Last weekend, I had the privilege of delivering my first ever keynote speech for the Hay House I Can Do It—IGNITE! conference. I was excited and nervous but ready.

As a therapist, I share stories, sometimes my own, if I believe it will help a client or illustrate a point. But standing in front of 2,500 people and being live streamed around the world to many many more people while sharing my actual life story was a totally new experience and made me feel vulnerable in a way that surprised me.

So many people came up to me after my talk to say they felt like I was talking directly to them and/or about them. It reinforced how much more alike than different we humans are.

Fear is a universal experience. If you’re human, you need to figure out how to use fear, or it will definitely use you and keep your dreams small, which is what my story is about: how and why I became an expert on fear and the mind/body connection.

So here it is…

In 1997, I received my Master’s in Clinical Social Work from New York University and became a therapist.

Less than a year later, I got my Ph.D. in Fear.

After a decade as a talent agent, predominantly for well-known actors and models, I was desperate to get off the crazy nicotine, caffeine, adrenalin-fueled hamster wheel that had become my life. I was burned out and realized it was time for a career change when I cared more about getting models into rehab, therapy, and eating disorder clinics than a lucrative Pantene contract.

When I landed in the modeling-agent world, I was convinced I would change an exploitative system. I did not, but the system definitely changed me.

Immediately following graduation, the single most important life-changing event happened. I met the man who would become my husband, Victor Juhasz. Vic was a widower with three out-of-control teenage boys. As if being the widowed father of three sons wasn’t enough, he also lived in New Jersey (I lived in New York City).

I didn’t care. It was perfect. He was perfect. Intoxicated with love hormones, I thought this talented, successful, gorgeous man could have twenty-two teenagers, and I would still say, “It’s all good. Love will find a way!” Believe it or not, this was the calm before the storm.

Four months into our relationship, my father, sixty-one years old and in prime health, dropped dead of a heart attack.

Three months after my father’s death, I discovered a plum-size lump at the base of my throat, which was diagnosed as a large, malignant thyroid tumor. My heart ached as I underwent surgery and radiation while building a relationship with the three boys, whose own mother died of cervical cancer when they were five, three, and one. I couldn’t bear the thought of these boys seeing yet another female love them and then be taken from them.

A mere five months later, a more aggressive cancer was discovered on the other side of my thyroid. More surgery, radiation, and isolation followed.

I wasn’t two months in remission from the second cancer treatment when, on a quiet evening, I leisurely walked onto the back porch to find a huge stocking-faced man holding a large gun to the back of my husband’s head. We were robbed at gunpoint with one of the boys in the house.

My Ph.D. in FEAR was officially complete. For the first time in my life, I was afraid all the time.

The therapist in me knew this was a trauma response; the human in me was incensed. I made a conscious decision to become a fear expert knowing that I, or anyone else for that matter, could not really live life if fear continued to dominate my mind and decisions. I worked though my own fear with the help of my therapist and spent the next fifteen years in my busy private therapy practice researching the effects of fear and the mind-body connection.

I turned my pain into purpose and taught thousands of clients and students to transform their own fear into freedom.

Here are six truths I have learned about transforming fear.

1. Fear Is a Feeling, Not a Fact
This is great news and comes as a surprise to most clients. We change our feelings all the time, so we can change the fear feeling also! Mortal fear is the only informed fear. If your life is in danger, the fight or flight response is adaptive and necessary. However, most of the time when your flight or fight response is activated, you are not in mortal danger (we often refer to this as stress). You can have an initial fear response, recognize you are not in mortal danger, and calm your mind to create clarity.

2. Your Mafia Mind Is a Bully
Your fear mind, or “Mafia Mind” as I call it, operates just like the real mafia. Instead of extorting money, your Mafia Mind extorts joy and potential happiness from your life by threatening you with what might happen. A lot of things might or might not happen, so harness the power of your intention to create what you want to happen.

3. Be Here Now
Present moment awareness is essential to stop fearful thoughts from becoming reality and dictating decisions. Never mind what was and don’t be a fortuneteller. This present moment is unique—there has never been and will never be another. So let go of the “well this is what will happen because that’s what always happens.”

4. Meditation
A dedicated daily practice of stillness and silence strengthens your “be here now” muscle. Living more in this present moment will decrease fear-generated “future tripping” into what hasn’t happened and “past tripping” into what no longer exists.

5. Exercise Gratitude in Motion
An intriguing study from the Corporation for National and Community Service titled The Health Benefits of Volunteering indicated volunteering as little as two hours per week increased feelings of happiness and decreased feelings of depression in volunteers. I made volunteering a mandatory experiment for clients struggling with fear and anxiety and found positive results. Fearful obsessing is very isolating. Sharing your gifts with others is the fastest way to get out of your head and into living.

6. Nourish Your Noggin
Seek help from a licensed professional. Years of my own psychotherapy before and after my year of fear created a safe space for my healing.

You have the power to free yourself from the mental prison that fear creates. Anything worth having is worth working for, and you deserve to live fearless and free.

What are your fears, and how can you implement the above six strategies to use your fears to inform rather than dictate your decisions? What truths, in addition to the six I shared, have you revealed about your fear? I am always interested in your thoughts, so please share. I am available to guide you and cheer you on, along with our supportive community.

Here’s to living Fearless and Free!

love love love

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  1. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer too and my docs say I have a good
    Prognosis but I can’t stop thinking that another shoe is about to drop. I think about the big C all day. Any tips to help me breakthrough.

    1. Dear Elli,
      I understand how you feel. Believe your doctor and affirm your perfect health with your words and actions everyday. When someone ask how you are, respond ‘Perfectly Healthy-thank you’! It is very normal to have a traumatic response to a cancer diagnosis but this is where you have to take on your Mafia Mind and kick the crap out of it! When you start to wonder, what if? instead of letting your fear mind torture you, stop take a deep breath name the feeling (fear) and focus on the part of your body that became constricted from the fearful thought and breathe deeply into that spot until you have expansion where the constriction used to be. The more you clear the fear as soon as you feel it-the less dominated by fear you will be. Live your life and don’t let fear rob you of the joy you have ahead of you!

  2. Hello Terri,
    I recently began listening to your ‘Self -Love is the Path to True Love’ Meditation. It has been a calming and opening experience for me. Thank you. I’ve been challenged by fear recently. I’m choosing to live in ‘today’, realizing fear is a construct of the mind and not real – Byron Katie has helped with this as well!, and your advice of meditation, giving, nourishing all has helped tremendously. Today I’m taking the first big steps to creating my new website and career which will generate much abundance for all. I’m certain. Thank you and many, many blessings. Stephanie

    1. Steph-
      Thank you so much for saying so-warms my heart to hear of your growth through hard work! Congratulations on creating your website-be sure to share it with us once it’s up so we can support you! I love Byron too xo

  3. Terri, I have been listening to you on HayHouse Radio. Love your show and I will keep listening. I am benefiting from your advis immensely.

  4. Stumbled on your post on the Lead With Giants community Terri.
    Thanks to David, Dan and others.
    Your post comes at a crucial time for me personally.
    Your story really resonated with me.
    What impresses me the most, is how you turned your life lesson, your expertise, to serving others and benefiting others.
    This is something I strive. Thanks for setting such a beautiful and heartful example for all of us.
    With respect and admiration.

    1. Johann-
      Thank you so much for your comment-it warms my heart to know that my story resonates with you and hopefully adds some value or soothing. I am glad you are here <3

  5. Hello Terri, I am so happy that I read your post… I have advanced cervical cancer and have started radiation eight days ago…I was feeling ok and thought I would be speared some of the side effects…But yesterday and today I’m so tried and Iam wondering how I’m going to get through it…I have told only my closest friend and my Daughter and her husband…I have 3 Grandchildren two girls and a boy…The oldest girl and I have a very strong love connection she came in yesterday and found me sleeping and said what is wrong with you mama I said I’m just tired…She is a junior in college studying to be a social worker…We know we are going to have to tell her but we just want to wait till her school year is over…She is very emotional and I know she is going to lose it…I feel so guilty doing this to her…You see I have not been to a doctor for years so I feel this is my falut and it will destroy her life..Sorry I got carried away…I’m going to try your six truths and hope for a miracle my “Mafia Mind” has been working over time!
    Thank you for a wonderful post…

    1. Loretta-
      Please don’t waste another second of this precious experience feeling guilty. Your grand daughter will appreciate the truth and is stringer than you know. Allow those who love you to help you-there is nothing shameful about having cancer-whether you did or did not deal with your health-you did not do anything to deserve it but here it is so what are you going to do right now? What is your prognosis? Get your head out of the sand and be a model of behavior by getting the help you need and talking about it. Tell the truth and take care of you now regardless of what you have done in the past. I am holding space for you healing. <3

    2. Loretta, I read your post to Terri Cole of April 2013 and I pray you have come through your ordeal with love and gentle thinking towards yourself. Love, amanda

  6. Hi Terri…I am from the Lead With Giants Community as well with Dan Forbes and David Hain who left comments as well. I would echo Dan’s comment that we would love to have you join our Google+ Community, you would be a great addition. I loved your article, let’s stamp out fear!

  7. Hi Terri,

    David Hain shared your post in the Lead With Giants Community on Google+ Plus. Thanks for revealing your life experiences and how you learned to deal with fear. The LWG Community focuses on UpLifting Leadership and fear is sometimes a topic. We’d love for you to join us and I would like to invite you to consider co-hosting a #LeadWithGiant TweetChat with me sometime. I can help you with the process. Thanks.

  8. Hi Terri, Thank you so much for sharing your powerful and moving story! Six years ago I was a very sad, very fearful, very resentful and uninspired, competitive girl who’d lost touch with the intrinsic magic of life. I’d reached that place in my life – where there was no more avoiding it – something needed to change. Acknowledging my need for change, and beginning to listen to my inner truth helped me immensely. The lesson from my journey that I’d like to share is: Dig into life, and don’t worry about making mistakes or trying to be being perfect. As long as you are aware, every single creation is an opportunity for growth and ultimately greater happiness. What at face value may seem like the most colossal mistake might end up being the catalyst that sends your life in a completely different trajectory beyond anything you ever imagined!”

    1. Emily-
      Thank YOU for sharing and I could not agree more! No matter what our master plan the Universe has an even better one so yes take steps towards your dreams but also allow for the magic to happen. Be here now and ‘dig in’ indeed! <3

  9. Last day of a four day long weekend. So far I have spent this “mini vacation” sleeping, soaking in a tub and watching tv and, of course as usual, being alone. Actively seeking unconsciousness is normally my default position. I don’t even register fear/anxiety for more then a second before I leap into some kind of avoidance behavior. I know what to do to stop this. I keep choosing not to stop this. My brain / resistance (from War of Art / the ‘Mafia Mind’ appears to still be too tricky for me at the midpoint of my life. I read thinks like what you have written above and they take me to the edge of the precipice of becoming conscious and then I stop or retreat. This is just me venting. I wish I knew why. ps. Terry if you know anyone who could recommend a therapist way up in Edmonton, Alberta please feel free to let me know.

    1. Gregory-
      You are not as far away from where you want to be as you might think. So let’s start with hte fact that you are AWARE that you want to change and that you are avoiding what you fear to face. OK this is good. Awareness is the very first step to changing anything. I encourage you to meditate because this will help you face whatever it is-hey you know what?? You are OK and whatever it is that u think is so bad -once u look it in the eye-u will still be breathing and ok and then you know what? you will realize that fear is a feeling not a fact and that you have the power to change whatever it is in your life that is not working. Truth! You want love well you got to get out of your tub and and be in the world and you know this-once u look at what you are afraid of (your parents marriage-a pain from a past love etc) you can then decide to enlist a DO OVER a START RIGHT NOW a NOW IS NOT THEN mindset and get some sh*t done. You are amazing-you deserve love-you are the only you so do me a favor and step up for my pal Gregory and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT and you my friend will get a different result. I am cheering you on and will ask my pals up your way if anyone has a referral for you. Google therapists in your area-look at psychology today website and see if they cover your area-contact national association for social workers in the states and see if they have any info for you. Get up and get movin’ cuz your amazing beautiful one of a kind life awaits <3

  10. Hi Terri. Thank you so much for sharing what you share in this world. You are a source of great strength for me. It’s funny, many/most of the people I follow on line seem to know each other – are friends! This makes me feel like I’m part of a true community of people I’ve never met but who I know deeply. When you had the benefit for your sister, there was a photo of you with Davidji. Davidji came to Chicago and I spent a meditation day with him. I also follow Kris Carr and you two are obviously soul sisters. I have been reading lots of Wayne Dyer’s work and I remember you posting a photo of yourself with him. It’s so cool for me, out here, to be a part of all of that. It shores me up in innumerable ways. Peace and love right back acha!! Liz

    1. Hey Liz-
      I love to hear that and thank you for taking the time to write it! I love my circle of like minded lovers of life and feel blessed for all those who on on this journey with us. You ARE a part of our posse because without you-there would not be a posse lol! So keep up the good work sharing the love and taking good care of you! <3

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