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I sit down, my heartbeat accelerating, and strap myself into the machine. With the touch of a button, it whirrs to life in a flurry of lights and sounds that overwhelm my senses. My mission: to steer the machine through an obstacle course of intersections, turns, and stop lights toward my final destination without any carnage – a dangerous quest. And, consequently, as I pull my Toyota Prius out of the driveway, I’m terrified. 

The above may seem dramatic to those of you who are comfortable behind the wheel. But driving legitimately makes me want to curl into the fetal position. I’m terrible at multitasking, so being asked to focus on figuring out where I’m going, following the rules of the road, pavement markers and signs, what other vehicles are doing, traffic patterns, construction sites, and a million other details all at the same time is challenging for me. And, the worst part is, I’m well-aware that a mistake could be fatal to myself or others. So, no pressure. 

Despite my distaste for driving, however, I don’t have the luxury of saying “no, that’s not for me” and never maneuvering a motor vehicle again. The U.S. is incredibly car-dependent and alternate forms of transportation (e.g., the bus, ride share, the metro, etc.) are often too expensive, unsafe, or inconvenient for me to rely on. And since walking or biking would take far too long, I’m back at square one. 

Over the past several months, our slowed-down lifestyle due to the COVID pandemic has given me the space to reflect on my fear. I remain terrified, but I’m also doing my best to push myself to do the unthinkable: face my fear. Whether driving similarly frightens you or not, there’s bound to be something concrete that you’re afraid of – maybe spiders, social situations, or speaking up in French class. While I’ve by no means conquered my fear yet, I’ve certainly come a long way from where I started (too scared to even get into the car). Here are a few tips for facing your fears:

1. Reflect

Sometimes, we convince ourselves that we are afraid of one thing when we are truly afraid of something else. Other times, we know we’re paralyzed by something, but can’t determine why. It is well worth it to sit down and meditate on your fear, trying to understand what, specifically you are worried about and why it stresses you out so much. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be much better equipped to take steps to face your fear. For example, regarding my disdain for driving, I determined that my distaste for multitasking and fear of getting into an accident were my primary concerns. 

2. Address your concerns

Once you’ve figured out what is truly causing you to tremble, it’s time to consider whether those worries are legitimate or not. For instance, another fear of mine used to be speaking Spanish (my second language) in public. After years of avoiding conversations with native speakers, I realized that I wasn’t afraid to speak, but rather to fail and embarrass myself. After ruminating on this, I was able to logically reason that my fear, while valid, was illogical; mistakes are a crucial part of language learning, and no one would be judging me for trying my best. Giving myself this pep talk and addressing my concerns directly helped me to become a more confident speaker. Driving is a bit trickier because car accidents are both common and often fatal. But I reminded myself that driving is a part of life, and the less driving practice I get, the more accident-prone a driver I’ll be. 

3. Make a plan of action

After reasoning with yourself, make a concrete plan of action of how you will face your fear. Giving yourself deadlines, being specific, and asking others to hold you accountable are great ways to ensure that you’ll actually follow-through on your goals. Although I was panicked, I told my mom that I wanted to practice driving with a GPS to an unfamiliar location every weekend at a specific time, and she kindly agreed to support me. Once you’ve made a plan, don’t perseverate over it too much – that will only make you more concerned and more likely to back out. 

4. Do it!

When it comes time to execute your plan, you’ll likely want to chicken out. That’s natural. But by facing your fear, you’re coming one step closer to shedding your fear. Recognize that this isn’t something you’re doing recklessly; you’ve thought it through and have a plan. Push yourself to just do it. You’ve got this!

5. Reflect, part two 

You did it! How do you feel? Maybe you feel amazing, like you’ve conquered the world and like your fear wasn’t that scary after all. More likely, you feel uncomfortable, afraid, tired, or stressed. That’s normal. Based on how your first attempt went, adjust your plan as needed, but make sure to get back out there! As you continue to face your fear, hopefully things will become increasingly easier for you. 

While I still get uneasy at the thought of getting behind the wheel, I am a much more competent driver than I was before. I’m still learning and still making mistakes, but I’m proud that I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone in an attempt to improve my quality of life. The next time you feel paralyzed by fear, take a deep breath, follow the above steps, and take control. With patience, bravery, and hard work, your fear will hopefully become a thing of the past. 

Alexis Bentz

Wash U '24

Alexis Bentz is a sophomore at WashU majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing.
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