Working With Fear and Anxiety

I finished my work right on time and at the very last minute, someone asked me a question. Even though I knew this would make me late for my appointment, I stuck around to help out.

Then came my 25 minute drive. I watched the clock and tried to stop time. I rattled my brain trying to think up a quicker route. I hoped that every street light would stay green. I envisioned the angry receptionist waiting at the window eying her watch. By the time I got there, my heart was racing. I was sweating. It felt like I had run there. I stepped through the front door and heard…

Hi, Nick. We’re running a little behind, we will get to you in about 10 minutes.

Ha. No one even noticed. There was no dramatic music. No blinding spotlight. No weapons were drawn. Was this an appointment or an old western gunfight? Was everything I just put myself through worth it? Even if rushing would have gotten me there on time, is being on time actually worth my sanity?

Our ancient ancestors had to be afraid. They had to be anxious. For them, it was a matter of life or death. But for me, 99% of the time, it’s not. Which is probably true for most of us. Here are a few practical tools that I’ve used to nip my fear fits and anxious breakdowns in the bud before they get out of hand:

Labeling

Fear and anxiety have their place. We wouldn’t exist without them. But that doesn’t mean they have to run our lives. In stressful situations try labeling them. Say “This is fear” or “This is anxiety”. It can help knock the edge of their intensity rather than letting them run wild. Try calmly repeating statements like this until you’re able to relax and bring things back into perspective.

Acceptance

I’ve done a lot of work with fear. For a long period of time, I thought to myself don’t be afraid, which was like throwing a sheet over an elephant. It wasn’t until a meditation teacher said “invite it in” that I started to accept it and see it for what it was. At first, yes it was scary. Yes, it grew larger. But as I stayed with it and as I got closer and closer, it got smaller and smaller. I got so close that it seemed small enough to fit in my hands. I realized that ignoring it caused it to grow and as it grew I would try harder to ignore it. It was a vicious cycle. Taking time to accept your anxiety and fear can be reassuring. It gives you something concrete to work with instead of becoming lost in abstract ideas. You no longer have to run from it.

Attention and Evaluation

Pay attention to when your fear or anxiety disappears. Take a few seconds to evaluate whether it assisted you. Did it solve your problems quicker? Did it make you feel safe? Did it prevent something from going wrong? Use these types of questions to start building a case. Something that you can continue to reference as a reminder that your pre-conceived ideas aren’t as accurate as you think. Your fears and anxieties probably don’t have a winning record for predicting the future.

Working with all of this feels like an impossible task, but it’s worth the attempt. A calm mind is worth the effort. And if it feels larger than life, don’t be afraid to get help. Ask someone with experience or seek a professional. No one does any of this alone.

Subconsciously, fear and anxiety want to keep us safe. They try to create solid ground for us to stand on. But solid ground doesn’t exist. Life is a free fall and nothing is absolute. When we decide to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, we’ll find peace. When we decide that the only way to know anything is to dive in and experience it, we’ll realize that fear and anxiety only get in the way. For so long they’ve stolen the energy that we could be using to do what we love. Make finding freedom your priority. Your sanity depends on it.

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