Six Steps for Managing Fear and Anxiety
By Jude Bijou
All of us, at some time or another, experience fear and anxiety. We worry about our teenager driving at night. We fret about whether we’ll be laid off. We fear the worst when we notice an odd lump or feel a shooting pain.
The fact is that most of the time, whatever we fear doesn’t happen. Our teen arrives safely home. There’s no pink slip in our pay envelope. And the lump is benign and of no concern.
Nevertheless, life is filled with unknowns. And it’s hard-wired for the body to go into its fear physiology when it feels as if its survival is threatened. Few among us are able to calmly tolerate the big “what ifs” that enter our thoughts every day. Since we can’t control what pops into our brain, we have to learn how to control how we respond to those body sensations and those fearful, fretful, anxious thoughts.
Here are six highly effective techniques to help you let go of fears and worry that can turn into disabling phobias and serious anxiety if not addressed head-on.
1. Release the emotion.
Scientists understand that emotions are physical — pure energy that’s produced by our brain. When we feel an emotion such as fear, we experience physical symptoms such as fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, or stomach upset. You can release fear physically and constructively by shivering and quivering, like a dog at the vet. Let your whole body do what it wants to do–shake and tremble. Do it with vigor, and even better, accompanied by eeek or brrrr, and very quickly you will notice that your symptoms of fear are diminished or gone.
2. Restore your perspective.
Next, use conscious thinking to interrupt repetitive, fear-based thoughts going on in your head. Say to yourself,“Everything is all right,” “Everything will be okay,” “One thing at a time,” “Be here now,” or “I can handle this.” Even though you’re the one telling yourself these truths, positive self-talk and reassurance really do change your attitude and pacify your body. Keep interrupting the old and remembering the reality.
3. Look within for the right action.
Often, fear is just something in our thoughts that requires no action. But sometimes we can relieve the anxiety and physical sensations by pausing and asking within for what action needs to be done. Maybe it’s taking a “fear of flying” course, talking to your mate, asking your boss for help, or learning to meditate. Ask yourself if there’s any action called for, and listen. Your heart will guide you well.
4. Make a list of what needs attention.
Usually, fear is a sign that some things in our life need attention. It’s helpful and grounding to write down the top priorities in your life right now or all the things you need to do. You may discover that the fear and worry you’re experiencing has to do with something else entirely. For example, you’re fearful about your financial future, yet you’ve been putting off taking that last semester of courses to earn your master’s degree. Having that degree would open up new career possibilities and relieve some of your financial fears. Look at your list, prioritize the items, then just do one thing at a time.
5. Stay specific; don’t globalize.
When we give in to fear, we tend to feel worried about lots of things. For example, we can’t pay one bill this month, and suddenly our fear spins out a novella about getting evicted, becoming homeless, and losing touch with all our loved ones. Instead, take one issue at a time — such as that bill — and address it as a single obstacle or challenge that needs your attention. The devil is in the details, so stay specific and present, and your fear will take a back seat.
6. Give yourself encouragement.
Keep offering praise for each little step. Say, “Good for me.” Giving yourself this recognition feels like a small victory. This is what courage feels like–it feels like overcoming, being resilient, and pushing through. Your fearlessness will grow.
With every step you take to manage and work through your fear, remember to stay true to your heart. If something feels off, untrue, or unhelpful, don’t do it. Your heart will never lead you astray. When you can’t hear what your heart is saying, deal with the physical body sensation of fear, shiver and shake, and listen again!
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Jude Bijou is a psychotherapist, educator and consultant. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her multi-award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. Learn more at www.attitudereconstruction.