Coping with anxiety and fear
Are you trying to work through anxiety? Do your fears sometimes cause you to become paralyzed? Hoping to find a few practical ways for working through?
If the answer is yes, you aren’t alone. While the numbers are a bit scattered, current research suggests nearly forty million Americans struggle with some form of anxiety each year.
In my work as a counselor, I can tell you that the number one thing people want when they seek out guidance are practical, real-world tools to help them work through.
This is particularly true for folks who live with gremlins like social anxiety, panic attacks and phobias; issues that when left unchecked can become crippling and debilitating.
Just for the sake of review, let’s take a quick definitional look at both anxiety and fear. While both are related, they aren’t the same.
- Anxiety: A state of uneasiness and distress about what the future holds; marked by apprehension and worry. An intense sense of dread that lacks a specific cause or threat. Living in a suspended state of alertness while feeling helpless.
- Fear: A pending sense of doom under the threat of something real or imagined. Feeling terrified and frightened.
Keep these constructs in mind as you read what follows. While the suggestions mentioned below shouldn’t be thought of as curative, they are designed to help you walk on the path of healing.
1. Stop the negative self-talk
For many people, living with anxiety means engaging in negative self-talk. Examples include, “I shouldn’t feel anxious” or “If I were stronger, I wouldn’t panic.”
Here’s what you need to know. Whenever you make these kinds of statements to yourself, you are literally making your anxiety worse. This happens because you are reinforcing a subconscious message that tells your brain you are powerless.
But guess what? You aren’t.
As much as you possibly can, eliminate negative words from your vocabulary and replace them with affirming supportive statements.
Example. Swap statements like, “If I were stronger, I wouldn’t have panic” with “I’m strong enough to live with panic in my life”.
2. Embrace your anxieties and fears
One of the strongest emotions is fear. It is a gift given to you by mother nature; an internal warning system that is designed to keep you alive.
Embrace this gift with every fiber of your being. Do not be ashamed of it or try to deny its existence. Anxiety and fear are primal and directly linked to the flight or fight response.
The more you try to push anxiety away, the stronger it becomes. But when you acknowledge its presence and recognize it is not an enemy, you change how it manifests in your life.
This is a core concept of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, also known as ACT.
3. Nix perfectionism and opt for excellence
Are you a perfectionist? Does everything you do have to be 100% right – with no exceptions? If the answer is yes, you are doing great harm to your emotional and spiritual psyche.
And you know what else?
You are setting yourself up for failure. Trying to be perfect leads to procrastination, which acts as gasoline in anxiety’s fuel tank.
Instead of being perfect, adopt the mindset of excellence. In other words, opt for doing the best that you can in all that you do while remembering that mistakes are part of the learning process.
By adjusting your thinking, you transform your relationship with anxiety into something you can use for your benefit.
4. Center thoughts in the here and now
When a panic attack strikes or you become paralyzed with fear, it is critical to center yourself in the here and now. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’ll continue downward on a negative spiral and feel like you are losing control.
To become centered, take a deep breath. Count to ten and acknowledge what you are feeling. Do not deny that fear or anxiety is present in your mind. Instead, simply acknowledge they are present.
Then, using your five senses, ask yourself What am I aware of in the moment?
For example, if you are outside, do you smell freshly cut grass? Do you hear the wind, passing through trees? Can you feel the texture on the side of a brick building? You get the idea. Use your senses to attach yourself to the moment.
If you are at home or in a private place, consider conducting a body scan. This will help you to tune into your physical person and tune out of your mind. Learn more by visiting this post on how to conduct a body scan.
5. Discover others who have the same worries
One of the ways fear and anxiety become stronger is by pushing you towards isolation. When you aren’t talking about your feelings or discussing how they impact your life, fear paradoxically grows.
To de-intensify these feelings, it is critical that you find others who hold similar worries. Once you do, share. Doing so helps to universalize your experience and push back against that voice in your head that keeps telling you that you’re crazy.
You are not.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has an online support group that you may wish to consider. Click here to learn more and access.
By reaching out, you can share your experiences and learn how others are coping. Additionally, you also talk about things that have helped you. The end result? Healing.
6. Keep a journal of your thoughts
The mind is a powerful thing. Sometimes, it sends messages that you don’t always hear but nonetheless influences your feelings. These thoughts can happen at the conscious and subconscious level.
To better understand the relationship between your thinking and your feelings, keep a thought journal. This doesn’t need to be complicated. You can download one free from a cool website called Therapist Aid.
Because thoughts can also come to us when we are sleeping, it can also help to write in a dream journal. Here, the goal is to look for themes and identify any patterns that may be pointing you towards the source of anxiety.
You can create a dream journal with the use of a simple notebook or you can buy one pre-made from places like Amazon.
7. Move your body
This suggestion is firmly rooted in clinical research is largely common sense. It’s very simple. To combat feelings of anxiety and fear, you’ve got to engage in physical activity on a regular basis.
Doing so helps to stimulate important brain chemicals that encourage calmness. In the absence of these chemicals, stress in your body grows, which can exacerbate symptoms and make panic worse. This is particularly true if you live with OCD.
You don’t have to be bodybuilder or fitness guru to benefit from this suggestion. Simple things, like a daily walk or run, can do wonders. So can partaking in activities like yoga, stretching, and biking. Move your body and get out of your head.
8. Spend time in nature
The universe has blessed us with an amazing planet. It is a living, breathing thing. To the extent possible, try to spend time outdoors and become one with it.
But for that to happen, it will mean turning off the television, putting down your phone and getting away from social media. All of these are external stimuli that you simply don’t need.
Some people refer to what I am talking about as nature therapy. For reasons that aren’t fully known, nature has a way of healing our thoughts and calming our anxieties.
But on an intuitive level, doesn’t this make sense?
Try hiking on a nature trail or spending time in the woods. If you live in a big city, find whatever natural oasis exists and simply be with the outdoors.
Finally, if you can spend time near the ocean, a lake or river, do so. Moving water has an impact on the psyche that is healing and restorative. Chalk it up to new ageism I guess. All I know is that water calms.
9. Respect yourself
There is an old saying and it goes like this: “Never let someone get comfortable disrespecting you.” Whenever you allow someone to call you names, make fun of you or put you down, you are disrespecting yourself.
If you want to be treated with respect, you must first respect yourself. This means calling out people who treat you badly and if necessary, cutting out toxic a-holes from your life.
All these folks do is feed into your negative, internal voice and violate your spirit.
By respecting yourself, you forever alter your relationship with anxiety.
10. Ditch victimhood
You are a powerful person with the ability to positively transform every aspect of your life. But for that to happen, you must stop blaming others for your woes.
This is not to minimize any hardships, difficulties or abuses you may have endured. Obviously, they have an impact on all that we think and feel.
That said, there’s a difference between acknowledging the unfortunate and becoming a prisoner to it. Yes, whatever happened to you earlier in life was horrible.
But if you aren’t taking active steps to overcome these difficulties and instead are using them as excuses for “I can’t” statements, you are engaging in learned helplessness.
That’s a ten-dollar term used to describe the dynamic where a person refuses to create change in their life because they keep using something bad from their past as a permission slip to stay stuck.
If you are doing this, stop it right now. All victimhood does is block you from living your life to your full potential. It feeds fear and shame and severely limits your happiness.
Here’s the full-on truth. You have only this moment in time. Yesterday is gone. There’s not a damn thing either of us can do about it.
The question to focus on now is this: Are you living in the past or in the present?
The tools, ideas, and suggestions mentioned here obviously aren’t a complete list. But they can serve as starting points to address fear and anxiety in your life.
You deserve to be happy. Your presence on this planet did not occur through happenstance. You are a gift. Choose inner harmony and peace. Learn to integrate what you feel into your total person.
You only have this moment in time. What are you doing with it?