Do fear and anxiety control you?
Fear and anxiety are helpful emotions in some situations. Fear and anxiety warn us of dangerous situations, and help us flee or fight in life threatening situations. Sometimes however, we experience intense fear and anxiety in situations that don’t warrant the intensity of the feelings. Past traumatic or stressful events, as well as anxiety disorders, can all cause disproportionate fear and anxiety responses to triggering events. In these situations, our brain mislabels situations as dangerous and life-threatening, which leads us to feel intense feelings of fear and anxiety. I have anxiety, and for a long time I experienced intense feelings of fear and anxiety in situations that just didn’t make sense to me. I have worked hard at learning tools and skills to overcome my fear and anxiety, so it doesn’t control me anymore. Here are a few tools that I use on a daily basis to prevent my anxiety from controlling me.
Practice belly breathing
Belly breathing is the first line of defense when you are experiencing severe anxiety and fear in situations where the feelings are not warranted. Most people with anxiety don’t breath deeply, they breath shallow breaths which actually triggers the fight flight response in the brain. Belly breathing triggers the relaxation response in the brain and calms the central nervous system down. Here are some steps to get you started with belly breathing:
Always inhale through the nose, you can exhale through the nose or mouth.
Make sure you are not tensing your stomach muscles, or “sucking in” your stomach, as this deters your ability to get a lot of air deep in the lungs.
Practice by putting one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Practice inhaling through the nose, breathing deeply into the lungs, and feel the belly/diaphragm rise.
This may feel uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier with practice. Practice multiple times throughout the day.
2. Check the facts
Once you’ve practiced belly breathing and have calmed the body and the central nervous system down, you can now utilize a cognitive restructuring skill called “Checking the facts”. When we experience unwarranted or irrational fear and anxiety in situations that are not dangerous or life-threatening, there is most likely irrational thinking that is causing the anxiety and fear. Once you are calm, grab a pen and paper and write down the irrational thoughts you are noticing. Next, make a second list of the facts of the current situation. Facts are what you know to be true without a doubt. Lastly, re-write the irrational thoughts using the facts so that you now have a list of healthy and factual statements about the situation.
3. Practice, practice, practice
Training the brain to not be anxious in situations that don’t warrant those feelings takes practice and repetition. Schedule time into your day to practice the belly breathing and checking the facts. If I can do it, so can you!
Stay well and healthy and reach out anytime!