If you’ve ever been affected by worry and anxiety, you’ve probably heard of this acronym: F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s a commonly used phrase to help people overcome anxiety by looking at it through a logical lens. That is, fear is more often than not an irrational response initiated by the brain due to our personality and experiences. We’re not referring to the natural fear associated with self-preservation.For example, if your physical safety is threatened by an extreme weather event or personal assault, fear in these cases is not irrational. It is your brain’s way of rationally telling you to run away or fight so you will survive. Irrational fear, on the other hand, is when we interpret events or experiences as threatening our physical ability to survive, even when our physical safety is not directly threatened.
In the case of irrational fear, we see and experience threats as real, when they indeed are not. The outcome is worry and anxiety; worry that we must be on the lookout for threats and anxiety when we perceive threats.
Perhaps you’ve participated in counseling or self-reflection to better understand the irrational fears you face. If so, you’re in a prime position to learn how to overcome fear and anxiety. Much of the time, however, you simply don’t understand the roots of your fears.
You might spend your days feeling on edge like you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Living in such a heightened state of anxiety keeps one focused on fear and leaves little room for preparing to respond to fear when it strikes. There’s relief in sight.
3 Tips for Overcoming Worry and Anxiety
You don’t have to know why you worry, or why you have anxiety, in order to use effective practices to overcome worry and anxiety in the moment.
Here are three practical strategies you can start using immediately. With faithful practice, you will learn to overcome fear, stop worrying, and overcome anxiety. Yes, fear does not have to be the rule of your life!
You know the saying, “He has both feet on the ground.” It means that a person has solid footing, that they’re prepared to handle the unexpected, that they approach life in a sensible (rational) way. Grounding is a tool long taught by counselors and therapists, particularly to people who face fear in the form of panic attacks.Going back to “false evidence appearing real,” irrational fear takes us away from reality. Worries and questions begin to swirl in our heads and threaten to take over what little semblance of control to which we are clinging. So, how do you reclaim control? How do you reconnect with reality, with what is real, rather than what you feel is real? Practice grounding.
Grounding is a tool used to keep your mind focused on the reality of the present, which is the necessary combatant to anxiety and fear that keeps our focus on the future, or what comes next. It is the act of noticing and naming things and experiences in the present.
It sounds ridiculously simple, yet grounding is extraordinarily effective for overcoming anxiety in the moment. Suppose you are in your living room when fear strikes. To practice physical grounding, you would open your eyes and look around. You would notice everything you see, one item at a time. And you would name them aloud.
For example: “I see a rug with shades of brown and cream. There is a coffee table with two books, a candle, and a box of tissues. I see a ceiling fan swirling clockwise. There is a window with sunlight coming through.”
Verbal expression of these simple surroundings (or realities) reels your mind back to the present. It allows your heartbeat to become slower, your breathing to become more relaxed, and your thoughts to clear.
Grounding is a tool you can practice anywhere. If you find anxiety hits when you are driving, make a point to safely pull off to the side of the road as you are able and begin to verbally express the realities of things you observe inside and outside the car.
Verbalize not just what you see but use all of your senses. You might smell a car air freshener, for example, or feel the heat from the sun through the windows of your car. Grounding gives you permission to leave the anxiety and worry of the unknown future for the comfort of what exists and is real in the moment.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Anxiety and worry affect not only our minds and thoughts. They impact our nervous system from heart rate to breathing to muscle tension. Progressive muscle relaxation, like grounding, redirects one’s focus from out-of-control thoughts of fear to the ability to control the present. In this particular case, the ability to control the level of experienced tension in your body.
Progressive muscle relaxation requires an intense focus on various parts of the body. The first step is to choose a part of your body to focus on. Let’s use the hands for practice. Clench both hands into fists. Now, squeeze them even tighter. As you hold the tension, notice how it feels. You might feel pressure or strength.
Hold your tightly clenched fists for at least ten seconds. Then, breathe in and release your breath as you let your hands naturally fall open, relieving all of the tension. Notice how the release of tension feels. Do your hands feel lighter? Has your breathing slowed?
Progressive muscle relaxation allows you to understand your personal experience of both tension and the release of tension. Repeat the process a few times with each part of the body you choose as your focus.
Again, your focus has shifted from uncontrollable and irrational thoughts to the present physical moment, what is real. It is impossible to stay in a state of fear, worry, or anxiety when you commit time to the process of progressive muscle relaxation.
You can practice progressive muscle relaxation in times of decreased anxiety as well to lower your body’s tension setpoint when fear does strike. Most importantly, however, it is an excellent tool for overcoming anxiety in the moment.
3. Respond to Your Worries
When worry strikes, it’s rare to have only one. One worry brings along fifty of its anxiety-provoking friends…if we let it.
Worry typically comes in the form of questions and they often start with “What if…?” What if I don’t get the job? What if I can’t pay the mortgage? What if my husband leaves me? What if I’ll never be successful? What if I’ll never be loved? Worry does not ask comforting questions. Worry asks questions that spark other worries, other irrational fears.
Responding to worries means we must stop the “what if” questions from free-flowing like a waterfall of anxiety. Worries are stopped when we answer the questions they ask. What would happen in the moment of worry if you stopped listening to all of the questions and started answering them?
You would regain a sense of control. You would begin to experience the reality of the present moment. You would take back the sacred restful space in your mind occupied by unanswered questions of worry.
Think of one of your “what if” questions. Now, write it down in a journal on the left-hand side of the paper. On the right-hand side of the same piece of paper, begin to respond to that question, that worry.
Here’s a common example:
|What if I’m late?||I will leave with enough time to arrive on time.|
|If I miss the appointment, I will make another one immediately.|
|If I am late, I will thank them for waiting patiently.|
It’s when the questions go unanswered that they are permitted to swell into peaks of anxiety that leave us feeling powerless and hopeless. When we focus our rational minds on answering the “what if” worries, we take back control. The swirling questions stop, and we overcome the irrationality of worry with the rationality of present-focused thought.
You don’t have to have deep insights into your own fears and anxieties to be able to overcome them in the moment. Practicing these three simple, actionable tools will help you experience the power of reclaiming control when fear strikes.
“Chillin like a Villain”, Courtesy of Simon Migaj, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Letting Go of the Stress”, Courtesy of Eli DeFaria, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chillaxin”, Courtesy of Drew Coffman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forest Road”, Courtesy of Milan Seitler, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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