The dark room held me captive. I couldn't move. My mouth opened in a soundless scream, and I had no control over my body even with my mind trying to tell me I was safe. Fear and anxiety gripped my every movement, clouded my thoughts and controlled the shadows in the room.
Logically, I knew I was safe, but irrational fears of the dark, of being kidnapped, of dying and more swiftly took advantage of my small moment of uncertainty and paralyzed me.
I used to have countless panic attacks like the one described above, but now I have learned to manage them. Controlling fear, especially when you have anxiety, is difficult, but possible.
Here are five proven ways to stop fear from ruling your life:
1. Becoming aware of your fears
You must first acknowledge why you are fearful. Identifying that you are scared of the dark is the first step.
Then ask yourself what is it about the darkness that triggers your fear. For me, it's not necessarily the dark that scares me. It is the idea of someone hiding in the darkness intending to do me harm.
Try to recognize what part of your body fear paralyzes first. For me, it starts with my mind, then moves to my legs, my arms, my vocal cords and my ears. Once fear has gripped all of these, I find myself in a full-blown panic attack and need assistance calming down.
Don't let your anxiety get that far. Look for the signs of an approaching panic attack by recognizing your body's reaction to fear.
Once you are aware of your triggers and reactions to fear, you will know when to start monitoring your breathing. Deep breathing slows your heart and stops adrenaline production.
According to Discover Magazine, our brains are "designed to allow the fear system to take control in threatening situations and prevent our conscious awareness from reigning." Breathing helps our conscious awareness and rational thoughts regain control.
3. Using your imagination
Your imagination can be your best friend or your worst enemy. When something triggers my fear, my imagination starts creating scenarios of the worst possible things that could happen. These thoughts often spiral and land me in the middle of a panic attack. That is, unless I am able to control my imagination.
Before something triggers my fear, I imagine all my different options of how I could react and what the outcome would be in a terrifying situation. I know I cannot beat a man in hand-to-hand combat, but I could call the police, yell for help and dodge attacks. Since I have already imagined every possible outcome, I start breathing and relaxing my body.
Never be afraid to imagine the worst. When you know the worst possible outcome, you will choose the better option.
4. Facing fears
If you are scared of flying in a plane and never travel because of that fear, you are not allowing your brain to rewire your fear. Just like you can train your imagination, you can trick your brain to not be afraid.
For example, I have always had a fear of heights. I used to not be able to walk up stadium steps because I was scared I would slip and fall down to my death. So, I started hiking. It was very difficult to walk up steep paths, but eventually I could walk up a path with little to no problem as long as I avoided standing near the edge of a cliff. My fear of heights weakened as I continued to prove to myself that I could overcome it.
When you face your fears, your memories are evidence that your fear is irrational. Though my fear of heights developed after almost falling to my death, I showed my mind and body that I didn't need to fear as long as I was cautious.
The healthier your body is, the healthier your mind will be. Exercising, eating well and getting adequate sleep are important factors in controlling your fears. In doing so, your thought process will clearer, and you will be more receptive to your environment.
On top of physical fitness, exercise your mind at work or home. Having something that keeps your mind busy will prevent fears from entering and overwhelming your thoughts. Read a good book or participate in a project or hobby to keep your mind healthy and occupied.
The worst thing you can do to your mind is being afraid of fear itself. Being terrified of fear causes an endless cycle of panic attacks. When you can recognize fear taking control of your body, start breathing. When you choose to face something that terrifies you, reward yourself. You have the power to stop fear from ruling your life. I know, because I let it stop ruling mine.
Stacie Simpson is a FamilyShare staff writer. She loves listening to, gathering and sharing stories and advice to help others improve their quality of life. She spends most of her free time with her husband, ballroom dancing, reading and writing.