Befriending your fear and anxiety


Twenty years ago, my social anxiety was so bad I only left my house in the night’s cover.

Ten years ago, I still had panic attacks if I had to use a public restroom or take a bus.

20% of us are still suffering from life inhibiting anxiety right now. It often starts with a small fear. You cave in to it, and before you know it, everything is terrifying.

My world used to be very dark and small between thick walls of fear and anxiety, but I have managed to tear (most of) them down.

Today I am traveling around the world alone as it was the most natural thing in the world. My next significant milestone on my journey to befriend my fear is public speaking.

Here are some of the tools I have used in the past, and techniques I am still using every day.

Acknowledge it

Don’t try to fight it. The fear of being afraid is worse than feeling fear. So much unnecessary pain is afflicted in attempting to escape the feeling.

I noticed in earlier versions of this post that I wrote “my battle against the anxiety.” Semantics matter, so I have since changed it. Fighting is precisely the opposite of what we want to do. We want to meet our emotions with compassion and befriend them.

If you think of anxiety as a threat, your body will prepare for battle, and you’ll feel like you’re in a fight.

Accept the feeling of fear. It is okay to be scared. Take a deep breath, allow it to live.

Get an overview

It can be beneficial to do intuition writing where you allow all your thoughts and emotions to flow freely onto the paper without questions or judgment. Don’t analyze or think about grammar, or if what you write makes sense. Don’t stop to read what you wrote until you feel like you have emptied your mind.

This is very similar to other mindfulness exercises, but writing is an essential component. You can use pen pressure to express anger or sadness. Tear a hole in the paper if you need to.

Getting your fears onto paper makes them seem less overwhelming, and you might even experience moments of clarity where your inner wisdom gives you the answers you need.

Don’t worry if nothing happens in the first few times. If you’re not used to allowing yourself to feel negative emotions or have a strong tendency towards self-criticism and judgment, it might take a bit of practice.

Investigate

The way we think about things affects how we feel emotionally. Thorugh understanding of the problem is the first step to solve it.

In psychology, this is called cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy focuses on current thinking, behavior, and communication rather than on past experiences. Our goal is to change our thought patterns, conscious and unconscious beliefs, attitudes, and, ultimately, our behavior to help us face difficulties.

A simple example of a cognitive exercise is to think about something that causes discomfort. Then you ask yourself why you feel that way.
– Where does the fear come from?
– What is the worst that could happen if your fear comes true?
In many cases, this is enough to take the edge of the feeling.

The five why’s is a technique we use in user experience design to understand the root of the problem, but it works for personal challenges as well.

I also recommend the workbook Mind over Mood by Greenberger and Padesky.

Reappraisal

Reappraisal strategies are more effective than suppression for regulating emotions.

This means that instead of trying to remove the feeling by fighting it, you can change its nature by reappraising it.

Replace the word “anxious” with “excited.” For example,- instead of “I am anxious about making a fool out of myself in that job interview,” you could try, “I am excited about the opportunity to prove myself in that job interview.”

It sounds like a silly new age mantra or positive thinking rubbish, I know, but it works. (It blew me away).

Tell it like it is

If you’re still terrified and your pulse is racing, tell people how you feel. Simply expressing it takes the edge of it, and people are surprisingly understanding.

Often they are just as terrified as you are, so it can even be a great icebreaker.

 

Thank you to Dr Olaf Hermans PhD for quality assurance and great suggestions for improving this article.

 

Further reading:
Phobophobia
The fear of fear
What is mindfulness?
Jeremy Hunter talks about how mindfulness saved his life
Remember to practice self-compassion
Cognitive-behavioural therapy exercises
Can three words turn anxiety into success?
The Effects of Reappraisal and Acceptance Strategies on Anxious Arousal
Mendes Reappraising Arousal

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