As the author Katherine Paterson once said: “To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”
If you find yourself becoming overly anxious, use the following steps to help you calm down and start to regain control….
3 Powerful Ways to Overcome Fear :
1) Breathing is the short circuit for anxiety
I know I know, you hear a lot about ‘deep breathing’ to help you relax and reduce anxiety, but bear with me.
Quicker, shallower breathing is the first trigger which catapults all the other anxious symptoms into action. So by controlling breathing you control all the other anxiety symptoms as well.
If you purposely breathe out longer than you breathe in, your body has to calm right down (regardless of what tricks your imagination is playing on you).
So if you start to feel fearful:
- Focus on your breath
- Take a breath in (to the quick count of 7 in your mind)
- Then slowly breathe out (to the quick count of 11 in your mind)
If you do this for a minute or so, you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ve calmed down. We call this ‘7/11 breathing’ but the numbers are up to you, just as long as the out-breath is longer than the in-breath.
“That’s all very well!” I hear you say. “But when I get anxious I forget everything and all good advice goes out the window!”
Good point and well made. This brings us to…
2) Prepare for peaceful performance
If you get anxious and fear upcoming events, you’ll notice that just thinking about that interview, speech, or whatever will start to cause physical responses – namely, anxiety.
So you might be thinking about next Wednesday’s dental appointment and find yourself breathing more quickly or your palms getting moist. This in turn primes your body to become even more anxious in the actual situation and so the vicious cycle continues. And note the role of the imagination in priming your mind and body to feel fearful (see opening story).
But you’re going to find that breathing in a relaxed 7/11 way whilst imagining the upcoming situation ahead of time calms the association down, priming your mind to feel more relaxed naturally and automatically when the actual situation arrives.
One symptom of too much fear or anxiety is not being able to think clearly (Nasrudin stumbled into the nearest tomb!). This happens because the emotional part of the brain ‘swamps’ the thinking part so as to avoid, say, over-analysis getting in the way of running like Bejessus from a lion.
But in most modern situations we want to retain clear thought. And keeping your ‘thinking brain’ working actually calms you right down. The next step helps you do that.
3) Use a different part of your brain
When we become very anxious, it’s harder to think clearly. But if we force ourselves to use parts of ‘the thinking brain’, this will dilute the emotion and begin to calm you down.
The easiest way to do this is with numbers. You can scale your own fear from 1 to 10, 10 being the most terrified it’s possible to be and 1 being the ultimate relaxed state.
When you’re feeling anxious, ask yourself: “Okay what number on the scale am I right now? Am I a 7, or a 5?” Just doing this will lower anxiety because it kick-starts the thinking brain, diluting the emotion and automatically making you calmer.
I recall the first time I gave a speech to three hundred people. Just before I was about to start, I was feeling more anxious than I would have liked. So I scaled myself at a 6, breathed longer out than in for a few moments, and waited for myself to go down to a 3 before starting. I took control. Scaling (sometimes known as ‘grading’) your fear puts a ‘fence’ around it, making it more manageable, and forces you to think.