Learn how to overcome fear and anxiety by using your breath, your imagination and your thinking brain.
1. Breathing calm while imaging that upcoming event
You might be thinking about a looming deadline and find yourself breathing more quickly or those palms are feeling uncomfortably moist. These sensations in turn prime your body to become even more anxious and so the vicious cycle continues. And note the role of the imagination in priming your mind and body to feel fearful.
But you’re going to find that breathing in a relaxed 7/11 way whilst imagining the upcoming situation calms down the association, priming your mind to feel more relaxed naturally and automatically when the actual situation arrives. You’re already starting to change the pattern.
Strategy: If you find yourself thinking about the future event and feeling anxiety sensations – do 7/11 breathing.
2. Use a different part of your brain
One symptom of too much fear or anxiety is not being able to think clearly, the thinking brain has a tendency to go “stupid” when the anxiety response is triggered. This happens because the emotional part of the brain ‘swamps’ the thinking part in to avoid over-analysis. You don’t want the thinking brain getting in the way of lifesaving action.
But in most modern situations we want to retain clear thought. And keeping your ‘thinking brain’ working actually calms you right down. This next step helps you do that.
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 help to calm you down.
The easiest way to do this is with numbers. You can scale your own anxiety response from 1 to 10, 10 being the most 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 making you calmer.
3. Get control of your imagination
Fear and anxiety thrive when we imagine the worst. We developed imagination to be able to project into the future so we can plan ahead. However, a side effect of being able to imagine possible positive futures is also being able to imagine things going wrong. A bit of this is useful; after all, there really might be muggers or loan sharks waiting for an opportunity.
But uncontrolled imagination is a nesting ground for anxiety and fear that can spoil otherwise happy lives.
Some people misuse their imagination chronically and so suffer much more anxiety than those who either future-project their imaginations constructively or who don’t tend to think about the future much at all.
Anxious, chronic worriers tend to misuse their imaginations to the extent that upcoming events feel like catastrophes waiting to happen. No wonder whole lives can be blighted by fear and anxiety.
Some people don’t even really know they are doing this. So: