Taming the Lion: Strategies to Overcome Fear

By: Christene Saleeb

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Whatever the stimulus is, fear, the common emotion controlled by the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, can be overcome using the strategies outlined below [1].

The first step in overcoming fear is to identify the fear and face it head-on. If you have the motivation to overcome the fear, fleeing from it will strike you as the least effective way of conquering it.

The next steps involve the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) methods such as desensitization of fear [2]. Desensitization is the gradual conquering of fear by increasing the exposure of the fear stimulus while maintaining composure. It reverses the fear by “unlearning” the phobia [2]. A simple way of desensitization includes taking some time in educating yourself on the specific fear stimulus. Fully understanding the fear stimulus presents one with a total picture of the stimulus rather than just the portion providing the fright. As a result, the fear may not seem as intimidating [3].

Another effective desensitization method involves the use of fear hierarchy. Creating a fear hierarchy involves writing down a list of fears ranked from least terrifying to most. Face the least terrifying fear first, while practicing relaxation techniques [2,4], such as muscle tension-release methods and deep breathing. Practice these techniques until you’re easily and repeatedly able to face the least terrifying fear. Then gradually work up the list to the most terrifying fear while actively practicing relaxation techniques [2,4].

Furthermore, exposure therapy includes vividly imagining oneself overcoming the fears laid out in the fear hierarchy list. Instead of thinking negatively about the fear, attach a positive replacement thought of overcoming the fear [2,4]. This is especially effective if facing the fear is impractical, for instance a fear of lions. You could also expose yourself to a model of that fear, like a plush toy of a lion [2]. Soon enough, you’ll be looking that lion straight in the eye and showing it who’s boss!


[1] Korzus, E. (2015). Prefrontal Cortex in Learning to Overcome Generalized Fear. Journal Of Experimental Neuroscience, 953-56.

[2] Mitterer, J. O., Coon, D., & Martini, T. (2015). Module 67, Therapies: Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies. In Psychology: A modular approach (pp. 593-602). Nelson Education.

[3] Hamilton, J. B., Best, N. C., Galbraith, K. V., Worthy, V. C., & Moore, L. D. (2015). Strategies African-American Cancer Survivors Use to Overcome Fears and Fatalistic Attitudes. Journal Of Cancer Education, (4), 629.

[4] Wallach, H. S., Safir, M. P., & Bar-Zvi, M. (2009). Virtual reality cognitive behavior therapy for public speaking anxiety A randomized clinical trial. Behavior modification, 33(3), 314-338.

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