What I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Fear

Inside Out Movie

Fear. It’s a natural reaction caused by the body to keep oneself safe from danger. It’s an instinct. It’s what keeps people from walking straight into fires or jumping off cliffs. Fear only becomes a problem when your brain thinks you’re in danger when you are actually perfectly safe.

Name: Alexa Crowder
Gender: Female
Age: 14
City: Palo Alto

On the first day of school at Castilleja this year, Michelle Poler came to speak about fear. She spoke about her experiences conquering her fears and what she learned as a generally anxious and fearful person. I related to many of the things she said as if she had been describing my life. I’m somewhat of an expert on fear. It’s been in my life for almost as long as I can remember, and it usually comes for irrational reasons and at very inconvenient times.

I can remember feeling extremely anxious and uncomfortable as early as age four.

Sometime during preschool, I developed an extreme fear of fire drills. To be clear, I was not afraid of actual fires; just the drills.

I’ve never been able to understand exactly what made me so terrified of that alarm going off, but it quite literally consumed my life as a young kid.

At some points in elementary school, my fear was so extreme I would start crying if I saw a teacher with a red folder, because of the association to emergencies and alarms.

If two adults were talking, there was no doubt the subject was an upcoming fire drill. Some mornings, I would step out the door and declare it “smelled like a fire drill”. I seemed to believe fire drills were the center of everyone’s life, especially mine.

Of course, the “fire drill era” all seems very silly to me now, but I know it felt very real at the time, and it’s actually not very different from my recent fears and anxieties.

After the craziness with fire drills ended, I got a couple years of peace. But the summer before 7th grade, fear came back. It came in a tsunami-like wave of anxiety that lasts to this day. It surfaced with fears of eating, passing out, heart attacks, and other bodily problems. I started having panic attacks, and for a while, anxiety absolutely controlled my life.

Then, I started working very hard to combat it.

I put my mind to work, trying to get my brain to believe that I was safe. I started to develop ways to calm my brain and body when I felt anxious.

It felt like training my mind for the anxiety Olympics, constantly calming myself.

It required believing in myself and in the possibility that things would get better.

One thing I’ve learned to appreciate about fear is that I am the one who controls it.

This can either make you feel alone and hopeless or empowered and free.

There are no outside causes; the problem and the solution both come from you. It does not mean it’s your fault, it just means you have the ability to fix it. This is something I was too young to realize with my fear of fire drills, and it took me a long time to realize it with my new anxieties.

I try as often as I can to view fear as something I control, not something that controls me.

None of this means that I am completely fear-free or that my anxiety is gone and I do everything with complete self-assurance. Everything is definitely a work in progress and goes up and down very often. I still have to take deep breaths and talk to myself. I still avoid things every once in a while because I’m afraid my anxiety will get in the way.

Through my lifelong encounter with fear and anxiety, I’ve established enough confidence to trust myself, and that alone makes me feel very empowered.


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