It's almost impossible to think clearly when you're flooded with fear or anxiety. The first thing people say is “calm down’! But, if only they knew how impossible that is when your body is flooded with anxiety, heart palpitations, rapid heart rate and a feeling that there’s something seriously wrong with you.
Here I go through a new way of fighting anxiety and I’m sure that if you can follow through on where I’m going with this, you’ll see how my unique approach can help you fight anxiety for the long term.
How To Begin To Fight Anxiety?
Let’s start at the beginning and look at why we get anxious and where it comes from. Anxiety is the body reacting to fearful thoughts.
That’s all it is. There’s nothing else that creates anxiety. The thoughts that create anxiety are always fearful.
So I asked my community what frightening thoughts they had that created anxiety and these were the top 10 topics:
Saying something that might offend someone
Getting stuck on public transport
Fearing something will go wrong
Forgetting something important
Not being able to control other people or events
Thinking someone’s upset with you
Making mistakes at work that will result in someone judging you
Looking stupid in a social situation
Feeling anxious about being anxious
Anxiety is a reflex action, which was designed to protect us. However, it feels like it now dominates us and it’s really important for us to get a handle on it so it no longer rules our life.
Fear is a natural response we all experience. And really, it's hardwired into us as humans.
And it's a good thing, because its there to protect us. If we put our hand near a flame, the fear of being hurt will instinctively make us withdraw it before we get burned.
So the fear is a good thing. In some situations.
However, We can’t let irrational fear hold us back. We can't let it stop us. To recover from anxiety, we have to overcome fear, so that it's not holding us back and we can start to take action and move forward.
Let’s Take A Look At Fear
There are different levels of fear. These include things that happened to us that we have no control over like getting older, being alone, and natural disasters etc.
Then we have fears around decision-making like finding a new job, ending a relationship or moving home.
Then there are the fears that have to do with our inner self rather than outside situations.
For example if we are afraid of being rejected, this will infiltrate every part of our life like friends job interviews and relationships.
But the type of fear that translates into anxiety is the fear that we cannot handle life. So we can’t handle making a mistake, being on our own, getting fired, having no income etc.
Yes at the core of every fear that we’ve ever had lies the dread – we can’t handle failure, responsibilities, rejection etc.
When we look at it this way, the question we can ask ourselves is: if we knew we could handle anything that came our way then what do we have to fear? The answer is - nothing.
This is a critical point and one that is difficult to get to grips with.
But the way we decrease fear is to build self-trust – trust that we can handle anything that comes our way.
In this audio, I share with you a meditation that takes you through exactly how to tackle fear and build trust so you know exactly how to handle life ‘stuff’ that has previously tipped you right into feeling highly anxious.
So from this moment forwards, every time you feel frightened that you can’t handle what life throws at you, I would encourage you to come back to this article and go through the following two ideas that I’m going to share with you now.
Reframing With CBT (cognitive therapy technique)
The first idea is based on a proven CBT technique that’s used in counseling sessions for anxiety. It comes in three parts and it’s really simple to implement.
The three parts are:
Label and accept the fear
Reframe the situation
Reboot the brain by pushing into action
1. You must label and reject your fear. Fear is a real emotion and by acknowledging our fears, we can face them honestly and gain the courage to reject them. I am scared I’ve upset someone. Name it: an irrational fear of recrimination Reject it: This is my paranoia but if I have I’ll handle it
2. Reframe the situation with different thoughts – naming and rejecting the fear is just the beginning. Reprogramming the brain with different thoughts, thoughts of positive reinforcement and awareness that you can succeed, begins building the platform to rebuilding your brain.
For example I’m scared I’ve upset someone: I’m not as powerful as I think I am and when I said what I said, I was being assertive and true to myself. I do not need to apologise for that. I’m a good person and my intentions are honourable. I can handle this fear until it leaves me.
3. Reboot your brain by pushing into action in direct opposition to your fear. So, by taking action that is in direct opposition to your fears, your body begins the process of rebuilding the neurons and neurotransmitters in your brain.
This is what transforms fear into positive lasting change. So doing what is frightening – ironically – brings us confidence. As an example, I will go back to the person I was talking with and continue the conversation as if I have not upset anyone knowing that if they feel upset they will tell me and I will handle it.
How To Fight Anxiety - Accept It!
The second idea is – I know you’ll think this is crazy but hold on – is to accept the anxiety and fear.
Many people I’ve worked with who are generally anxious about life contact me because they want to be free of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with anxiety.
To rid themselves of their anxiety they have tried meditation, relaxation, yoga, different psychotherapies and medication, but overall they don’t feel a whole lot better.
They ask me, “Why am I so anxious?” and “How do I get rid of this anxiety?” And I explain: “You have to allow yourself to be anxious and you don’t actually need to know why you are anxious.”
I know it sounds counterintuitive. But when you actually move towards your anxiety and just allow yourself to experience it, without trying to run away from it or reason your way out of it, those awful anxiety feelings and bodily sensations tend to dissipate.
Anxiety never stays at one level. It oscillates up and down, often influenced by what you’re thinking about.
If you accept that you’re anxious, you are no longer fighting it. When you fight the feeling, you are saying to yourself:
“This is awful! I can’t cope!”
“Something bad is going to happen”.
And then what happens? You get more anxious. You may attempt to manage anxiety by avoiding situations that you believe could cause you to be anxious. Or you may attempt to manage anxious thoughts by ruminating or doing things to make sure you are safe. These strategies only work in the short term, if at all.
If you can stay in the anxiety causing situation or stay with the disturbing thoughts long enough and say to yourself: “It’s OK that I’m anxious,” the anxiety is likely to dissipate on it’s own. You don’t need to do anything about the anxiety!
And if you can take it a step further and challenge yourself to want to feel more anxious, then you are taking bold steps to conquer your anxiety.
I know that asking to feel more anxious is hard to do in practice because every part of you is saying you need to get rid of the anxiety. We are wired to respond to danger by gearing up our sympathetic nervous system so that we can get out of harm’s way.
This is not the easiest thing to do, but if you haven’t tried accepting your anxiety and actually asking yourself to be more anxious, try it.
You are likely to discover that moving toward your anxiety, instead of away from it, will ultimately leave you feeling less anxious.
So here’s a more in depth look at how we can control our anxiety by moving towards it and ultimately accept it and we do this by rising above our thoughts.
Move Towards The Anxiety? Are You Crazy?
Well, our mind is an instrument, a tool. Thoughts are there to be used for a specific task, and when the task is completed, you lay them down. As it is, I'd say that 80 to 90 percent of most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its often negative nature, much of it is also harmful as we have just demonstrated in the last exercise.
Anxiety happens when we engage in compulsive overthinking and it’s like having an addiction.
That’s because we no longer feel we have the power or choice to stop the compulsive overthinking. It feels stronger than us; it gives us a false sense of power and also a full sense of pleasure because it always turns into pain.
Why do we do this?
We do this because we believe we are our thoughts. We think we are the activity in our brain. We have grown up with identifying with our thoughts and derived a sense of who we are. Cultural conditioning including what our parents told us as we were growing up heavily influences this.
Is a crazy thing but we think that we wouldn’t even exist if we stopped thinking. Therefore we need to constantly think in order to survive.
This thinking has taken us down an unhappy road and has landed us in a state of high anxiety. If we keep our minds racing over and over, we will also keep the anxiety going. Our minds constantly project us into the future or the past as if there is some salvation there. But the truth is the past is a memory and the future is a fantasy. No more no less. Our mind says when I get there then I will be happy. But of course we never get there because we can’t because it’s the future.
All we have is what’s in the present moment. If you don’t believe me just listen to your mind racing right now and ask it: what future scenario do you think will make my life complete and stop this anxiety?
Regardless of what’s the future scenario is, it is a fantasy. When you get to next week, you can be sure that it’s not going to be any different than it is right now.
And right now – all the present moment – is where we find peace of mind. We also find our creativity. All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of inner stillness in the present moment.
So How Do I Tame My Mind Racing??
We develop the ability to stand back and be a witness to our thoughts. Now this is a type of mindfulness and there are plenty of studies that demonstrate how mindfulness helps to quieten the mind and bring it to heel.
When our minds are clamoring for attention and seeking to disrupt life, we want to learn to distance ourselves from the inner anxiety and confusion by developing the ability to detach and watch what’s going on.
It’s this detachment and witnessing that produces a sense of calm – even amid the anxiety and mayhem.
Through practice we can learn stand back and watch and to witness our thoughts without being ruled or controlled by them.
Such an ability to remain apart, yet witnessing it all, is the foundation for development of a strong, clear mind. It isn’t that problems, issues or conflicting and competing demands will suddenly disappear. They won’t. But we’ll be better able to determine a course of action once we’ve removed from the power such mind racing has over us.
So I’d like to demonstrate exactly how to be a witness to your thoughts without even meditating.
Here’s how to do this and I did like you to engage with me on this exercise and I will talk you through this is very powerful practice:
Acknowledge the thought’s presence.
When a thought that’s distressing or highly charged enters your mind, acknowledge its presence. Don’t fight to quash it, because that won’t work. By acknowledging the thought, you address its presence. You are not giving it power, just witnessing it. Then, allow your mind to drift to the next thought and do the same. It’s like watching clouds pass by. Or, like a pedestrian watching a train pass through the station.
Be willing to acknowledge the thought’s presence to dissipate its power. Go with the process now. Stay still, taking no immediate action.
There will be adequate time to deal with what needs to be done once your mind is clear and free off distractions.
Let your stillness envelope you. Notice the sense of calm and peace you feel. Keep an eye on the thoughts but don’t engage with them.
When the thought comes in like: this is stupid, just acknowledge that thought but don’t get involved. Everything is OK right now.
Now is the time to start saying yes to life. Become aware of the times you are saying no and whilst acknowledging those times by labeling them, replace the no with a yes. As you say yes to life, Nod your head. This will make you feel positive and gives you the sense that you couldn’t handle anything. You can make it all alright.
So please have a go at practicing these two approaches that I believe will help you fight your anxiety - long term.
**Please remember I am not a doctor but a passionate writer and coach. I always recommend you see your doctor for help with anxiety**