How do you overcome a fear of living?
Overcoming the fear to live amidst the toxic positivity of a social media-fueled world
Long gone are the days of picking berries and skinning deer. We now spend less than an hour in the grocery store, trading the swipe of a card for our weekly food rations.
No more are the days, weeks, or months of waiting to receive word from a loved one who’s gone away. At the touch of a button, we immediately connect with folks on the other side of the globe. If we don’t hear from our mother, brother, or boyfriend for a few days or even a few hours, it’s cause for concern.
Technology intends to rid us of our time-consuming ways of the past, freeing us for more fulfilling endeavors. Yet despite liberating ourselves from the mundane to pursue more rewarding ventures, we now suffer from anxiety and depression. Those undergoing such issues become disconnected and reclusive because they feel ‘abnormal’.
Enough is enough
Longing for connection, Millennials spend their days behind screens, scrolling, liking, and commenting, too afraid of rejection to seek the real thing. They imagine the life they would lead if they could stop being so afraid.
I too used to lie in bed, scrolling through the feeds of nomadic women, dreaming of the day that I’d have the courage to live my wildest fantasy if only the fear would stop.
I’ll write from a little cafe from anywhere that isn’t America. I’ll climb into bed at night to be held by my foreign boyfriend. We’ll travel from place to place, experiencing different cultures. We’ll worry about one day at a time, instead of where we want to be in 5 years.
I’d snap back to reality, put on my pants, and shlep off to a job I didn’t love but didn’t hate. I’d spend my day at my desk wishing I could be brave like the women I see on Instagram, living their best lives.
One day, I’d finally had enough. I decided, “If I fail, I fail, but at least I’ll have tried.” I took small steps, crying with each of them, though less and less each time.
So how do you do it? How do you overcome a fear of living?
Accept your feelings
Mark Mason said it best in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck:
Back in Grandpa’s day, he would feel like shit and think to himself, “Gee whiz, I sure do feel like a cow turd today. But hey, I guess that’s just life. Back to shoveling hay.”
Today, when we feel like garbage, we immediately seek connection and reassurance. Thus we turn to our phones, sending texts, making calls, or looking at social media. We turn to Facebook and Instagram, forgetting that the celebratory Stories and posts are but small tidbits of someone’s life. In time, we become convinced that we are alone in our feelings. At best we view ourselves as weird. At worst, crazy.
This is due to “toxic positivity” — the concept that encouraging people to always view the bright-side is more harmful than helpful. Social media throws nothing but positivity at us, making us feel broken for being feeling like a “cow turd”.
Your grumpiness began because you penetrated your foot with a pitchfork whilst shoveling hay. Subsequently, you stumbled backward, plummeting into a giant, steaming pile of manure.
At the end of the day, you decide to catch up on your friend’s lives, secretly hoping for one to have had a worse day. After spending ten minutes engulfed in Facetagram, you emerge questioning every decision you’ve made since you were a wee tyke. Your bad day has now become a life crisis.
And thus the big first step: accept how you feel instead of trying to stop it. It’s okay to feel like shit sometimes. Everyone goes through it. When we try to stop our feelings, we end up compounding them, making them harder to process.
Heck, using less Facetagram is a good option, too.
Take baby steps
Think back to the days when you were young and naive. No matter your gender or sexual preference, the first time you saw a woman’s breasts you had an intense reaction.
You were 15 years old, pleasantly in awe of the soft, supple, round knolls of perfection you’d “accidentally” glimpsed as your friend’s older sister stepped out of the shower.
Or you were 10 and the first tits you saw were those of your grandmother. They sagged to her belly button, with hairy nipples the size of saucers.
Or mere minutes after delivery, your mother exposed her engorged bosom for you to suckle and relieve your first experience of hunger.
Whether it was positive or negative, you had a strong response.
But as you aged, and saw more and more hooters, they sort of began to lose their original brilliance. Sure, we can all appreciate the beauty of breasts. We are biologically designed to appreciate them. After all, they are givers of life. But eventually, gross old lady boobs become no big deal. And those with libidos stimulated by a nice set of knockers no longer become aroused by a brief flash through a cracked door.
My point — continuous exposure builds up immunity.
This includes fear.
If you want to travel the world on your own, but you’re terrified to have a meal alone in a restaurant — you’ve got a problem. But it’s a problem that is very solvable.
Start by taking yourself out for a drink or ice cream. Bring a book. Heck, for your first go, I permit you to stare at your phone the entire time, but only if you promise to avoid Facetagram. The next time you go out, have a full meal, no phone allowed. Reward yourself with dessert.
If you’re afraid of people staring, don’t put yourself in a situation where everyone can see you. Sit in a corner or better yet, sit at the bar; it tends to be the spot for solo diners. Someone might even spark up a conversation — even if it’s just the bartender. If no one talks to you, well, you’ve got your book.
When you’ve finished without dying, your body will start to learn that solo restaurant dining is not a good reason to pump you full of cortisol. The more often you do it, the more normal it will become, and the less stress hormone your brain will release. In other words, your fear will go away.
Then take another step, such as going to a movie. Alone.
Stop putting yourself down
The theory behind this one is beyond easy. Yet, it’s horrendous to put into action since it requires breaking a habit you’re not even aware of.
Trying to meditate is the easiest way to become conscious of the severity of your inner dialogue.
I’ve tried to meditate, my mind is too active. I can’t do it.
Ha. Look! You didn’t even need to meditate to put yourself down. You told me “I can’t.” Well, of course, you can’t. Because you don’t believe you can.
But let’s pretend for a moment that you do attempt meditation. You set a timer for three minutes, setting an intention to focus on the breath. Your experience will go something like this:
Inhale. Exhale. Inha…
Ugh, I’m so hungry. What are we having for dinner?
Damn, I’m supposed to be focusing on my breathing. Idiot.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exha…
Mmmm. I smell something baking. We must be having bread with our meal. Ooo are we having past…Shit! This isn’t that hard!
Inhale. Exhale. Inha…
The time is surely almost over by now.
*peeks at clock*
Seriously!? It’s only been 37 seconds!? I’m terrible at this.
Even Buddhist monks have this experience when they start down The Path. This is why I say meditation is the easiest way to see how horrible you are to yourself.
In the brief dialogue above there are at least four counts of self-deprecation. Your stomach growled, so your mind wandered to food; a very normal reaction. Why does that make you an idiot? Unfocused, sure. Hungry, yes. But hunger and intelligence are not linked.
After your mind wandered to pending nourishment, you noticed the shift in focus away from the breath. Instead of calling yourself an idiot, thank yourself for remembering your intention. Then, refocus.
We tend to believe what we consistently hear. If you speak to yourself with kindness and compassion, you’ll give yourself a sense of self-worth that can only come from within.
When you take that first step to dine alone, try to catch yourself mid-thought when you call yourself stupid you are for being so frightened. Then actively correct yourself. You are not stupid. You are brave for doing something that terrifies you.
In time, kindness and compassion will become second nature. You’ll even start treating others better and learn to stand up for yourself.
This one is extremely difficult but extraordinarily necessary. When we attach to things as they were or as we wish them to be, we struggle to accept them for what they are. Becoming non-attached does not mean becoming detached. It does mean no longer allowing your emotions to be dictated by things outside of your control.
By having non-attachment to my partner, I can experience a deeper connection with him. Because I do not have expectations of how he shows up, he can be his full self. If something about him changes, non-attachment enables me to approach that difference with the same wonder and curiosity that I’d have when meeting a new person.
Stop becoming attached to outcomes, expectations, things or people. If we have expectations for how an event will unfold and it doesn’t go exactly how we expected, we are disappointed instead of enjoying it for what it was.
And god forbid negative expectations. Glum outlooks are what prevent us from doing things. And if we do them anyway, the negative supposition commits the outcome to be negative, so why even bother?
Remember that you are the same as everyone else
Or more accurately — the only thing that makes “brave” people brave is that they don’t allow fear to dictate their lives.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” -Nelson Mandela
Oftentimes, things that are viewed as brave do not feel powerful in the moment of action.
I’ve done many things in my life that elicited responses such as, “You’re so strong” or “Wow, you’re so brave.” But you know what? I didn’t feel brave while a single. one. was happening.
I’ve oft been told it was courageous to attend university 3,000 miles away from home when I was 18. But while it was happening I felt lame and childish. I was terrified and lonely. I ugly-cried for a week. Other students in my dorm spoke of being homesick, but nobody else sobbed themselves to sleep at night.
Looking back, nobody else cried because they had the option to go home for the weekend if they wanted. I didn’t. I couldn’t even go home for Thanksgiving because it was too far and too expensive for a four day weekend.
So yea, looking back, it was pretty brave.
A year ago I couldn’t even help myself. Today, I write this to help others.
I compose it while sipping coffee at a little cafe, somewhere in England.
Tonight I’ll climb into bed and cuddle with my European boyfriend.
In a few months, we’ll be on to another country, where we’ll experience a new culture.
Our biggest worry is what to have for dinner and where to go when my visa expires.
I still have fears and anxieties from time to time, but they no longer control me as they used to. I endured and made my life the best it can be.
And you will, too.