professor at Princeton University coined the term “decidophobia”: the fear of making [bad] decisions.

Decidophobia has a cousin nicknamed FOMO: fear of missing out.

The nickname I’d like to use for decidophobia is FOFU: fear of fucking up.

When we allow fear to take the reins of this sled ride we call Life, we become decidophobics.

And this is no bueno.

DANGER & FEAR

There’s nothing wrong with flagging the unknown as “dangerous.”

For example, I don’t know what the vibes are in Venezuela these days, but the last time I checked it had one of the highest murder rates per capita in the world. Do you think I’m going to stroll down the streets of Caracas anytime soon?

Nah. I’m good.

Although I love Venezuelan arepas and pabellón, I don’t love them enough to get murdered.

Besides, I hear Croatia’s really nice in the springtime. I hear they don’t get murdered as much over there. So why not opt for this destination?

But then I think to myself, am I being irrational? I run this by the devil’s-advocate-voice in my head, which sounds eerily like my husband’s:

Is skipping Venezuela for fear of getting shot (or kidnapped and then getting shot) completely ridiculous?

If you think I’m being irrational, then by all means, prove me wrong!

I hear Air Conviasa has some good deals to Caracas these days. Let me know how it goes, will you?

arepas on a grill

THE LIKELIHOOD OF NEGATIVE OUTCOMES

How do we gauge the likelihood of negative outcomes?

Why is it rational to avoid a trip to Venezuela and irrational to fear a trip to Croatia? Maybe someone’s Venezuela is someone else’s Croatia.

My landlord friends tell me that I must let go of my irrational fear of “shitty renters.”

But I can’t help it! As someone who’s worked in property management for years, it’s hard to be objective about this: I’ve experienced first-hand the wrath of negligent renters.

Hell, I’ve been a negligent renter back in the day, when I was living in New York City and had mice for pets.

When responsibility isn’t fully yours to own, then why give a fuck?

As a negligent renter, you let the ants take over the kitchen. You facilitate the growth of mold in the bathroom ceiling. You smoke weed that seeps into the vents and blows into your neighbor’s apartment.

What ends up happening — say, from the perspective of someone who’s on the verge of becoming a landlord — is that we make a conservative choice to remove the element of surprise (because we don’t like being blindsided by the unexpected.)

In my “irrational thought process” about renting my condo unit to strangers, this is what removing the element of surprise sounds like:

Finding renters for my home is risky as fuck because what if they’re shitty renters who let ants take over and let baby mold flourish into grown-up black mold (that could potentially KILL ME by inhaling it down the road) and smoke weed all day long, which, in turn, will cause me to suffer migraines of biblical proportions?

Therefore, I should withstand the thuds coming from my upstairs neighbor because this is the lesser evil. 

Right?

CONSERVATIVE CHOICES

This article cites a 2008 study that measured a diverse group of participants and their physiological responses to threat.1 The study purports that there are distinct personality features between liberals and conservatives. The liberal participants “own more books and travel-related items, [whereas] conservatives had more things that kept order in their lives, like calendars and cleaning supplies.”

In other words, fear often leads to conservative choices. 

We choose what’s convenient and comfortable over what might be inconvenient and uncomfortable.

But how will we know whether or not these are inconvenient or uncomfortable choices unless we make them?

REVERSING YOUR TRAIN OF THOUGHT

Fear is one badass motherfucker.

It’s been my biggest foe up until this point and will probably hold on to its title for years to come.

But I haven’t been lazy about it.

I’ve worked on my fears with the conviction of a saint. I’ve chipped away at it with the vitality of an Amish farm boy. And yet, I find that it can still paralyze me at the drop of a hat.

It’s as if our fears have become deeply ingrained within us that they’re practically woven into our DNAs.

We become the fearmongers that we fear.

Eventually, we’ll pass along these fears to our children, who will pass it along to theirs and so forth, until future generations are comprised of anxiety-ridden Earth-dwellers who avoid taking risks for fear of failing and further dangers.

That is, unless we can do something about it.

SELF-AWARENESS & FEAR

What’s “irrational fear” and how’s it different from “rational fear?”

According to Healthresearchpolicy.org, irrational fears aren’t just “absurd” fears. “What separates [irrational] fears from rational [ones] is that the amount of fear or reaction you have is exaggerated, as what you fear is highly likely to be harmless or has a low risk of occurring.”

(Hint: if the threat of death seems unlikely, the balance scales of fear could be weighing heavier on the irrational side.)

One way to counteract the effects of irrational fear is to practice self-awareness.

After all, when we lose our shit, we don’t always have the luxury of someone else pointing it out to us. So we should strive to become self-reliant in this regard.

But how?

man with confused look on his face

LOOKING INWARDLY

Ask yourself:

How often do I make a statement starting with the words, “I’m afraid of…?”

How regular is my use of sentences beginning with the phrase, “I worry that…?”

When you hear these words or see them on paper, STEP ON THE BREAKS.

Switch gears from “D” to “R.”

Reverse your train of thought.

Get into this habit in real-time.

Try rephrasing your statement so that, “I’m afraid of heights” becomes, “heights make me feel unsettled because______,” and then fill in the blank.

In the written part of this exercise, strike through the phrase, “I worry that my partner will leave me,” and rewrite it to, “I must consider the possibility that my partner will leave me.” (This is all hypothetical, of course, but just roll with it.)

Why do you think your partner’s going to leave you?

Is this an irrational fear because of your insecurities?

Or is it a rational one because you cheated on your partner with your ex, who’s also cheating on their partner, thus entangling you in a deceitful web of cheating?

In the first scenario, you are the innocent fly trapped in spider silk (it doesn’t matter whether or not your insecurities are justified.)

In the second scenario, you are the tarantula inching towards the fly.

FEAR IN THE THIRD PERSON VOICE

When you evaluate your fears from a detached perspective, particularly in the third-person voice, this not only helps to shed a brighter light on the roots of your feelings. It also paves a way towards resolution.

This is called open-ended thinking. It’s answering your fears via elaboration, by digging deeper. It’s saying, “I’m afraid because______,” and not “I’m afraid because [period].”

Your fears, both rational and irrational, have underlying causes.

What are they?

Don’t stop until you’ve exhausted all possible avenues.

Dig ever deeper:

Looking over the edge makes me feel dizzy.

Feeling dizzy is no bueno.

Therefore, I’m afraid of heights.

But have you tried not looking over the edge?

When you explore all possible explanations as to the root cause of your irrational fears, you’re one step closer to overcoming them.

You could also try one of my favorite journaling exercises. Begin a new entry with the following phrase:

I’m afraid of______.

And allow the words to flow.

When you’ve finished, put away your journal and come back to it only when you’ve had some time to clear your mind. When you’re ready, grab a red pen and go back to it. Read over what you wrote and edit your words by negating whatever fearful statements are written down on the page.

For example, “I’m afraid of heights” becomes “I’m not afraid of heights because______.” And even if you make some shit up — even if it doesn’t quite fix things right then and there practicing this (and reading the edited version out loud) can lay the groundwork to overcoming your irrational fears when they once again rise to the surface.

By contrast, if you’re in the habit of dishing out close-ended statements peppered in fear, such as “I’m afraid of heights just because [period],” it leaves little room for contemplation. One effectively removes the why ingrained in that particular fear. One makes the subconscious choice to “leave it at that.”

Perhaps it’s painful to review why we fear such things, regardless of whether they are rational or irrational.

But we must try.

feet dangling in the air with tall buildings below

HOW TO OVERCOME IRRATIONAL FEARS

Ever heard of the phrase, “Do something that scares you?”

I’m a big believer in this.

Scared of heights? Find the nearest cliff and stand at the edge!

Don’t look down if it’s too scary at first. Instead, look up! Or close your eyes! Do whatever you can to get your mind out of the frightening place it tends to go.

Practicing self-awareness and rationalizing your response to fear (by journaling or discussing openly with your loved ones) can do wonders.

Also, these steps should help you get started.

And about renting my condo unit to strangers? I guess I’ll just have to take a leap of faith.

Who knows?

I might get lucky.

  1. Oxley et al. (2008, Sep 19). Political attitudes vary with physiological traits. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18801995/
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