conquer fear once and for all

conquer fear once and for all
Photo by Benjamin Wedemeyer / Unsplash
“But there is no reason to live and no limit to our miseries if we let our fears predominate.”
— Seneca, Moral Letters, 13.12b

The ancient Stoic philosophers had an interesting take on fear. They said we should be more afraid of being afraid than of the things we're afraid of. Why? Because our fears can really mess us up and make bad situations even worse.

Think about it. Let's say you're scared of public speaking. The fear itself — that feeling of terror in your gut — is way worse than just getting up and talking. The fear makes your heart race, your hands shake, your mind go blank. It's agonizing! And then because you're so freaked out, you end up stumbling over your words and messing up the talk you were trying to give. The fear hurts your performance way more than the thing you were afraid of.

Or imagine you're really afraid of failing a test at school. That fear can make you so anxious that you can't focus while studying. You stay up all night stressed out instead of resting. Then on test day, you're tired and your mind is spinning with worries instead of letting you recall what you learned. So the fear of failing makes you more likely to fail!

The Stoics realized that our fears are often more dangerous than what we're afraid of. We panic and make poor decisions. We hurt our own health and well-being with anxiety. We lash out at others because we're frightened. The fear takes on a life of its own and makes a tough situation even tougher to deal with.

That's why they taught that we need to resist being controlled by fear. Don't let it call the shots. When we feel that grip of terror, we should pause, take a breath, and reject that fearful reaction. Look at the situation clearly, without panic distorting our perspective. Then we can handle it better and turn things around, instead of the fear making everything spiral out of control.

It's a difficult practice, but a wise one. The Stoics were definitely onto something important about not letting fear mess us up more than the thing we're afraid of. A calm mind has a way better chance of handling difficulties than one that's freaked out and frantic. Give the fear itself a wide berth, and you'll be able to deal with the rest.