How I Used Meditation For Fear Exposure To Beat My Demons
How I Used Meditation For Fear Exposure To Beat My Demons

If we were all honest, we would openly admit that we all have fears in our lives. And those fears stop us from growing as human beings. The good news, however, is this: We can use meditation for fear. We can completely stop our fear by meditating and by doing fear exposure therapy.

One of my personal biggest fears was fear of the dentist. It’s a fear I had to face this Saturday just gone, when I had my tooth extracted.

I’m humble enough to say that sometimes I am crippled by my fear. There are occasions in my life when I have needed to do something and fear has held me back. My tooth is just one example.

I had a seriously bad tooth problem that needed to be fixed immediately. But my dental phobia made me terrified of going to the dentist and getting it done. I suffered physical pain for weeks on end precisely because my fear would not let me go the dentist.

I had physical pain in my mouth. But the real pain was in my mind. I had ongoing panic attacks because of this fear [read: Meditation And Yoga for Panic Attacks].

I lived a personal hell when for weeks when I could have simply gone to the dentist and got my problem fixed. Which I did do, eventually.

I am not proud of my fear at all. But I think if we are honest it is something we all suffer from. And it is almost always irrational.

For instance:

Those are some of the most common fears in the world. And they are all irrational. I mean, it’s not like that little spider is really going to hurt you (unless it actually is a Black Widow, of course).

And yet despite the fact that fear is irrational, it has a very real effect on us. Just ask the person who would do anything to go abroad on holiday but is unable to board an airplane because of fear of flying. That’s a huge loss purely because of an irrational fear.

Not only this, but fears and phobias cause intense anxiety too [read: Meditation To Stop Anxiety]

So, what do you do about it?

My answer was a combination of meditation and fear exposure. With these two techniques you can remove fear from your mind. It is only because of both these techniques that I was finally able to go to the dentist and get my problem solved.


What Is “Fear Exposure Therapy”?

Put simply, fear exposure is precisely what it sounds like: exposing yourself to your fears [1]. And if that doesn’t sound very pleasant… well… it isn’t supposed to. It is intentionally challenging. But it is also a very powerful technique to overcome phobias.

Fear exposure literally retrains your brain to stop sending you those painful fear signals anytime you go near a perceived threat (you know, that nervous feeling you get when you try to face your fears).

When your brain perceives a fear it enters “fight or flight” mode, which is a defensive mechanism designed to give you the adrenalin rush you need to get out of danger. Problem is it doesn’t just do this with real fears (like an armed robber). It also does this with irrational fears like fear of flying or fear of the dentist.

This fight or flight response is created by a part of the brain called the Amygdala [2].  The Amygdala is always scanning your environment for possible dangers. And when it perceives a danger (whether that danger be real or imagined) it sends you into fight or flight mode. It makes you literally want to fight or run away, and it sends you that mad surge of energy that you need to do precisely that.  But, when you end up running away from your perceived fear—when you run away from that flight, or the spider, or the dentist—you retrain your Amygdala to continue to send that fight or flight signal.

The only way to change this is to exposure yourself to danger without running away or fighting. And you can only do this when you do genuinely perceive danger.

This is why the best way to overcome fear is to face fear head-on. Hence “fear exposure therapy”.

It isn’t pleasant. You can, however, make this somewhat easier by using meditation for fear too. By using meditation you can create a more relaxed mental state in which you are able to face your fears and retrain your Amygdala. In other words, meditation can prepare you for fear exposure therapy. And that is precisely what I myself did to overcome fear of dentists.


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How To Do Fear Exposure – Hierarchy Of Fear

If you simply attempt to face your worst fear head on on your first try, you will likely have a panic attack and end up being worse off than you were to begin with.

A better strategy is to use a fear exposure hierarchy.

A fear exposure hierarchy is basically a scale of one to ten of your fear. So, for instance, for me, level 10 fear was literally sitting in the dentist chair having my tooth pulled. That’s the worst that fear could be. And had I started there I would have had a panic attack and, honestly, I probably would have run away. That’s why you actually want to start with a level one fear.

Level one fear is the least amount of fear that you could expose yourself too while actually facing your fear to some degree. For me this meant reading an article online about getting my tooth pulled. That created a degree of fear, but it was a degree of fear that I could handle.

Then you have all the different levels from one to ten.

So, here is where you can start conquering your fear. Go grab yourself a piece of paper (do it now) and write a list from one to ten. Then break your fear into stages where one is the least frightening thing you could do and ten is the most frightening. Then ends fear levels 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on.

For instance, for my example of dental fear I had:

1: Reading an article about tooth extraction

2: Looking at pictures of it

3: Watching a video of it

4: A meditation for fear exposure (see below) in which I visualised the process

5: Another meditation for fear exposure in which I imagined it being painful but getting through anyway

6: Talking to the dentist over the phone about it

7: Scheduling a preliminary check-up

8: Going to the check-up

9: Scheduling the operation

10:  Going to the operation


The challenge then is to start from level one and work your way up through your fear-exposure hierarchy until you’ve conquered level 10. And then rewarding yourself with cookies, which will cause another tooth to rot. IRONY!

For some fears you will find that you can’t literally do fear exposure therapy in real life. For instance, with fear of flying you can’t really exposure yourself to being on a plane without getting on an actual plane. So, it becomes a catch-22. Because how do you exposure yourself to your fear without just doing the thing you’re afraid of. This, however, is where you can use meditation for fear exposure.


Meditation for fear exposure therapy

Sometimes you will find that you can’t directly expose yourself to fear. For instance, if you’re afraid of flying you can’t firstly face that fear until you get on a plane. So how do you prepare yourself? The answer is: You can use meditation for fear exposure. This is precisely what I did with my dental phobia.

Essentially, what you are going to do is visualise the thing you are afraid of. For me this meant visualising sitting in the dentist’s chair having my tooth pulled out. I visualised this scene in detail. I visualizes the sights that I would see, the sounds I would hear… and yes, the pain that I would feel. I visualised this scene for over twenty minutes. While I was doing this, I made sure I kept breathing deep and in a relaxed way so that I was always in control of my fear and anxiety.

This trained my mind to be able to cope with the situation of being in the dentist’s chair and to be calm even while I was facing my fear. This completely retrained my mind to process that fear in a different way. And judging by the hole I now have in the gum where my left molar tooth was: It worked.


By using meditation for fear exposure, I conquered my fear

I might have pain in my jaw right now. But I also have pride in my soul. Because I managed to conquer my fear. And it was only with meditation and fear exposure therapy that I was able to be successful.

What are you afraid of. Come on, be honest, you know there is at least one fear you have in your life. And it could be holding you back in serious ways. So maybe it’s time to try meditation and fear exposure so you can conquer that fear and grow.

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Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential.

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