Fear and anxiety are the enemy of healthy relationships, personal development, business growth, and physical health. They can sour any experience in life. They are what stop you before you even start. But there are powerful, yet simple remedies you can begin using immediately to overcome your worst anxiety and fears.
1. Move Your Body
Sustained physical activity like exercise increases blood flow, improves alertness and mental acuity, and reduces muscle tension. It increases serotonin levels (low serotonin levels have been linked to depression). It also tends to bring your focus to the present moment, away from any anxiety-producing thoughts about the past or future. And regular exercise improves self-esteem by giving you a feeling of progress, growth, and being in control.
The Surgeon General concluded that exercise “reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being.” (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/adults.htm)
Recommendation: If 30 minutes of exercise three times a week seems too challenging at first, start smaller. Begin by walking a few minutes each day. Park on the far side of the parking lot and take deep belly breaths as you walk into the office or store. And interrupt those intense moments of anxiety by doing 30 seconds of jumping jacks or jogging in place.
2. Experiment, and then Examine the Evidence
How many times have you felt afraid to do something, and when you eventually did it, it wasn’t anywhere near as scary as you imagined?
Anxiety and fear are often the result of unrealistic or exaggerated scenarios that we play over and over in our heads. But the only way to find that out is to test them.
For example, if you’re anxious about talking to strangers because you imagine they’ll be rude to you, test it out. Go to a bookstore, introduce yourself to one of the other customers, and with a smile ask them how they like the book they’re reading. Don’t push the conversation longer than feels comfortable, but pay attention to how friendly or unfriendly the person is, and compare that to your fear.
On the other hand, if you have anxiety about flying, getting on a plane to test out your fear might be too big a step for you. In that case, find someone who flies every week for business and ask them about their experience. Are they afraid? Why not?
Recommendation: If your anxiety or fear centers around a thought like, “If I do A, then B will happen,” test it out. Bring a good friend with you so that they can support and encourage you.
3. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is the antidote to fear. It’s impossible to experience both fear and deep gratitude at the same time. But if that’s true, why don’t people just focus on everything they’re grateful for whenever that get afraid or anxious? Because of something called mood-dependent memory.
Mood-dependent memory means, basically, that the mood you’re in influences what memories you have access to. So when you’re sad for example, you tend to only remember other times when you were sad. That’s why when you’re afraid or anxious, it’s so difficult to remember things you’re grateful for.
For this reason, it’s especially important to practice gratitude when you’re in a good mood. If you make gratitude a habit then, it will be there when you need it most.
Recommendation: Write down 5 things you’re grateful for each day. They can be big (your loving spouse) or small (the delicious apple you just ate). Keep this list with you and review it when you’re feeling anxious or afraid.
Copyright 2006 Curtis G. Schmitt