076: Five Simple Ways to Boost Your Happiness–#3: Face a Fear

Simple for Sure–but Facing a Fear Requires Courage!

This will be the third Feeling Good Podcasts on five specific things you can do to boost your happiness. Today, David and Fabrice will talk about confronting something you fear, something you’ve been avoiding.

Most people have some fear or other. When I (David) wrote my book, When Panic Attacks, I counted up all the fears I’ve had in my life, and I came up with a list of at least 17 things I’ve feared at one point or another. I’ve had the fear of bees, dogs, horses, blood, heights, public speaking, cameras, and more. So I know very well the joy that results from facing and defeating, one of your fears. And although it’s SIMPLE to face your fears, it does require a LOT of courage, because you’ll have to endure some fairly intense anxiety.

The value of confronting a fear has been around for at least 2500 years, going back to the earliest teachings of the Tibetan Buddhists. In the modern era, it’s called Exposure Therapy, but it really hasn’t changed a great deal since the earliest times. There are two ways to face your fears–gradual exposure, where you confront the fear little by little, and flooding, where you do it all at once. Both strategies are equally effective. Personally, I prefer exposure, because you get it over with quickly. But sometimes, gradual exposure is more appealing, and it also works very well.

Why does exposure help? Why does can it boost your happiness?

First, when you face your fears, instead of running away, you will probably discover that the monster you’ve been running from has no teeth, and was just a distortion in your mind. And this not only creates relief, because your anxiety disappears, but mood elevation, because you feel empowered. Exposure is actually one of the four forms of spiritual enlightenment that I’ll be discussing in my new book (currently in progress.)

David gives a number of personal and clinical examples of how he overcame his own fears, including his intense fear of heights when he was in high school, as well as his intense social anxiety when he was teaching at a local Kaiser mental health clinic.  David also describes how he’s helped many colleagues or patients who felt shy and insecure around others.

In the final two podcasts in this “Boosting Happiness” series David and Fabrice will talk about how to change your distorted negative thoughts and beliefs when you’re feeling inadequate, or inferior, or simply “not good enough,” as well as how you can use the Five Secrets of Effective Communication to resolve a conflict and develop a deeper and more rewarding relationship with someone you care about!

Fabrice and I hope you like our Feeling Good Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!


At least one listener has had problems leaving an iTunes review from his i-phone, so Fabrice has created some simple to follow instructions if you need help.



9 thoughts on “076: Five Simple Ways to Boost Your Happiness–#3: Face a Fear

  1. I loved this podcast, and as someone who has had a lot of anxiety and phobias, your talks on anxiety are my favorite. I love that you share your fears and self doubts David. That has given me the courage to do so as well. Self-disclosure has enriched my life, and strengthened my relationships because when I make myself vulnerable to others, they open up and share their vulnerabilities too.

    Facing one’s fears really can be a transformative, spiritual experience. I was watching a biography on the famous St. Francis of Assisi this morning. He had a fear of and repulsion toward lepers., The turning point of his life was when he faced his fear, met a leper, got off his horse, and kissed the leper on the cheek. After that, he had his followers spent their lives serving lepers and other social outcasts of the day.

    Francis said, “What was I thought was bitter, tasted sweet.” I think that is similar to what you call 200% recovery. The thing that someone fears, can actually become enjoyable and life affirming. I had that experience when I overcame my public speaking phobia.

  2. This podcast was very timely for me. It’s been almost 30 (!!!) years since I’ve flown. Needless to say I’ve missed out and caused my family to miss out on distant location vacations and trips to see family. As a result, I feel a tremendous amount of shame. I’ve suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for as long as I can recall. I have been in therapy and have had a very good amount of success in quite a few areas and I no longer experience panic attacks. I just can’t seem to trust that I will be ok once on an airplane. I do think I trust the safety of the plane, I just get very anxious thinking that I can’t get off if it becomes too overwhelming. Fearful feelings are very hard for me to confront. How do I move through this fear (of fear)? Thank you!

    • Thanks for the excellent question. I’m sure lots of folks with the fear of flying will appreciate your comments. I would suggest starting with a Daily Mood Log, as described in Chapter 3 of When Panic Attacks. Then we’ll know what it is you’re afraid of. Also, you might want to listen to the podcasts on the four approaches to treating anxiety, which are also spelled out in When Panic Attacks. Exposure is only one of many useful methods. For example, are you afraid of the plane crashing, or having a panic attack and freaking out on the plane, or what? david

  3. Good day dear Dr. Burne
    Enjoy as usually your broadcast and such amazing simple way to confront the fear. Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge and not to be ashame to share your fears.
    I had learn to do this my way by self taking and it is a great experience
    I would like to share with you my thoughts that we don’t need to confront all fears because some of them is for our protection, for example if I can’t sweam well, I will have a fear of sweaming where the stream is very fast or to drive on Hwy when it is a strong rain even the speed limit is 70 miles an hour.
    What are your thoughts?
    Do I still need to over come my fears or not?
    Have a bkess day

    • Hi Galina, Thanks for another great comment / question. There are two separate issues here, and you are right about both. First, all negative emotions have powerful positive aspects, and for fear or anxiety or worrying, the positive aspect is that our fears can protect us from real (or imagined) danger, and can sometimes motivate us as well. so, if you are afraid of failing a test, you may study harder and learn more. There are many additional benefits of fear as well. Second, overcoming any (largely irrational) fear is a matter of choice. There is no rule that says we have to defeat ALL of our fears and insecurities! A Cost-Benefit Analysis can sometimes be a useful tool in deciding if it’s worth the effort to defeat a particular fear, like social anxiety, or the fear of heights, or flying, or cats, or anything at all! I did not fully defeat my fear of blood and gore until I did my internship at Highland Hospital in Oakland, and had to work in the emergency room treating massive trauma patients. Avoiding blood no longer worked as an effective strategy because I had to help treat these patients. Once I face the fear, it disappeared in about 15 minutes. david

  4. Dr Burns,

    first I wanted to thank you for putting all your hard work out there. I’m a big fan of Feeling Good and I’ve actually recommended it to two close friends of mine when they’ve confided their struggles with me.

    You said it yourself in the podcast, “Facing a Fear Requires Courage!” But what if I don’t have courage? I think I might just be the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz.

    I’m a young man who is tall, has a career, dresses well and stays in shape. By appearances, I shouldn’t have too much difficulty with women, but for as long as I can remember I’ve been absolutely petrified to make moves on beautiful women.

    After listening to your podcast yesterday, I told myself I’d go out to my city’s main shopping district and get over my silly fear by asking as many beautiful women as I could find for their numbers. I figured a whole bunch of them would tell me to get lost and sooner or later my mind would stop making such a colossal deal out of rejection. I’ve attempted things very similar to this for many years now, and it always ends the same: I spend several hours walking around town, almost initiating conversations with dozens of women but freezing up almost every single time. On the rare occasions I do say something, it’s a quick compliment or a stop to ask for directions, then I hightail it out of there. Not a good path for recovery at all, plus I now have to contend with the negative voice in my head “Why are you afraid of a woman half your size who you don’t even know saying ‘No’? You’re such a whimp!”

    Is “facing my fears” just not for everyone? If so, what’s the proper course of action? Is it possible to develop courage if you think you have none, and if so, how?

  5. Good evening dear Dr. Burne
    I feel very blessed that I can learn so much from you, that you always take your time to answer me that help me to grow. I truly appreciate your time and kindness .
    I fall in love with your book ” Feeling good” because I can learn so much and order a book that u advice ” Antidepressant book” by J. Towery
    My goal and I will be the most blessed person if I will get as more as possible knowledge in order to help people – the reason that I become a certified life coach from AAPC. The most rich country is one that is having the most healthy, happy , kind people ( more happiness, more desire to help and not to distroy )
    With best wishes
    Looking forward to more of your broadcast.

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