by Erica House

Overcome Your Fears by Facing Them

Avoiding the things that scare you may be doing more harm than you think

Ask any child what their greatest fear is and chances are 'dentist' will be among their responses. Unsurprisingly, it's at the top of many adults' lists, too.

I cannot recall being unusually terrified of visiting the dentist's office when I was a child, mostly because I knew there was no option. There are multiple photos of me post-visit with my shiny new toothbrush and crooked, yet healthy, smile, revealing a happy kid none-too-traumatized for the cleaning. Had my parents let me skip out on visits, though, or indulged my fear in any way, they might have encouraged a life-long fear.

Research shows that, in trying their best to protect their kids and keep them happy, parents may unknowingly foster anxiety in their children. Sheltering one's children can become a disservice when kids aren't allowed to face what they find anxiety-provoking.

Researchers at Mayo Clinic studied more than 800 children, and found that those who avoided scary situations were more likely to have anxiety a year later. Moreover, when those children who displayed high anxiety underwent counseling that slowly exposed them to the situations that caused those fears, their tendency to avoid scary situations declined.

It appears all those clich├ęs about facing your fears are true. After all, you never really know how strong you are until you put yourself in a challenging situation. I've found that when I'm forced to face something that I have a lot of anxiety about, the reality is usually far less frightening than I anticipated.

Over the last few years, life has forced me to face many of my fears head on. After the abrupt ending of a seemingly perfect relationship, I had to face the reality of being single again. Shockingly enough, I lived -- and am even much happier now!

A few years ago I adopted two cats with FIV (feline HIV) and quickly earned the cherished moniker of "crazy cat lady" when my friends saw how absolutely devoted to them I was. One of my greatest fears manifested when one of them passed away at only 18 months. I cried, a lot, and now that a few years have passed, I can think of him without any sadness in my heart, only fond memories.

I've also learned that even if your fears turn out to be as bad as you expect, there are still benefits to conquering them. Just this morning I faced another fear -- needles. I've been postponing getting blood work done for years due to an extreme aversion to being poked. I spent last night tossing and turning. And by the time the general exam was over and I sat down to get the blood drawn, my stomach was in knots. Well, contrary to what my mother promised me, it was as bad as I expected. It took them four tries and I almost passed out. But as painful as it was for me to go through, I lived, and by facing my fear I'm actually able to laugh about it. I also don't think I will be as anxious the next time around.

As for my fear of cockroaches, I can assure you that I will not be facing that one anytime soon. There are some anxieties in life I'm quite content to carry with me to the grave. However, if I did have to come face to face with a cockroach, I am pretty sure I would survive that one, too.

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Woman to Woman: "Overcome Your Fears by Facing Them"