The idea of facing our fears has always been with us and has been much written about in ancient and modern scripts. Jim Morrison, of The Doors, said “Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” I like this quote as it acknowledges the existential fear of freedom and is in keeping with a CBT approach to facing fears.
So here are some tips for facing fears. This is by no means original, and I have just slightly reworded what my first supervisor, Frank McCaffrey, taught me to help people to do many years ago:
How to manage anxiety
First off, this title is actually misleading as our real goal is to confront our fears so that the anxiety reduces on its own, so we are really managing our behaviours. Here goes anyway:
- Recognise that the problem is anxiety. Recognise it early.
- Accept the anxiety rather than fighting it. In general, the more you try to fight your anxiety the worse it will become.
- Measure it. You are probably very good at feeling it rising, but do you also notice when it is coming down? Use a simple scale of 0-8.
0 2 4 6 8
none slight definite severe extreme
- Confront your anxiety. Make deliberate decisions to do the things which cause you anxiety (rather than waiting for them to come to you!). Try to stay in the feared situation until the anxiety has come down by half. This way you will be showing yourself that you can cope with the feeling rather than that you cannot. When you escape from your anxiety at its peak you are teaching yourself that you cannot tolerate it, or that what you feared would happen would have happened if you had not escaped.
- Try not to use distraction as your way of coping as this is a form of avoidance. Do the anxiety provoking thing that you need to do, and keeping checking in with yourself to allow yourself to feel the anxiety.
- Use diaphragmatic breathing. Relax your muscles. These are the two main things you can try to control, although if this is difficult ditch them as the body will sort itself out anyway. The rest of the sensations you need to try to endure and wait for them to pass.
- Use positive coping statements, e.g. this is just anxiety which will pass; by staying in this situation I am in control rather than my anxiety; this feeling will not harm me.
- Congratulate yourself whenever you have confronted your anxiety. You are a step further in achieving your goals. No-one else knows how difficult this was for you, so you are the main person to give yourself a pat on the back.