Public Domain 18043/Pixabay
Source: Public Domain 18043/Pixabay

Here is a sampling of Minute Therapist techniques to help you rethink anxiety and fear:

#1. Let Anxiety Just Pass Through

Let negative emotions such as fear or anxiety just pass through your body.  Just let it happen.  Don't try fight it off. Like spitting in the wind, trying to fight it off might backfire by making it worse.  

      Cliff, 43, a research analyst for a brokerage firm, experienced anxiety whenever he gave recommendations to his work group.  He found he was able to manage his anxiety by just letting it pass through, by telling himself, It’s okay to be nervous.  It’s not the end of the world if I begin to sweat.  I just need to focus on my text and I’ll be alright.”

                Adopting an attitude of letting whatever happens, happens, reveals a subtle irony:  To gain better control of your feelings, you need to be willing to relinquish control.  You need to tell yourself you cannot force yourself not to be anxious.  But you can talk calmly to yourself and let anxiety just pass through rather than making yourself even more anxious by talking yourself into a state of panic.   

                So just let the anxiety pass through.  Let it happen.  Don't fight it off.  Let the anxiety just pass through without letting it interrupt your behavior.

#2.  Study Your Anxiety

Study your anxiety, as though you were observing yourself from a distance.  Imagine it is passing right through your body, starting from the top of your head and passing right through to your toes and out of your body

                Another thing you can do is focus on your breathing.  Just breathe through episodes of anxiety.  Tell yourself, “This will pass in a few minutes.”  People often feel anxiety or panicky sensations during times of emotional and physical stress, such as when they are feeling run down.  Tell yourself, "I'm not feeling well right now.  I just need to get through the night and I’ll feel better tomorrow." 

                One patient likened the feeling of an anxiety attack to a short-lived rush.  She, too, was able to let it pass through without trying to fight it off:  “I recognized I couldn't think straight just then.  It felt like things were going on too fast for my brain to organize them.  I just let it run its course.  I soon began to feel better, like I was home with myself.  Almost like a new person.”

#3.  Tell Yourself to Postpone Anxiety

Here’s a Minute Therapist  technique borrowed from the classic film Gone with the Wind. The main character Scarlett O'Hara used cognitive distraction to countermand fears and doubts when things went wrong, which they often did, telling herself that she would think about whatever was bothering her tomorrow, just not today.

                You can borrow a page from Miss Scarlett’s playbook by just postponing an anxiety attack. Tell yourself, “I'll deal with the anxiety when I get home,” or, like Scarlett, “I’ll have time to be anxious tomorrow.  Right now I just need to focus on what I’m doing.”

                Another suggestion is to tell yourself it’s okay to have anxiety and self-doubts, but that you can store them away in your mental attic. Don't try to get rid of them, just put off thinking about them until a later time. Then, when that time comes around, ask yourself if you have anything better to do than to rummage through your mental attic for worries and concerns you had been anxious or worried about.

#4.  Take Two Distracters and Call Me in the Morning

Do you feel uncomfortable in tight or enclosed places, such as when flying or sitting in the middle of a row in a theater, or when riding on a crowded bus or train?  What about sitting in a classroom?  One patient with a fear of flying summed up her fear this way, "As long as I can escape, I'm okay.  When I’m in class, I can always just run out the door if I need to. But you couldn't do that on a plane, obviously." 

                 Many people find they are able to cope with fearful or anxiety-provoking situations by using distracters.  And if one distracter doesn’t do the trick, try another.  Randi, a woman in her mid-twenties, struggled with fear of flying.  When in exposure therapy she finally worked up to the point of taking a short flight, she came to the airport prepared to handle any anxiety she might experience when the doors closed and the engines revved up.   She reported that when she began to feel her anxiety rising, she said to herself, "You're going to take out your book and read.  Then I seemed to forget about the anxiety."  

                There are many distracters you can use to handle anxious situations, even more these days with the availability of smartphone apps.  Among the common distracters my patients have used include comedy tapes, books, even backgammon sets.  One patient I treated for fear of flying decided to make a game of counting the different colored shirts and blouses fellow passengers were wearing—how many black, red, and so on.

#5.   Just Follow the White Lines

One young woman had a fear of driving over bridges that was putting a damper on her ability to travel freely. She even turned down an attractive job offer because the company was located on the other side of a bridge from where she lived.  Yet it wasn't something bad happening to the bridge itself that frightened her.  She didn't fear the bridge would suddenly collapse as she drove over the span.  What she feared lay deep inside herself, the fear she might drive herself off the bridge or do something terrible to herself.  She was afraid of losing control of herself.

                In practice driving sessions, she employed a simple but direct strategy of keeping her eyes focused on the road.  She said, “No one says you have to look off to the side when driving across a bridge.  I just need to focus on the driving lanes and the dotted white line. You know what, the dotted white line is the same whether you're on the bridge or not.”

#6.  Talk Yourself Through It

Talking yourself through a difficult task is a constructive form of self-talk.  Imagine you buy your five-year-old daughter the latest Jungle Jane outdoor climbing set, the one the salesman swore was a cinch to assemble.  Of course, the salesman didn't tell you he was planning an extended vacation out of the country and couldn't be reached for the next year or two.  Not to worry, you tell yourself, the instructions are included.  So what if the instructions are in Korean, you tell yourself, the diagrams should be easy enough to follow.  And there you are in the backyard, laying out the various pieces, side-by-side, trying to talk yourself through each step. 

                The mental trick here is to focus your thoughts on the task at hand, not on your anxiety or anger at being misled about how easy it was to assemble.  You tell yourself, "Okay, relax.  I can get through this.  It will take longer than I figured, but I can do this.  What do I need to do first?  Okay, first I take that L-shaped Part A and connect it to the bisected Part D.  Then I need to look for that funny looking metal piece. . . “ 

In short, talking yourself through an anxiety-provoking task can help keep the lid on anxiety. 

© 2017 Jeffrey S. Nevid

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