The Best Ways to be Afraid?

I was feeling a little anxious. I opened up my eyes to a new day, and there they were, buzzing around my head like mosquitoes on a Summer night. The anxious thoughts would land, I would shoo them away and try to distract myself, only to realize they’d slipped back in through a completely different train of thought.

They can hound us in our sleep, ruin perfectly good evenings and cloud up the sunniest days. We can spend so much energy swatting away our cares that we have energy left for little else. Anxiety can be relentless, and there are a multitude of ways people choose to cope with it. One way is to give up our swatting and wade eyeball-deep into worry.

When we divulge in worry, we open the flood gates to anxiety and unease. The scary and foreboding become all we talk about. We stop trying to look for positive things and let negativity without end wash over us. We allow our mind to default to pessimism.  

“Worry is a special form of fear. To create worry, humans elongate fear with anticipation and memory, expand it in imagination, and fuel it with emotion.” -Edward Hallowell

Worry takes one little nugget of a fact and adds the creative power of human imagination to create a huge mess. Case in point: I can’t tell you how many times my husband has been running late coming home from work, and I started to worry that he’d been in a car wreck (he has a 30 minute commute). I could imagine him in a heap of flaming car, trying to reach his phone to call and say he loved me one last time… and then of course he walks in the door. What a waste of a perfectly good emotion. So, we can spend all our energy trying to ignore our anxiety and we can wallow in worry. Surely there have to be some better solutions! Well, I’m hoping you’ll leave your best method of dealing with anxiety in the comments section, but here a couple things that work for me:  

TALK WITH ITWhile it is not healthy to wallow in our fears, emotions are a healthy, normal expression of humanness. Stuffing them down is never a good solution. If I’m feeling anxious, that just means I feel threatened by something, so my body is preparing to “fight or fly.” It is helpful to talk to a trusted person about what is making me feel this way, so I can determine whether there really is a threat or not. (Make sure this person has enough guts to tell you if you’re being irrational, and enough tact to say it in such a way that you can hear it!)  

STAY WITH ITThis is the time for the fear to find expression. It’s not something to rush through. It seems like we’re in such a hurry these days that we don’t know how to really be with our emotions… that’s all, just be. It sounds mushy and girly, but sometimes you just need to feel. Maybe allow yourself to cry. If you need permission, I give you permission! When you’re feeling anxious, set aside some time to face it. Listen to what you’re feeling, and allow yourself to respond however you need to. Consider it an emotional detox.  

IMAGINE ITSometimes I can over-rationalize things, but this really helps me. When I’m afraid, I play out the worst-case-scenario in my head, as terrifying as it is, and then keep going with it. I envision life beyond that scary thing, whatever that may be. No matter what happens, I believe life can continue to be good. Sometimes you just have to look a little further into the future. When you remember that everyone lives happily ever after in the end, the scary parts of the story aren’t so scary.
DISSECT IT Once I’ve thoroughly worked through all of the above methods (sometimes more than once), I fall back on this, my oldest method of dealing with painful things. In fact, it’s what I’m doing right now! When I need a good distraction from something, I think very hard about what I know of the science behind it. In my life, I have broken an arm seven times. I remember laying on the ground, imagining that my pain was nothing but electricity firing back and forth in my brain. When I broke it down in that way, I could almost tune it out. Now, I’m thinking about worry, how it affects us, how I deal with it, and whether my methods are effective. At the very least, it’s been a great distraction for me, but hopefully it’s been a help to you as well!

Despite astoundingly mediocre grades in my college Psychology classes, I’m no therapist. These just seem to be the most effective steps I’ve found. I’m excited to hear your input!

However you deal, the last step is the most important: move on with your life! Emotions are part of who we are, and are not to be ignored, but neither are they to rule us.

These are the things that help me. Have you ever used any of these methods? Any different ones? What has helped you?

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