Fear comes to us all…
My wife recently gave birth to our fourth child. The whole process seemed routine. We went to the hospital, got in our delivery room, and waited. Same old, same old. We turned the air down to the low 60’s and spent a lot of time looking out the window at the river that runs alongside the hospital grounds. And we waited…
All of a sudden, things started changing fast. Contractions got harder and my beautiful wife was feeling pain. The anesthesiologist came in and inserted the epidural. This wonderful technology that greatly eases the pain of childbirth did not work. Not this time. Suddenly, things were much less routine. The unexpected came into play, as it often does.
To this day, I am not sure what I was worried about. I knew my wife was in pain, but I also knew it would be over pretty quickly. Yet, this time was different. I was scared. My wife wasn’t expecting that kind of pain. I wasn’t expecting her to experience it either. This unexpected pain caused me to be afraid something was really going wrong. In a few minutes – and I literally mean a few minutes – it was over.
My fear came because of the unexpected. It was certainly negative. There’s no question about it. In my mind, I added in all sorts of negative, long-term, devastating complications. I did this with no evidence at all. The situation was not the source of my fear. My thoughts were the source of my fear.
There are plenty of times we need to be afraid. Fear is an immediate reaction to danger. It helps keep us alive. There are also plenty of times when our thoughts go unchecked, resulting in irrational fear. This is the kind I want to help you decrease. Here are four strategies to help lessen, or even eliminate, irrational fear.
1. Reality Test Your Thoughts
If you want to know the worst case scenario for your situation, call me and I can give it to you in 3 seconds. What I have learned is that is not helpful because it creates more anxiety. I also learned it is not very likely the worst case will actually happen. So ask yourself, how likely is it that what I am fearing will actually happen? If you believe there is a high likelihood, ask someone else. Others can sometimes see reality better than we can. Living in fear of something that has a very low chance of happening steals your joy and keeps you from enjoying your life right now.
2. Determine What You Can Control
There is a whole world out there full of things we cannot control. We can’t control the behaviors, thoughts, and feelings of others. We also cannot control natural disasters, many sicknesses, some aspects of our jobs, other drivers on the road, and the list goes on. That may sound scary. Personally, I believe there is freedom in acknowledging there is so little in our control and learning to let it go. Things that are out of my control are things I can stop worrying about. You need less to do anyway, right? What we can control is our own actions, thoughts, and behaviors. Spend your energy focusing on those things.
3. Find Positive Coping Skills
A coping skill for anxiety can be anything healthy that reduces it. It is important to find something that works specifically for you. The list of possibilities is endless: exercise, journaling, reading, drawing, knitting (definitely not for me), playing sports (golf for me), spending time with loved ones, etc. Find something that will capture your attention and keep it. You will be amazed at how small the problem becomes when you stop giving it attention.
4. Focus on Positive Thoughts
This is something I’ve struggled with for years. I can give you the negative spin on your wonderful situation if you want to know. I’ve learned that dwelling on this way of thinking only serves to make me feel worse about the situation. The result is an increase in my fear and anxiety.
Your thoughts and words are very powerful. If you say negative words about yourself and your situation, you will see it in that light. The brain tends to believe what the mouth says. I know some of you might be saying, “But you don’t know my current situation; there is nothing but negative in my life.” I’m not downplaying what you may be going through, but make the effort to find something positive to dwell on. It’s worth the effort.
You can decrease fear and anxiety. Can you totally eliminate it? Not likely. Some anxiety is a good thing. It causes us to concentrate more and work harder. However, fear that overwhelms us is something we all need to get rid of as much as possible. I hope these strategies help you decrease your fear and enable you to gain a sense of control as you move in a positive direction.
Dr. Jason E. Newsome, PhD