There are many strategies for managing fear and anxiety. They take time to be effective because your brain is not an abstract object. It is a physical device with trillions of connections that have evolved over time. As brain researcher, Joseph LeDoux (“Synaptic Self”), says, we are the sum of connections (synapses) between the cells in our brains. Reprogramming these connections takes time and repetition just as it takes time and practice to unlearn any habit and replace it with a new habit.
Four strategies covered here are:
Targeting your FEAR
This is my favorite because it is so simple. Anxiety is provoked by thoughts. So, unless there really is a car heading straight for you or a tiger is about to eat you, your thoughts are creating the anxiety. So just stop thinking that thought. Here is how it works.
Suppose you are going to a party and you’re thinking, “What if I go to the party and no one talks to me?” Gee, that’s real likely isn’t it? So Just Stop! the thought in its tracks. Every time you allow the thought to blossom full formed in your head, you increase the chances it will stay there and make you nervous and feel welcome to come back tomorrow. You reinforce the connections in your brain that create that thought.
So stop it before it gets formed.
“What if I go to the party and no one talks to me? Stop!
“What if I go to the party and …” Stop!
“What if I go to …” Stop!
Keep doing this until you Stop! the thought. If you can say Stop! out loud (without people stopping and staring at you), that’s the best. Otherwise, just do it in your head.
Mindfullness is a Buddhist concept. It means staying in the here and now. Anything that keeps your mind here and now instead of in the future will calm you mentally and physically. This can be physical exercise, playing a game, singing, talking to a friend, anything!
However, you need to experiment. What activities work for you will be different from the ones that work for me. But NOTHING will work unless you discipline yourself to stop thinking about your fear and DO SOMETHING ELSE.
Believe or not, just recognizing that you are scaring yourself and making a joke of it will help. Find a new way to characterize your fear. Take that “What if I go to the party and nobody talks to me?” thing. Is it common for you to have such thoughts before social events? Then you really know it’s nonsense, right? So why not have some fun with it.
Reframe it as: “What if I go to that party and everyone comes up to me and won’t leave me alone for a minute. They’ll be asking so many questions that I’ll just say, LEAVE ME ALONE AND STOP TALKING TO ME!”. Gee that would be different. Reframing involves having some phun with your phobias.
Targeting your FEAR
Ok, this one is an advanced technique. Our fears don’t just pop out of nowhere. They are tied into how we approach the world. It take some time and effort to watch for the patterns in our behavior and replace them with more effective ways of behaving To continue our party example, if you really do get sweaty palms in social situations, then you need to be willing to look at how you bring that about.
Notice I did not say, figure out WHY you’re scared in social situations; I said “HOW DO YOU MAKE THAT HAPPEN.”
How do you approach social situations? What do you do before, during and after you’re in a social situation. Do you obsess over what to wear? Do you remind yourself of every embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? Afterwards, do you relive the entire party, critiquing every little thing you said and did? What can you do to change these self-defeating behaviors?
Another idea is to find out how other people, who don’t appear to share you anxieties, behave in social situations.
This takes time and determination. The goal is figure out what you are doing to make yourself fearfull and change it. This is an area where a good psychotherapist can be a real help.
So, that’s it. Good luck and remember what author, Leo Buscalia, once said: “What are we so afraid of? None of us are going to get out of this [life] alive anyway!”