I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding my fears; that is, until my hubby started reading an old book by J. Gordon Liddy where he revealed the secret to overcoming his fear of rats. He caught one, killed it, and ate it! As horrifying as that sounds, it apparently worked for Mr. Liddy—dead rat, end of fear. So I thought I’d give it a shot.
While rats weren’t on my menu, I figured I could apply this concept to help me with my own fears. I began using the phrase, “eat the rat” to remind myself that I was a warrior and a conqueror. Believe it or not it started to work.
Some of the rats I’ve had to eat over the past few years have included the fear of flying in a small airplane, the fear of small spaces, and the fear of having panic attacks. All these fears were making my life miserable. If any of this resonates with you, and you’ve tired of letting fear control your life, it’s time for you to learn how to “eat the rat.”
How do you do it? The first step is to identify your specific fears and the beliefs driving them. Experiencing fear is deeper than just a feeling. It’s driven by our “set in stone” beliefs that something bad will happen.
For example, my fear of small planes was based on a belief that small planes weren’t safe. This meant that the plane would crash. Mind you I had no evidence to support this belief. In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly refutes my beliefs.
My fear of tight spaces was based on the belief that I would be trapped and somehow suffocate. I climbed a lot of stairs to avoid elevators.
People who are afraid avoid. That’s the worst thing you can do. Avoiding will only strengthen your fears! If you want to conquer them, you have to systematically expose yourself to what you’re afraid of. Here are a few first steps to help you begin:
7 Tips to Help You Conquer Your Fears
Make a list
Write down the least anxiety-provoking fears you have related to each specific fear, and then work up to the greatest. Here were my fears relating to being in an elevator (fear of small spaces):
- Seeing the elevator
- Knowing I have to get in the elevator alone
- Standing in the elevator with the door open
- Getting in the elevator and seeing door close
- Riding in the elevator with a support person
- Riding in the elevator alone
Identify false beliefs
Fear is driven by beliefs and our actions will always follow our beliefs! To conquer your fears, you have to identify the beliefs that are driving them. Using my elevator example, I believed I would be trapped inside the elevator and never get out. My fear was irrational. People can get trapped in elevators, but most elevators have safety measures like alarms and phones.
When we are faced with fearful situations our sympathetic nervous system signals our limbic brain to alert us to real or potential “danger.” This puts us in fight or flight mode. To calm ourselves we need to engage our parasympathetic nervous system to put on the brakes. Enter deep breathing. It works, so learn it and practice it regularly. Make sure you do it at the first sign of anxiety not when you’re freaking out.
Take the first bite
Go back to your anxiety hierarchy list and start with the least anxiety- provoking task on your list. Mine was standing at the door of the elevator and imagining getting in alone. It’s ok to feel anxious. Sit with it. Don’t avoid it. You can try deep relaxing breathing. You may need to do this several times before you’re comfortable moving on. If necessary, you may want to take a support person along with you.
Turn up the heat
Continued exposure to the feared stimulus (elevator) will eventually cause you to become accustom to your fearful feelings. Eventually, being in the elevator alone will become more and more normal. Now it’s time to push the button, close the door and go up. Don’t just do it once, keep at it. It will become second nature the more you do it.
Identify cognitive distortions
Over estimating danger is at the root of many fears. For people who struggle with anxiety, magnifying and catastrophizing only make things worse. Other examples of thinking errors include:
- Black and white thinking—you see no shades of grey
- Jumping to conclusions—you assume the worse before checking it out
- Negative self defeating thinking—you feed yourself a diet of negative thoughts
The truth is, whatever we’re afraid of can come to pass. I had to face the fact that I could get stuck in the elevator. Bad things do happen to people, but that’s part of life. Every time you get in your car to go to work you’re taking a risk that you could have an accident. Every time you sit in a chair you take a risk that it will hold you up. You don’t think about all that because those aren’t things you’re afraid of. If what you’re afraid of does happen, you have to focus on what the best response would be to deal with the problem. What resources do you have? What strengths could you apply in order to make things better? Freaking out will only make things worse.
To overcome our fears, we have to be willing to experience them. For me to get in the elevator, or any small space, I had to be willing to get stuck. Once I was willing, the fear had no power over me. Viola! Rat eaten! And guess what? I haven’t gotten stuck once.
If your fears have become debilitating, you may want to consult with a licensed therapist for help. It takes work, but the payoff is worth it.
How about you, what rats are running around in your life that you need to eat? Go after them, and Bon Appetite!
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