This past week I have encountered several people who are struggling with how fear has taken control over their lives. For one person it was nagging doubts that kept gnawing away at their confidence hindering them from moving forward. For another it was drop dead debilitating fear that kept them in a state of panic frozen from making any decisions at all.

We all face fear to one degree or another, but what is it that some have in their arsenal to minimize its impact and keep it in check? After some personal soul searching on this question I’m reminded of my own devastating experiences with fear and there have been many. As a child my fears including jumping off the high dive and not being able to find my way to the surface to breath again. Waking up to fire in the house and afraid to fall asleep. Being in a head-on collision and going into shock. Experiencing two deadly tornadoes living in Omaha and Kansas City watching the home next door literally lifted off its foundation as ours moaned and rocked under the roar of the fierce winds.

And then there was waking up to learn that a robber had been in our bedroom while we slept and carried a machete as a weapon. Also the experience of being in a hurricane in Mississippi in the 1960’s, the horrible blizzard in Omaha that crippled the city and the flood in Chicago filling our basement. But I have to admit, the 6.0 earthquake this past year in Napa caused several months of P.T.S. after waking at 3:20 am to crashing glass, a sound like a bomb went off and violent shaking that had us clinging to each other for our very life because our hotel was located near the epicenter.

By far the worst though was the trip to the ER, when I felt stabbing pains in my chest scared I was having a life threatening heart attack only to learn after prolonged stress working 12-15 hour days often 7 days a week causing a serious panic anxiety attack forcing my body to completely shut down. I couldn’t walk, feed myself, or stop the relentless panic attacks. It took me nearly two years to recover from these paralyzing panic attacks. To say nothing though about the fear that crippled my trust in mankind when I was beaten and left for dead in the middle of a highway in the 1970’s.

So, how do you get back in the pool, the car or loving relationship? What gives you the courage to go to sleep at night? How can you get back on the horse and ride again when life brings you pain that makes you want to give up, run and hide, and never try again?

For me, it took prayer, counseling, coaching, mentoring and help from my family and friends. They fed me when I couldn’t take care of myself. They comforted me after the physical abuse. From all directions, God sent help to pull me out of circumstance into a place of trust, safety and reassuring love. And with time, I healed. Fear of dying turned into faith in living. Not just existing, but really living my life. It wasn’t easy, to shift my paradigm, it took serious work. Just as Dr. Daniel G. Amen writes in his book Change Your Brain Change Your Body, “ regarding ANTs, defined as automatic negative thoughts, I had to change my thinking. When the “ANTs” would come. I would write them down, and think through what the truth was, and speak it out loud so my brain would hear the opposite, and reinforce the positive in my mind and my heart.

Fear is a thief. It can be so consuming it can be difficult to breath. But breathe deeply! After all, staying in fear is a choice. The best news is we can make a choice to take steps to stop fear from robbing us from living our lives to the fullest. If you struggle with fear, reach out and seek the necessary help to overcome, its not always something we can do alone. My helpers were my safe haven. They surrounded me with love to reinforce the healing until I was strong enough to get back in the game of life.

Today, when the doubts or fear thoughts come, I hit them head on with prayer. If I’m still struggling I seek help from those I trust and have confidence in their advice. I can happily say, my courage is alive and well. I travel to places I have never been, I’m in a long-term marriage, and I’m ready and willing to embrace changes in my life. I’m smarter about my choices each day, and stay committed to personal development to continue to learn how to grow so that I can help others. My prayer is for you too to experience victory over fear.