9 Ways to Fight Fear

She called me this morning and asked,  “you never told me about that ex girlfriend who spoke French who you got pregnant. How come?” She had read my blog. I was afraid I had shared too much. I was afraid it would come back to haunt me.

I’m tired of being afraid. From the moment we’re born we are always in a fight. We fight to eat, we fight to stand up, we fight to control our bowels. Finally we shit by ourselves, in clean porcelain bowls. What an achievement! The first of many. The first of many happinesses that become aborted, miscarried joy strewn everywhere throughout our lives as we hurry to our death.

We fight to have friends. We fight the bullies. We fight the girls who think we’re too disgusting to touch. We're afraid to be unloved, unwanted, unworthy.

“Its better not to touch him,” Karen N said to her friends at square dance class in 7th grade.  They would hold their hands out, grasping the air in front of me, while we dosi-doed and pretended to love each other.

We graduate to the real world. So now we can fight bosses, employees, colleagues, competitors.  Each one of our thoughts costumed into spoken words we think will bring us more money, more happiness. Those same oaths of loyalty, of hope and fearlessness all vomited back in our faces.

“You’re disgusting,” said one close relative who took too close a look at my face when I was 16. I wish I could google all of the conversations of my life for the phrase “you’re disgusting”. Catalog them and browse them in my old age.

And then we’re afraid. Because these fights cost money. So we fight for money. And sometimes we kill for it or go to jail for it or lie for it or steal for it. But always we’re afraid of it.

I’m tired of fighting. Kids, parents, siblings, people I work with, others others OTHERS. I look at them through a kaleidoscope. One time they are a beautiful image all mixed together, but then I shift ever so slightly and everything becomes dissonant, a collage of colors that never should’ve been put together.

I’m tired of the non-stop battle. Where we always want things we can’t afford. People we can’t have. Situations that eluded us. Situations that deluded us.

I’m tired of it.

In 2002 I’d walk with my business partner, Dan, in between trades. The market was going down every day. We’d daytrade the worst stocks, buying companies that were down 30% in a day. These were always the stocks sure to bounce. The stocks that the girls wouldn’t touch at the dance.  The companies nobody loved.

We’d walk on streets like Rutgers St, or Henry St. Streets that were off the standard NYC grid. Streets with weird temples to no religion and tiny slivers of a hole in the wall that you’d stick a dollar through and a dirty hand would hand you back a dumpling. “I could live here,” I said. “And completely disappear. Nobody would know I ever existed.”

But of course I can’t. I’d bring my wife now. My two kids. I’d have to worry about my bank account. I have people who depend on me. I’d still call Dan throughout the day wondering about deals that would never happen. Chinatown is far away for me now.

If I drilled a tunnel straight through the center of the Earth and ended up on the other side it wouldn’t even matter. I’d be right back where I started. Afraid of all the people around me, everyone speaking languages I never really understood in the first place.

I'm just really tired of the constant fight.

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How to Fight The Fear (this is in reverse order of usefulness).


A) Don’t’ read newspapers. All they do is bring you more fear. My kids came over today and said, “Did you hear about the kid in Brooklyn?”  No, I said. And I don’t want to.  Whether the news is true or sad or horrible or horrific, it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t read the newspaper. They shit fear and then try to make it smell good so they can sell it to you for $1.25.

B) Don’t watch TV. Jealousy, greed, anger, murder are the themes of the top TV shows. And then there’s the news. I have one or two shows I’ll download on iTunes and that’s it. The rest of the cable companies could shut down for all I care.

C) Try to sleep 8-9 hours. Fear is the enemy of sleep. It’s a monster that sits on you all night trying to wake you. The less you sleep, the more that monster can whisper in your brain during the day.

D) Limit phone usage. Here's the reason.

E) Practice invisibility.  Here's the reason.

F) No alcohol. This is hard for almost everybody, even me. Alcohol is a way of life. You go outside at night, and you drink alcohol with your friends. People often think alcohol pushes away the fear but it just “kicks the can” (I have to put it in quotes because now financial media is using that term too often to describe events on a beach resort in Europe) until the fear becomes a monster that wakes you up on a sugar bounce in the middle of the night. Plus alcohol deludes you into thinking you have no inhibitions when in fact, you never had any inhibitions. It’s just that nobody else knew that.

G) Express yourself. Paint something today. Or write down the list of ideas you have. Or write a poem even if you’ve never read or written one in your entire life. Or write a story about your earliest memories. All the colors you saw on that memory. List the colors. List the family members who were there, list the location. Spend a half hour today expressing yourself in some way. List what you wish you had done differently the first time you felt passionate for something or someone. You can even express yourself through email. Return an email from 2004. Just pull it up right now. You never returned it. Return it right now.

H) Imagine you suddenly had no money or job or love at all. List everything that would mean for you. You would still be able to stay in shape. Still be able to have compassion towards the people around you. Still be able to generate ideas. Still surrender to the universe around you. From there you can rebuild. I’ve been there and had to do it.

I) Useful/Not useful. Go to this post about anger. The same technique for dealing with anger, you can use to deal with fear. Insomnia grays our days, cancer might be bleeding up slowly from our rectum to our heart, mental illness might be fogging the lenses we use see all life around us, but you can still try and train your thoughts to take out the pieces that are clouded with delusion and fear.

We’re so happy when we’re young and the future seems infinite in front of us. But it is an engorged cyst with pus that leaks out and finally bursts when youth turns to old age, when potential turns to mediocrity, when love turns to languish.

But while we hurry to our death, and the last liquid pus comes streaming out of the cyst of our youth, when the colors of our hopes turns to the grays of insomnia, it’s time to realize that none of it ever mattered– that freedom is colorless. When finally the fight ends, the fear fades away, the love decides to stick around, the feeling of pleasure is so enormous it almost becomes something to fear.

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  • Alright, James, you cannot tease us like this.  Fighting fear is one thing; resolving a question of trust in a relationship is another.  What did you say on the phone call?  How did you face the fact that your fear was realized…and deal with it without being afraid?

    Your honesty and openness is going to bring this out, so maybe you’ll need to reread this every time it does.  I certainly will.

    I’ve spent my weekend feeling so angry and frustrated that I thought I might be losing my mind. Some exercise, some solitude, and a dose of your blog has made a world of difference.  Oh, and a simple text message that said “I miss you” didn’t hurt, either.

    • Dave, I’m glad you got that text. I’ve been there. Let me ask you this: what would you have done if you had never gotten that text. How would you have dealt with it. I’ve (and I’m sure you) have been there as well.

      • I would have continued to be angry, of course, to the point of poisoning my entire evening and possibly beyond.  I have taken the strength of this relationship for granted at times and both done and said things that I truly regret looking back.  In my defense, I’m not always wrong in what I express, but I could certainly do a better job of expressing it.

        The distance that opens up between me and the person I love is both caused by and the source of the anger and there is a terribly vicious devil that keeps telling me that the other person doesn’t really care, which is 100% untrue.  I’m hard to life with, hard to understand, hard to talk down from any number of ledges and it is so easy to forget.  Sometimes, I just need a sign from some source other than the inside of my head and I got that today. In the end, that little note saved me.  And I told her so, leading off what turned out to be a particularly normal and happy end to the weekend.  The kids were not too bad, we had amazing Indian food, and sat close to each other while watching a pretty mediocre comedy.  Now, if only we would just turn on the AC, all would be perfect. Ah, but you are ducking my question, James.  How did you handle the phone call in the end?  Are things okay?

  • A truly outstanding post James!

  • Why do we have to fight fear?  I do have my fears but I do not feel the need to fight them back everyday.  Its not like they are hiding around every corner and if I am not diligent then I will be consumed by them in my sleep.  My fears are simply an irrational extrapolation of an incomplete  set of facts.  The best way to fight fear is to focus on being happy.  I wrote about this this other day, take a read http://laststopthissideoftheriverstyx.blogspot.com/2011/07/day-i-burned-down-tee-pee.html

    Life is amazing and no amount of newspapers, TV is going to change that just get enough sleep and look at the world through rose colored lenses.

  • Steven L Goff

    “nihil timendum est” …Fear Nothing

  • This is good advice for handling irrational fears. But what about rational fear? What about the things we need to be worried about? Where is the advice telling us we need to address the source of these fears? 

    Perhaps that means eliminating a person from your life. Or a behavior. But these fears can be just as ever-present in our lives (if not more so) and cannot be resolved by sleeping more, wtching TV less or writing poetry. 

    • I have pondered this for some time and I keep flipping back and forth…  Is fear useful in modern times?  If we are focused on shaping the world the way we want what do our fears get us?  Fight or flight was the primary value of fear but today do I need to be afraid someone might run a red light to pay attention as I cross an intersection?  If I fear the red light runner then that fear will begin to consume me and make it difficult to enact positive change in my life.  If I simply recognize all drivers are not perfect and I should be aware of my surroundings then I am just being a safe driver and my fears are not consuming me.

      Right now I am landing on the side of fears not adding any value and only drawing energy away from much needed positive action.

      I had a boss who used to tell me to stop looking in the ditch.  Remember when you were a kid driving your bike around a corner and it was getting a little tight?  If you looked in the ditch you drove right in it but if you looked where you wanted to go sometimes you made it.  Keep your eye on the prize and out of the ditch;-)

    • Brooke, “money”, for instance, is a very rational fear. Not having enough to survive. I’ve had this fear many many times. Too many. Most people get jobs and avoid the fear to some extent. I think a combination of the above (to provide more focus, and time to be productive) plus the Daily Practice I outline in an earlier post are the keys to dealing with those fears. When I used to worry every day about going broke that was definitely in the category of “not useful” when I could’ve been coming up with productive ways to make money.

  • Hi again James, from Palo Alto! I hope we can meet inperson at some point; it pisses me off how well you write.

  • Plenty to think about here, thanks James.  I don’t know if it’s personal loss (H section) or what but after the passing of many close people to me (my dad, my brother, my friend from college) I actually find it hard to get worked up about day to day worries anymore.  So small in the big picture, really.  Still, I do care a ton about what total strangers (in the blogosphere) think of me and that fear (it’s not to that degree I think, more concern) is one I still work on.  Did you ever see “Defending Your Life”?  Fits this post perfectly:

  • P.S. Two posts in one day… Bravo!

  • Fear sucks, and it can suck to the point of destroying everything in your life. It can paralyze you to the point of barely breathing.

    I think this post is excellent advice.  I particularly like “H.” 

    • Thanks 736. I’ve had fear take up years of my life. And probably ruin future years just because of the toll it takes on the body and brain. But I like “H” also. They all have worked for me.

  • RE: TV – what are the two shows you watch now?

    • Actually, right now, maybe nothing. Oh wait, when my kids are over: Glee.

  • Avoiding things that make you fearful actually creates more fear. It’s far better to train yourself to remain calm while reading the newspaper than to avoid it b/c it makes you anxious.

    Fear is a natural and ok reaction. It’s pretty useful. Those of us who have a problem with fear are generally experiencing an overreaction. I’m finding it more useful to talk to my fear and be friends with it. http://www.nathaniajohnson.com/fear-is-what-brings-us-together-today

    • a lot more than anxiety. news is close to pointless, meaning a lot of time wasted and even counter productive 

      James, I think you’d really appreciate this when you have a moment 


    • The thing is: I’m not actually afraid of any news. Its just that the entire point of the news industry now is to mass-produce fear. So for me, personally, its pointless to engage with it. I see it first hand on so many levels how they try to manipulate the masses into being scared. For instance, did radiation wash up on the shores of San Francisco? Did debt contagion spread to the US last year? Are we really in a “bubble” because LinkedIn had an an IPO

    • For 2 years I did nothing but read the news at a job I held, during the height of the Great Recession in 2008 & 2009.  The feeling of anxiety experienced contributed to the end of my marriage.  I have since cancelled by newspaper subscription, cancelled cable, and switched jobs to one which I’m actively engaged mentally during working hours.   

      It is indescribably the level of happiness I have achieved through these simple acts.  I’m no longer bombarded with the fear breeding media.

  • Bruce Sutherland

    I’m not sure when I heard this but “The only thing that causes worry is lack of information.” What do people do when they’re fearful? Worry. I don’t mean the “information” you get from the news. James is correct about TV and newspapers. Whatever it is you’re worrying about, seek information about what you’re worried about and poof…No more worry/fear. It works like magic for me.

    • Philippe

      True. But what if you are e.g. worried about a colleague at work? Speaking to him about it didn’t help…? What’s the best tactic then?

  • Patricia

    Thanks James.  Love the no news, no tv!  Me too, for almost four years now.  And although some people think I live in a fantasy bubble, I think most of the world lives in a bizarro-world  bubble of fear.  Which one is more real?  Heehee. Rock on! 

  • jim

    Nice practical stuff. I like that about your blog. Thanks.

  • Every time I hear someone say something like, “I am tired of being afraid” or “I am so tired,” I think of Jesse Livermore’s suicide note:

    “Can’t help it. Things have been bad with me. I am tired of fighting. Can’t carry on any longer.”

    I wonder what a conversation between you and Livermore would be like.

    Thank you for the post.

  • Like this post, love the tips.  Last part brought Steve Jobs’ quote to mind: Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

    • James Brian Peterson

      ”You have never lived until you have almost died,and for those who fight for it life has a flavor that the protected will never understand”.

  • I’ve encountered a lot of people with entitlement complexes and seem to lack that fear of poverty.

    Do you think they’re faking it?

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant.  Another personal favorite. 

  • Joeb

    Thanks for continuing to write, James. I’m sure one day you’ll tire of it or you’ll feel you’ve said it all but for now… keep going.

    Totally off the subject: I saw this Onion article and thought of you.onion.com/ppSEUl

  • Joeb

    Hmmm… worked just a moment ago. Try this one instead:
    Totally off the subject: I saw this Onion article and thought of you. http://tinyurl.com/onionjames

  • Pleasure and fear are closely related. Until both are understood, freedom is just an idea.

  • Nice. And how about the Bene Gesserit ‘litany against fear’?

  • Leeroy_d

    not reading the news becomes very selfish tho… we become ignorant to things happening around the world.. things we can contribute to in some way or the other…

  • Holly

    Wow,  it just hit me like a ton of bricks that section H) completely describes me, with the added bonus of I don’t have a home. But oddly, I am really okay with all that, because I DO have ideas and I am in the perfect place to rebuild. Here we go.

  • Brsparks
  • Anonymous

    Glad you included alcohol in that list.  Another along those lines may be big-time professional sports which is presented as War-Lite and make us collectively inured to the rational fear we should all have toward real war. 

  • Ashish Hablani

    The more honest you pour in your posts, the more beautiful it becomes. The greatest wonder is the way you mix inspiration and implementation in one post. Hats off to you my friend.

  • What do you all  think of Google+ ?

  • @girlswithgoals

    Amen brother! Love this.

  • Dermott

    Avoiding TV & newspapers has the added benefit of avoiding advertising. And it’s built on making you feel scared and inadequate. Ditching both about three years ago has enhanced my mood no end.

  • I read “The Culture of Fear” a while back and came to the same realization about not watching the news. I love this line in your post, “I’m tired of the non-stop battle. Where we always want things we can’t
    afford. People we can’t have. Situations that eluded us. Situations that
    deluded us.” I like that you included situations.

    The media isn’t fooling me.

  • Rosswhiting

    Really like this…. Thank you.

  • “Courage is resistance to and mastery of fear – not the absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

    Thanks for the post James. On thing I’d add is meditation. It has helped me a lot in overcoming fears.

    Your brain is a bit like the media.  It can take take a thought and spin it out of control into a fearstorm pretty quickly. While you can’t shut it off completely, it helps to be able to look at it from a “distance” to get some perspective. Then if you’re spiraling towards fear you can see it for what it is, mostly your own creation, and sometimes it will be better.


  • Robert Kirchner

    James, just what I needed today, THANKS!

  • Robert Kirchner

    James, just what I needed today, THANKS!

  • Anonymous

    I agree with fear being the enemy of sleep. This explains why I am only getting three hours of sleep lately…

  • Paul

    Thanks James for your post on a subject that affects so many. Fear can consume us all at times and comes in many forms. Your advice will help me to not only fight fear, but to highlight and focus on those things that matter most. Thank you.

  • Paul

    Thanks James for your post on a subject that affects so many. Fear can consume us all at times and comes in many forms. Your advice will help me to not only fight fear, but to highlight and focus on those things that matter most. Thank you.

  • Pablo Meliso

    The happier I get the more fear that surrounds me…

    Battling it out with the beast of fear now, I find this article and I find peace for a bit. 
    In the last few months I have exceeded my business goals, I have cultivated excellent relationships, travelled and the last few days I have been hit with a deathly paranoia. 

    I can’t sleep because I am fearful of something horrible happening, I should be sick or poisoned, my girlfriend should be cheating on me, I should get sued, maybe even jailed for a crime I did not commit. 

    Somehow in the past when this has occurred I have always managed to ruin my stab at success but it is the fear itself that ruins me.

    Perhaps I am addicting to fear. Before the fear of not having money, girlfriend, and experiences was sufficient but as my life gets grander my fears do too.

    This time I’m fighting it.

  • Kevin M

    I like that the Useful/Not Useful test is deemed “most useful”. Excellent list, I can honestly say I’ve been doing a few since I started reading here and it has helped. Thanks.

  • Rod

    Wow. Today is the day I stop lurking to say … dude, you are a great writer.

  • David

    This might be somewhat off to your above column but I’ve always like so much George M. Cohen’s 1904 song, Life’s a Funny Proposition After All…and how it captures the futility of life at times.  Here are a few lines from the song:Three meals a day, a whole lot to say;Three meals a day, a whole lot to say;
    When you haven’t got the coin you’re always in the way.
    Ev’rybody’s fighting as we wend our way along,
    Ev’ry fellow claims the other fellow’s in the wrong;


  • “I’m just really tired of the constant fight.”

    Doesn’t fighting fear then become a constant fight? Or is it more along the lines of practice makes it easier, and less of a fight?

  • Mike Morin

    These are really useful techniques to push the destructive negative emotions that come with fear.  There is also another wonderful book full of sound, pragmatic, researched, and actionable guidance by Dale Carnegie: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.  I think between your blog and this book, one will have 80% of what one needs to feel empowered to live a life of one’s own choosing.  The other 20% is the creative part answering the question “so what do you want to do with yourself now?” (and you won’t be afraid to do it).

  • wut. i’m afraid you may be right  on some points.

  • Fighting fear acknowledges it and perpetuates it. But I do think your points are good. TV, new, lack of sleep, and lack of creative output will facilitate more fear.

  •  It’s 2.5 years since my husband and I had a TV. Someone said to me recently, “isn’t that illegal?”

    I catch an occasional Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bored to Death on Netflix — both make me laugh loudly. The laughing loudly part — also important at fighting fear.

    Love your blog and your writing! Keep it up!

  • Anonymous

    Wow. You really capture the raw feelings here James. Great piece of writing, a great deal of which I can relate to. Fear, and the subsequent lies have sent me into a nosedive which I woke up in the middle of (perhaps denial could make a good subject for an article as well). I’m currently yanking back for all my life’s worth on the yoke, flattening out and preparing for the climb back up. Articles like this make a big difference. My thanks. 

  • msgidge

    thanks for the reminder. and for saving my life. again and again.

  • Great article homie.

  • Great article homie.

  • trader003

    Amazing post. “and the last liquid pus comes streaming out of the cyst of our youth..”  nice use of metaphor James. reminds me of the style of Dr. Martin Luther King. 

  • Best part of great post is the last sentence…”When finally the fight ends, the fear fades away, the love decides to stick around, the feeling of pleasure is so enormous it almost becomes something to fear.”

  • Kikijuju

    Que sara sara…. 

  • Virg Lewis

    As always, James challenges us readers to examine what we are doing on a daily basis. I am pleased to say that I practice NOT doing almost all the items on his list. It makes such a huge positive difference not to have extra negativity streaming into your life.

  • Don Guderian

    I thought that James was a man of ideas – always coming up with lists of TEN ideas. Are you holding back with only NINE ways to fight fear? The TENTH way might be the hardest, but is probably the best. Please share it with us.

  • Arthur Okeke