To manage anxiety, start with the way you think

Fear is largely caused by your thoughts. Changing the way you think about something can help calm your fear reaction and reduce anxiety.

By Laura A. Peterson, R.N.

Imagine a situation that makes you nervous. Maybe it's getting on a plane or giving a presentation to colleagues.

Your pulse quickens. Your face flushes. Your breath speeds up and becomes uneven as adrenaline pumps through your veins.

For some, the fear and anxiety becomes strong enough that they avoid the situation. Avoidance, however, affects how you live by limiting how you engage life.

By practicing a few techniques, you can learn how fear affects your body and how you can control your stress response.

Listen to your body to change your emotions

Fear has a physical response — rapid heart rate, quicker breaths and other physiological responses. Stressful situations produce these physical responses, which your mind interprets as, "You are afraid."

When you physically feel fear, take a moment to listen to your body and gain back control. Are you breathing quickly or hard? Take a few deep breaths and slow your breathing.

Controlling your physical response to fear can influence your emotional response.

Get past your own thoughts

Fear is largely caused by your thoughts. Your body gives you a fear stimulus and your mind takes off, giving you all kinds of irrational reasons you should be scared.

Of course the reasons aren't always logical — you aren't going to make a complete fool of yourself if you have to make a speech — but these irrational thoughts fill your mind and intensify your fear.

Don't believe them!

Instead, identify those thoughts that are causing you fear. Challenge them. What evidence is there you'll make a complete fool of yourself? None. You might not receive a standing ovation, but that is OK, your goal is to give a professional presentation where your audience can learn from you. Reappraise the situation and distance yourself from overly critical thoughts.

How you think about a circumstance impacts how you feel about it. Approaching your fear rationally, realistically and changing how you think will help you overcome its strong irrational stimuli.

Use your imagination to lessen your fears

As vividly as you can, imagine a situation that causes you fear. Feel your anxiety grow, but then add new information. Ask yourself, what are you worried about? What are the likeliest outcomes? Then imagine what you want to happen.

Adding new information and associations to your fears will help lessen their effects when you feel them in real life. This can be challenging to accomplish without professional guidance, so if needed, see a licensed mental health professional with expertise in anxiety management.

June 07, 2018