Don't Try Harder, Try Different!

Simple strategies for handling anxiety and stress.

Face Your Fears

Life may hand you lemons

Thanks for your replies. In my last post I talked about inspiration, and most people liked it, though there was a critique. To people with social anxiety, this one critique would send them into a spiral of feeling horrible and judging themselves. They would think that they should have anticipated all of the ways people might not have liked their writing and then written the perfect post.

Well, that is just not going to happen here. So, to the writer of the critique, I actually agree with you and do not think that I wrote anything that is in disagreement with what you said. But, if you think that I did then we will agree to disagree. Maybe not all of the posts will inspire you or have some deep meaning, but I hope that each one will have a nugget of something in it that you find funny or heartwarming or that will bring a smile to your face – why else write a stress management blog in the first place?

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Facing fears – I have always had patients do this very exercise – it is the key to the elimination of anxiety. You can talk about things all you want, but it is not until you do them that you will fully be able to overcome a fear. For example, if you can figure out a way to overcome a fear of elevators without every actually getting on an elevator, let me know. But, I bet that no one will have an answer to this, as you will never convince me that you do not have a fear of elevators if you do not actually ever get on one.

Sometimes we face fears as a choice, and sometimes they are just thrust upon us. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I was in Australia. I went snorkeling and within 20 meters of the shore I looked to my left and there was a shark next to me. Now, I will not tell a fish tale here – it was not a massive shark, but, it was a shark, and it was nearly as long as I am tall. Needless to say, this can send many a thought through your mind. The first one was, “Totally cool, a shark!” which was quickly followed by, “Holy CRAP, a shark!!”

I was later told by the locals that the sharks are always out in the water there and that since you are their size, they will not bother you as you would be too much work for them to try to eat. Needless to say, that information might have been handy prior to going in to the water, but nonetheless, it was pretty cool that I got sized up by a shark, and by the time I am old and gray(er) it will be the biggest shark ever.

Not that I was a shark phobic or anything, but it does get you to think for a bit how fast your life can change. You never know when life will take a 90 degree turn on you. When it does, all havoc can ensue, People attacked by sharks did not really expect it, just like those who get fired from their jobs out-of-the-blue or have sudden massive life changing events do not expect that either. They may be horrible experiences that can massively change the trajectory of your life, or they may be a bump in the road. No matter what, we have to adjust.

So, we pick a goal and we work toward it. Do not let the sharks of the world frighten you – sometimes they look more menacing than they actually are. Face them and see what happens, and I bet that you just might find that you can handle a lot more than you ever thought you could.

Patrick McGrath, Ph.D., is the Director of the Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital's Center for Anxiety and OCD Program and president of Anxiety Centers of Illinois. more...

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