Part 2: How to Fight Anxiety and Fear

Last post I wrote about the link between anxiety and fear and some of the implications of this connection.  Today I want to talk about some ways to create awareness in order to remove anxiety and fear.

1) Change your environment:

There are times when the best solution is to simply remove the negative situation or relationship in your life that is causing the anxiety or fear.  This requires self reflection.  Who are the people that you do not enjoy being around?  What situations do you dread?  Make sure the situation is actually negative and you are not just assuming a negative outcome, which I will discuss in number 2.  If the person or situation is not moving you in a healthy direction, then remove them.

For example, you may have a person in your life that is constantly bringing you down and talking about negative things.  You start to feel anxious every time you have to see them.  Sometimes this person is your co-worker or family member and you cannot remove them from your life.  (That is where number 3 comes in).  However, there are times when the best solution is to simply spend less time with them or remove them from your life all together.

As Darren Hardy, publisher of Success Magazine explains, "your associations don't shove you in a direction; they nudge you ever so slightly over time."  He recommends that you look at the people in your life and split them into disassociations, limited associations, and expanded associations.  Make sure that you are spending the majority of your time with people that are in the expanded associations category.

A second example is when you take on too many responsibilities.  When you overcommit to several activities, you start to feel anxious when you can't keep up.  You don't want to let people down.  However, it is better to do a great job at a few things, then to do a  mediocre job at lots of things.  Prioritize your life and feel free to remove things that aren't necessary.

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” - Josh Billings

2) Reframe your fears:

When we enter a situation and feel anxious or fearful, it is because we are expecting something to go wrong.  Fear is simply excitement with the assumption of a negative outcome.  Your body is in a heightened state, just like excitement, but fear feels different because you assume something bad is about to happen.

Two common example of when people are feeling anxious or afraid are when they have to speak publicly or are about to ask someone out.  When you are about to speak publicly, you become anxious because you are assuming that you are going to perform poorly and you will be embarrassed.  The same goes for when you ask someone out.  You assume that the person is going to say no.

What if you were to reframe the result of these situations?  What if you were to assume that when you speak publicly, that you would perform perfectly and everyone would applaud?  What if when you asked someone out, you knew that they would say yes?  The fear automatically shifts to excitement when the result is positive.

Obviously we don't know the outcome of these situations before they occur, but why assume the negative?  We are far more likely to take the risk and move forward when we are excited about the event compared to afraid of it.  Who knows what you could be missing out on just because you are assuming the worst.

The next time you start to feel anxious or afraid, take three deep breaths to slow down, then identify the negative outcome you are picturing.  Now that you are aware of what it is, flip it around and assume the best possible outcome.

“An attitude of positive expectation is the mark of the superior personality.” - Brian Tracy

3) Meditation: Control how you respond

The third way to limit anxiety and fear in your life is to recognize when anxiety is taking control.  No matter what situation you are presented with, you have the ability to determine your response.  The problem with this is that we often go into autopilot.  We allow our emotions to overwhelm us and stop acting rationally.  We lose control.  We look back on the situation later and don't know why we responded the way we did.

How do we prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by anxiety and losing control?  We practice. Meditation is when you practice the SKILL of observing your thoughts.  When you meditate, you are simply watching the thoughts that go through your head.  After you notice a thought, then you move your focus back to some anchor, like your breath.   You are becoming skilled at observing the thoughts you have.

Numbers two (reframe your fear) and three (meditation), go hand in hand. For example, if you are about to speak publicly, your mind starts to fill up with those anxious feeling and thoughts.  If you have practiced the skill of recognizing your thoughts (meditation), then you will be able to observe your mind filling up.  You will notice yourself thinking "I am going to mess up and be embarrassed."  It is not until you can recognize these thoughts, that you can reframe them.  As soon as you do, you can say to yourself, "Why am I thinking that.  Thats stupid.  I am going to crush this and it is going to be awesome."  You have just recognized a negative thought pattern and made it positive.

This is just one of many examples.  You probably have been walking down the street when someone looked at you weird.  You have no idea who they are or what was going through their head but your brain starts filling up with random thoughts about how "I must have something on my face" or "I look ugly today."  There is no rationality behind these thoughts, but they can still snowball and effect your whole day.  Meditation allows you to stop that process in its tracks and realize how ridiculous it is.

I am sure you can think of many more examples.  The point is that you can practice the skill of observing your thoughts, and controlling how you respond.  Just like any skill, the more you practice, the better you become.  Soon you are no longer having those thoughts because you catch them almost instantly.

(Note: HERE is a quick post about how to start a daily meditation practice from Leo Baubatau on ZenHabits. Basically, sit in a chair for 2-3 minutes and focus on your breath. Its not weird or complicated and is probably the best habit you will ever add to your life.  Check it out.)

Photo by Simon Migaj

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