How Fear Limits Your Life and How to Overcome It with Mindfulness

Published by Charles A. Francis on

By Charles A. Francis

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

For most people, speaking in public is one of the most frightening things in the world. I’ll never forget a speech I gave some 25 years ago. At the time, I already had several years of public speaking experience, and was usually able to manage my nerves fairly well. But this time, I was terrified.

What was different about this speech? Most of my speeches were before a spiritual organization I belonged to at the time. They were usually inspirational in nature. This speech was short, about 5 minutes long. What was different about this one was that I was going to challenge the elder members’ views about meditation, and I knew they weren’t going to like it. But I felt an obligation to do it in order to help our members continue growing spiritually. More on this speech later…

We all experience fear, and sometimes for different reasons. It’s part of being human. However, most of us don’t fully realized how fear impacts our lives. Fear can hold us back from achieving personal and career goals. Some people are so fearful that they’re afraid to leave their house. If we let fear control our lives, it prevents us from being happy, and living life to its fullest.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to overcome your fears through the mindfulness meditation practice. You’ll see how mindfulness meditation can help you diminish your fears, and develop the inner strength to stand up to them.

What Is Fear?

Fear is a natural primitive emotion. It is hardwired into our genetic makeup, and is meant to protect us from harm by alerting us of danger. While it is meant to protect us, sometimes it can be counterproductive if the fear is unrealistic.

There are two basic components of fear. The first is a biochemical reaction. When we perceive a danger, our body and mind go on high alert. Our heart starts beating faster, we begin sweating, our senses become heightened, and our mind becomes more focused. This is our survival mode.

The second reaction is emotional. This reaction is more personalized. We all interpret fear-inducing situations differently, depending on our experiences. What some people fear, others get a thrill out of, such as skydiving. Some people see fear as something to be avoided, and others see it as a challenge to overcome.

In addition to the physical reaction to fear, some people experience psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, loss of control, or a sense of being overwhelmed.


A phobia is a distortion of the normal fear response. It stems from the fear of fear. Here people begin associating fear with particular objects, such as snakes or spiders. They’re even aware that the fear is unrealistic, yet they can’t help themselves. Unless a phobia is addressed, it will get worse over time. [1]

Consequences of Fear

Fear can also be a sign of mental illness. Fear, as a natural response to danger, usually dissipates after the danger has subsided. However, the psychological response to fear may persist. If the danger is a traumatic experience, or if someone is repeatedly exposed to danger, such as military conflict or abusive relationship, then the fear can lead to various psychological disorders including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias

Some people simply allow their fears to control their lives. In general, living in fear will lead to an unhappy and unfulfilling life.

“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

How Fear Is Used to Manipulate Us

Fear is often used by unscrupulous people and organizations to manipulate our thoughts and actions. Fear is a powerful emotion, which can easily be triggered in some people. So unless we’re aware of our emotions and how we’re being manipulated, we’re likely going to fall into their trap. [2]Here are some common situations where we’re being manipulated:

Relationships: It’s common for people in unhealthy relationships to use scare tactics to frighten their partner. They can intimidate and manipulate their partner to fear their reaction or threaten to leave if they don’t do what they want. People who are easily frightened are easily manipulated in relationships.

Advertising: Companies with large advertising budgets spend a lot of money studying people’s emotional reactions to advertisements. They know how to appeal to their weaknesses, and some use fear to sell their products and services. Keep in mind that this isn’t always unethical. Some fears are realistic, such as the possibility of illness or auto accidents to sell insurance.

News Media: The news media use fear to get our attention so they can build their audience. Then they sell advertising to corporations that use fear to sell their products. In recent years, the rise of the Internet, especially social media, has caused the news media to lose most of their viewers, so in desperation they’ve ramped up their scare tactics to the point that it has become obvious to most people.

Politicians and government bureaucrats: Having worked in politics and studied government extensively, I know how the sausage is made. Politicians and bureaucrats make a living by spending money, your money. In order to do so, they need to convince you that there’s a problem, whether real or manufactured, and need to raise your taxes to address it. So they use scare tactics to convince you that if you don’t give them more money, children will be harmed, our democracy will perish, or the world will collapse. The results are that no problem is ever resolved, you become poorer, and the politicians and bureaucrats get richer.

So if you don’t want to be manipulated by these actors, I suggest you set some limits in the use of your electronic devices, which is how they reach you. In the case of relationships, the antidotes for manipulation are awareness and self-esteem, which you can develop through the mindfulness meditation practice.

Common Treatments of Fear

Dealing with fear involves determining the source, and whether or not the fear is realistic. Once these are determined, a treatment can be used to address it. Psychologists have developed various methods for helping people overcome their fears. [3]Here are the most common treatments:

  • Systematic desensitization: This involves repeated and progressive exposure to a fear stimulus. As patients become more familiar with the object of their fear, they become less sensitive to it.

  • Flooding: This is more intense than desensitization. It is a prolonged exposure to a feared object in a safe and controlled environment. The idea is for the person to see that the fear is unrealistic, and that they’ll be OK after being exposed to it. Flooding also helps reinforce a positive view of the feared object.

  • Social support: Many people develop social anxiety from simply being isolated. Getting social support can be an effective means of overcoming fear, especially social anxiety.

  • Stress management techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization can also help people minimize their fears.

  • Take care of your health: By eating healthy, exercising regularly, and getting adequate amount of sleep, you ensure that your body is functioning optimally, and promoting good emotional and mental health.

Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is an effective tool for overcoming fear, stress, and anxiety. In addition, it also makes us more resilient to these unwholesome emotions. In fact, it is so effective in helping people deal with various other issues, such as anger and depression, that psychologists use it to help treat their patients. Here’s how it works:

  • It calms our mind: The main reason our mind is always racing is that we always have our foot on the accelerator. That is, we’re constantly stimulating our mind with all the noise and activity in our lives. By sitting quietly following our breath, we allow our mind to settle down. This is the natural result of giving our mind a break from the constant sensory stimulation.

  • It calms our emotions: Our emotions always follow our thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious. So it follows that if we calm our thoughts, then we calm our emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness, and disgust.

  • Greater self-control: By calming your emotions, we will gain greater self-control. Many people never consider having self-control. To them, it is a foreign concept. The truth is, we can develop it, and it will help us develop greater self-confidence and self-esteem.

  • Enables us to see reality more clearly: The main purpose of mindfulness meditation is to develop mindfulness, or awareness of what is happening in the present moment. Through the practice, we develop our ability to see the true nature of reality, so we can avoid developing unrealistic fears.

Overall, mindfulness meditation makes us more resilient to fear, and all other unwholesome emotions. So not only do we overcome them after they arise, but we also prevent them from arising in the first place. This is true inner peace.

“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~ Nelson Mandela

The Speech, Continued…

There were several other speakers ahead of me, and I was to speak towards the end of the event. The closer we got to my turn, the more nervous I got. I was so nervous that my arm began twitching involuntarily. I couldn’t believe I was going to go through with challenging the elders. Then they called me up.

As soon as I go to the podium, I looked over the crowd of about 200 people, straightened my back, and began speaking. As I spoke, the nerves disappeared, and I began to feel a great power surging through my body, which I had never experienced before. I could feel the power behind the words, and knew others felt it too. It was surreal.

As I concluded my speech, I knew it was something special. Everyone applauded, as they usually did, but I wasn’t sure how it was received. I was curious to see who would come up to me after the event.

Just as I figured, the elder members were not impressed, but the newer members were. They said it was a powerful speech and thanked me for inspiring them. But I’ll never forget one young lady’s reaction. She said it felt as if God was speaking to her through me, and it gave her a warm feeling all over. I knew exactly what she was talking about, but I didn’t know what to say, so I simply smiled and gave her a hug. Her life changed that day, and so did mine.

Final Thoughts

I tell this story to illustrate what is possible when we stand up to our fears. Before that speech, I didn’t realize how much my fears had held me back, until they were gone, or I stood up to them. They kept me isolated, and unable to truly enjoy life. They kept me from pursuing my dreams.

I know people who live in constant fear: fear of other people, fear of COVID, fear of making a mistake, fear of looking foolish. They’re afraid to leave their house. They’re afraid of making a wrong decision, so they simply allow other people and circumstances to make all the decisions for them. And usually those decisions are not in their best interest. It’s as if they’re just waiting for their life to end. That is not a life.

Take a look at your life and ask yourself: “What dream am I afraid to pursue?” That is the price you’re paying for letting fear control your life.

Overcoming your fears is not that difficult. It takes a little work, determination, and courage. I’ve given you several tools to help you. I use mindfulness meditation and social support to keep my fears in check. And when I’m afraid of doing something important, I do it anyways. I don’t let fear stop me. Today, I change the world by helping people change their lives, and you can too.

[1] Fritscher, Lisa (2022, November 14). What Is Fear? Verywell Mind.
[2] Segal, Elizabeth A., Ph.D.(2020, December 26) Conquering Fear. Psychology Today.
[3] Psychology Today Staff (2022) Fear. Psychology Today.


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