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How to Conquer Your Most Common Fears

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More Common Fears and How to Conquer Them

You Avoid New Activities Because You're Afraid of Looking Silly or Getting Hurt

You don't sign up for races because you fear finishing last; you steer clear of yoga because you might not be able to do the poses. For many women, the threat of struggling in front of others prevents them from trying new things. "I didn't want to be the girl who couldn't make it up the hill," says Marie Elia, 35, a librarian in Pittsburgh who started commuting by bike only after her boyfriend persuaded her to. Once he pointed out that it's really no big deal to push your bike when you have to, Marie started noticing all the other people who did, and she remembered them whenever she felt silly for hopping off.

Getting over that first hurdle can be even harder if you've been burned before. "I sprained my knee the first time I went downhill skiing," says Carolyn Tesini, 37, a writer in Brunswick, Maine. "I was terrified of hurting myself again." After a 15-year hiatus, Carolyn started cross-country skiing on flat terrain. Once she felt comfortable, she bought alpine touring skis, which are more like downhill skis, and ventured out on her favorite hiking trails. "There weren't many people on the trails, and gliding through the trees was peaceful," she says. "Since I started, I've gone down hills I never imagined tackling."

Conquer It: Surround Yourself with Support

Enlist someone you trust to show you the ropes. Or band together with other beginners: Take a snowboarding lesson or sign up for races that cater to newbies, such as the Athleta Iron Girl Event Series (

Conquer It: Encourage Yourself

As you're cycling or doing whatever else makes you nervous, whisper words of encouragement to yourself, like "I'm doing great." And acknowledge achievements no matter how small, suggests Maidenberg, who says, "At the end of every activity, tell yourself, 'I did it!'"

You Worry About Fires, Terrorism, or Other Catastrophes

For many of us in today's economy, the sight of our boss in a closed-door meeting is enough to trigger the fear that budget cuts have eliminated our job. Turns out, simply hearing about corporate downsizing (or terrorists or tsunamis) may be enough to stoke your anxiety. In fact, research at New York University suggests that watching someone else's scary experience can activate the brain's fear center. So, essentially, fear is contagious, says study author Elizabeth Phelps, PhD.

Conquer It: Ground Yourself in the Present

If the things you worry about aren't current realities, bring your mind back to the present moment by meditating on what you see, hear, and feel right now, suggests Melanie Greenberg, PhD, a psychologist in Mill Valley, California. See "Meditation 101," on the previous page, for tips on how to do it.

Conquer It: Get Your Game On

When you're imagining scary scenarios ad infinitum, busy your brain. A study from the University of Oxford found that playing Tetris within a half hour of watching a video of traumatic scenes reduced flashbacks to the film during the following week. That's because a game that requires visual and spatial reasoning pulls power from the part of the brain that consolidates visual memories, so they're less likely to spring to mind. Not the gaming type? Try knitting or a jigsaw puzzle, which will do the same thing, says study author Emily Holmes, PhD.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2013.


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