8 Military Tricks To Conquer Your Fear

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a dumbass.

I should probably explain that. Sure, he was a stellar president, but he also said some pretty stupid things. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself?" Please. Didn't he ever see a grizzly bear in person? No, I guess that was his ancestor, Theodore.

But when you're an elite soldier, you actually have to live up to that quote. Navy SEALs, Marines, and Special Forces face life-threatening danger on a regular basis, and if they got hung up on the fear, they'd never get through their day. And while most of us will never go through what they experience, there's no reason why we can't apply their fear-crushing tactics to our own lives.

1. Spend tons of time preparing and practicing

Worried about that presentation you have to give to the boss? Stressing over an upcoming job interview? Freaking out about that arbitrarily important rap battle that will determine whether or not you can move out of your mom's trailer and become a real star?

Don't worry. According to former SEAL Platoon Commander James Waters, the key to losing yourself in the moment is to devote as much of your energy as possible to preparation: "We spend 75% of our time preparing for deployment and about 25% on the deployment."

SEALs rid fear from their minds by practicing an upcoming mission until they feel naturally confident about it—until that unknown becomes, well, a little more known. They don't lie to themselves about the risks, they simply put themselves in the best position to handle them, which inspires confidence.

2. Learn fear management from The Joker

Army Rangers and Navy SEALs agree: one of the most effective ways to deal with fear is to laugh about it. As Waters puts it, laughter lets him know that everything is "going to be fine and it’s all going to work out."

There's evidence to back this up, too. A Stanford University study revealed that people who were trained to make jokes in response to disturbing images dealt with them in a much healthier way than those who weren't given the chance. Laughing in the face of fear made fear run away in embarrassment. The world is a twisted place, and seeing the funny side of it can make living here a lot easier.

3. Breathe...and breathe...and breathe...

Your heart is beating out of your chest, your knees are Jell-O, and sweat is pouring off your face. Unfortunately, fear does have physical manifestations. But you can actually fight these physical symptoms, physically. Breathe.

By inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for four seconds, SEALs are able to calm down the nervous system and regain control of their own biological response to fear. As a result, they actually experience the fear less powerfully.

Or, as a SEAL instructor said, "You're bending the body's software to control its hardware," which is an awesomely nerdy way to describe what sounds like a real-life superpower. Either way, it's something you can do right now to get a grip on your nerves.

4. Don't keep it bottled up

Fear is like shitty booze. It not only sucks in the moment, but also has lasting effects, so it's important to deal with it before and after the fact.

According to Colonel David M. Benedek, M.D., talking about a frightening experience—whether through therapy or a game of cards—helps soldiers find some sort of meaning in it. It makes sense—communication allows them to process the event and cultivate closer relationships with important people in their lives.

If you're scared of something, admitting it to a friend may be the best thing for you—hearing yourself say stuff out loud helps you put it out in the open and confront it head-on.

5. Talk over the voice in your head

We're all used to that voice that chatters throughout the day in the back of our minds. We're also used to the fact that he's kind of an asshole. It'd be sweet to have an inner monologue that reminds us of a motivational speaker, but more often than not, our guy sounds like a drunken stepfather telling us we're worthless and unwanted.

This is a real thing. In times of stress, our brains generate self-talk that can dramatically increase our feelings of fear. Soldiers fight back against this by actively reminding themselves to mentally shout over those thoughts. They focus on the positive part of the experience, repeating words like "faster" when they need to, well, go faster. With enough practice, they learn to ignore and even override the douchebag in their brains. You can do the same in your daily life.

Just don't actually say the words while at your desk. You don't want your self-talk to scare your coworkers.

6. Think about the worst case scenario

Whatever you're afraid of—lions, tigers, predictable pop culture references—you could always opt to avoid it for the rest of your life, but soldiers don't have that luxury. They know they're probably going to face situations that will scare the shit (literally) out of them. To make sure the fear doesn't take over when lives are on the line, they simulate the most stressful scenarios they can, trying as much as possible to experience the emotions in practice so they have less of an effect in reality.

Science backs this up, too. Instead of thinking happy thoughts and ignoring your fears, it's starting to look like the best way to overcome an anxiety is to spend a lot of time imagining the worst possible outcome. People who are able to picture their worst fear and stay with that emotional experience instead of pushing it out of their minds generally get over that fear much more effectively than those who try to ignore them.

7. Meditate the fear away

Picture SEAL training. Whatever you imagine, the image of guys sitting in a circle and chanting "Om" probably doesn't come to mind.

But in truth, meditation is another method that elite soldiers are now using to destress, prep for combat, and control fear. Programs like Warrior Mind Training, which tailors its meditation practice specifically to the needs of the armed forces, offer new recruits and combat veterans alike the opportunity to benefit from a technique that has been proven to provide tremendous mental health benefits. Those who have participated report not only increased skills as a soldier, but an enhanced ability to deal with pressure and adapt to life back home.

If something as simple as watching your breathing can benefit guys who run towards the people who want to shoot them, it can probably help you relax about that report that's due this week. 

8. Keep pushing your comfort zone

When all is said and done, the job of any elite soldier is to willingly put their life at risk again and again and again. And some find that this is a great way to overcome fear. By enduring an intense emotional experience enough times, the anxiety diminishes. It's the same principle that makes exposure therapy (less pervy than you think) an effective means of combatting phobias.

If you're in a scary situation often enough, it's not scary. Unless that situation involves spiders.

Joe Oliveto is a staff writer for Supercompressor, and thinks you should check out how you can help soldiers with PTSD through the Wounded Warrior Project.

Want more of the Culture you actually care about delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up for our daily email.