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Courage is Calling: How to Face Your Fears

Everyone has fears. There’s arachnophobia, the fear of spiders; claustrophobia, the fear of confined spaces; and coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. But these are phobias—intense, irrational, often paralyzing fears triggered by a certain object or situation. A person may know their phobia isn’t warranted, but can’t help feeling extremely anxious when confronted.

Unlike these phobias, though, most people’s fears wouldn’t make very riveting horror movies. “Sometimes we fear the creaky sounds the house makes at night, but most people more commonly relate to the universal fears of abandonment, loss of identity or meaning, death, sickness, or pain,” explains Hannah Zackney, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner/director of Heart Wide Open Wellness (, a holistic counseling center.

Unlike a phobia, a rational fear is “a real and possible concern that requires a mindful approach to a potentially dangerous event or object,” she says, adding that her clients often know exactly what “big issue” they need to address, but are convinced if they face it, they’ll unravel irreparably. However, inaction often leads to a life of regrets.

“Many of my clients have the ‘fear of not being enough.’ Not smart enough. Not articulate enough. Not a good enough partner,” adds professional life coach Jenifer Novak, founder of Fully Expressed Living ( “These basic fears aren’t unique, but the person is so absorbed in their own story, they can’t see outside of it.”

Sharing our fears with a therapist, a good friend, or a support group is extremely powerful, because they can remind us how normal our thinking is, Zackney says.

Sometimes you must face your fears head on.


Fear in itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s a basic human emotion that is triggered when we sense danger—an internal warning signal that can protect us from harm. If we see a vicious-looking animal or smell smoke in the house, our fear response kicks in. But many common fears revolve around what others might think of us. For example, we fear that if we admit we were wrong, someone won’t trust us again. Or that if we take a stand at work, we’ll be seen as bossy.
Our thoughts drive our fears, explains Novak. If you think a situation will have a negative consequence, your fear response is activated.

We can’t control our basic emotions, only how we respond. Novak describes fear as “information and an opportunity,” adding that what matters is what we do when we encounter it. Sometimes fear causes people to feel stuck, she says, but that’s an opportunity to reflect on what’s needed to move forward courageously. Likewise, Zackney describes fears as “beautiful invitations to uncover growth and potential.”

Sometimes you must face your fears head on. Exposure therapy is usually highly effective, but you have to focus on progress, not perfection, says Zackney.

“You’re scared to speak in public, so you find a safe space and practice,” she suggests. “You fear driving at night, so you begin practicing at dusk. A big or little step forward will do. Just make sure you’re moving toward your fear rather than running away from it.”

Novak agrees, calling it a journey, not a finish line to cross quickly. As a life coach, she addresses clients’ fears by asking questions, such as “What is the voice of fear saying compared to what the voice of courage is saying?” The “miracle question,” says Zackney, “is ‘What would I do or how would I act if I wasn’t afraid?’ The answer usually informs the client of the next step.”

Ready to tackle a fear? Novak suggests starting with a mindfulness approach. When you’re feeling fearful, “slow your breath. Notice only the inhale and exhale. Breathe in courage and breathe out fear. Notice if you feel different in your body. Notice the effect on your thinking.”

by Jennifer Maragoni