Facing your fears
We can help to overcome our anxieties by facing the things we are afraid of.
Some people face their fears gradually. For example, if you have a fear of dogs that you want to get rid of, you could take several steps to help you get used to dogs:
- you could start by looking at pictures of dogs
- once you’re comfortable with this, you could watch videos of dogs
- then you could visit a friend who has a dog
- finally, you could practice going to a park where less familiar dogs are present
Other people prefer to face their fears head on. In the example of a fear of dogs, this would mean going to the park where there are dogs and staying there until your fear starts to reduce.
There is a simple biological reason why these methods work. When we are scared of a thing, place or situation, it is usually because we feel something bad will happen if we are exposed to it. If we can spend time doing the thing we are scared of and the bad thing doesn’t happen, we can start to believe that the bad thing probably won’t happen after all, and our stress response will reduce.
Using the example of a fear of dogs, some people are scared of dogs because they are worried they will be bitten or attacked. By spending time around dogs and proving to yourself that you are unlikely to be bitten or attacked, the stress response in your body will naturally reduce.
Doing this can seem quite scary at first, but the more times you do it, the more your body and mind will get used to the feelings and the stress response will eventually become less powerful.
Focusing on your breathing and your body
Some people find simple breathing exercises can help them reduce or get rid of their stress response. Here are two exercises you might find helpful:
Don’t do either of these exercises if they cause you to feel out of breath, lightheaded or uncomfortable.
Exercise and getting the body moving
Some people find activity or exercise helps their body to relax and reduces their stress response.
This could mean going for a short walk or a run, marching on the spot or doing star jumps. All of these activities can help to reduce tension in your muscles, helping you to calm down when your anxiety levels are high.
The website Open Minded Online has many examples of exercises that you may find useful, including power punching, yoga punching, face self-message, chair yoga, tension release exercises, and brain ‘gym’. Find out more here.
Focusing on the here and now
Bringing your mind into the present and focusing on the here and now can help reduce your stress response. One particular method that can be helpful involves using your five senses to help focus your attention on the present. This is done by naming:
- Five things you can see
- Four things you can touch
- Three things you can hear
- Two things you can smell
- One thing you can taste
This can help to refocus your thoughts away from the anxiety.
Creating a ‘calm box’ can also help with focusing on the here and now. Fill a box with things that you associate with feeling happy and calm. You could include photos of your pets or friends, objects that you can fidget with (like stress balls or puzzles) and anything else you associate with feeling calm.
Distracting yourself with your favourite music, games, or films can also be helpful.
Expressing how you feel
Talking it through
Sharing your worries with family, friends or a counsellor can help to reduce feelings of anxiety. It can also help to reduce feelings of isolation and help you to connect with others who might have had similar experiences and have advice to share.
Keeping a journal
Some people find recording how they are feeling and what’s been happening in their life helpful. Getting things down on paper can help you get your feelings out, reflect on your experiences and work out what is causing your worries. It can also give you space to think about ways you could tackle things that have become a worry.
Setting time aside to address your worries
Setting time aside to focus on your worries can help you to let go of your worries for the rest of the day. Some people like to keep a ‘worry pot’, where they can store the concerns they have written down, and then only open the worry pot when it is the set ‘worry time’.
With anything you decide to try, it’s always good to remember that we all need the help of others at times throughout our lives. Don’t feel afraid to open up and share the way you are feeling.