I deal with quite a bit of anxiety and fear. Since I was young I remember worrying, worrying, worrying. As I’ve gotten older somehow my fears have grown with me. I’m overwhelmingly scared of lightning (I cancelled my hiking honeymoon because of the ever-present thunderstorms), I think I’m going to die every time I fly, and I am quite the hypochondriac, among so many other things. Yet I’ve managed to fly long distances fairly frequently and walk the dog in a thunderstorm. For times when my fears are unfounded and just lead to a lot of anxiety, here are a few things that help me get by.
1. Visualize. Not about the bad stuff. About the good stuff. Often I find myself on a plane, hitting turbulence, and going into a ten minute daydream about the plane going down. What would it feel like? What would we do? Could we land on water? If we land on water, I’m screwed because I’m exactly in the middle of two exit rows and you know how people lose their minds in emergency situations. I’ll jump up quickly. I’ll help that little kid two rows ahead. I’ll…
What uselessness! This is not the visualization I mean. Take a deep breath. Instead I try to picture the turbulence for what it is – turbulence – and then visualize a peaceful field of blooming flowers. Or a hammock on the beach. Or landing safely. Or a choreographed dance to the song playing on my iPod. I notice when my thoughts have gotten away with me and redirect them to something, anything, better.
2. Breathe. When we were caught in a thunderstorm on our honeymoon hike, I was freaking out. I couldn’t get a hold of my breath and my mind went into this weird blank zone – serious fear. I just remember focusing on breathing and counting my breaths out one after the other. When I got to ten I would start over again (à la Kimmy Schmidt). Usually I’m not this afraid, but the strategy still helps, especially if #1 (visualizing) is too difficult, counting breaths can help focus your mind on something else.
3. Talk to Somebody. When I’m feeling afraid, I don’t want to tell anyone because I think I’ll sound irrational. I recognize that my fears aren’t properly founded and don’t want to tell anyone out of embarrassment. But most of the time the fear is irrational, and getting the perspective of people not in your head helps. They can remind you that it’s not that scary. They can distract you from other things. Or they can commiserate. It helps.
4. Assess. On flights, I consistently go back to the reason I am there. There’s always a driving force for a flight that’s stronger than my fear, whether it’s traveling to a new place or heading home to see loved ones. The reality is that I could have removed myself from the situation but it wouldn’t have been worth missing out. On the other hand, I think it’s ok to decide that something just isn’t worth the anxiety. When we were on our honeymoon hike, the thought of spending 5 weeks dealing with the anxiety that was hitting me wasn’t worth the backpacking trip. I accepted that for what it was, knowing that I will continue to work through my fear and perhaps try again one day. Whatever it is you’re afraid of, assess the situation and just decide what’s right for you.
5. Reflect. After being in a situation in which I am feeling anxious, I go through how I dealt with it and what worked and what didn’t. It’s good to take stock, noting that I was completely fine and everything worked out well. Next time I’m in the same situation, it helps to be ready to pull out the mental list of all the times I was ok in that situation.
Fear sucks. So does feeling like you’re ridiculous if you avoid things because you are afraid. Hopefully through practice I will one day completely manage that anxiety, but until then it’s good to know I have a plan.
What do you do in situations where fear is getting the better of you?