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Each of us was born with an emotional constitution that determines how we're likely to react in any situation. We all have a mix of three emotions — sadness, anger, and fear — but it's usually one of these emotions that governs our feelings, thoughts, words and actions most of the time.
People whose most dominant emotion is fear are easy to recognize. In general, they're the "speedy ones"— focused on time, money and getting things done. They're ruled by deadlines and to-do lists, and feel that there aren't enough hours in a day. They may become anxious, nervous and panicked. Fear-driven people tend to be worriers, and they may act scattered, confused, overwhelmed, dramatic or controlling. If you ask them, they'll tell you that peace is something that eludes them.
If some of these traits ring a bell for you and you're tired of them, there are effective strategies that can restore balance. By incorporating the six suggestions below, you'll decrease the amount of fear you feel, and increase the amount of peace almost instantly.
1. Make it physical.
Instead of getting tense and tightening up your muscles, release the fear using your body. When you feel anxious, let your body do what's natural: wiggle, jiggle, shudder, tremble, and quiver — like a dog at the vet. It may sound strange at first, but if you express the emotional energy with vigor — up the spine, out the arms, hands, legs, and in the neck and jaw — it will move out of your body and you'll quickly feel more calm, centered, and focused. While shivering, don't fuel your doom-and-gloom thoughts, but just remind yourself: "It's okay to feel scared. It's okay. I just need to shiver."
2. Get specific.
It's common when we're feeling panicked to fuel our fear with words like "always" and "never," as in "I'm always failing," or "I'll never get this done." Interrupt such thoughts about the future and past, and other overgeneralizations that distort and magnify the problem. Instead, stay present and specific. For example, "Today I will chip away at XYZ project. It's just a task; it doesn't define who I am."
3. Halt the pressure.
The thoughts and chatter running through your head exacerbate your feelings of anxiety and pressure. Interrupt those thoughts and replace them with a reassuring and calming statement. Some examples: "Everything is all right. One thing at a time. I'll handle the future in the future. Be here now."
4. Say "no" more often.
Say "no" more often to invitations of responsibility. Folks who are ruled by fear have a tendency to believe that if they don't do it, it won't get done. This stems from their need to be in control in order to feel safe. The problem is that needing to be in charge keeps you overstimulated and overwhelmed. The world won't collapse if someone else does it his or her way. People won't abandon you, and you'll still be a good person if you let others pick up the slack. Take a leisurely walk. Take a snooze.
5. Break it into parts.
Break big projects into a series of simple little pieces, and attend to one thing at a time. The key to managing fear and life's tasks is to take the time daily to get organized. For each task you take on, start by articulating your goal. With that in mind, break the goal into a series of little doable steps. Each step must be made small enough so you know you can finish it. If you keep an ongoing list of exactly what needs to be done by when, you can evaluate what's most important and essential for today. Put your list in an obvious place so you can see it. Then just do what's next, offering yourself copious praise along the way.
6. Adopt a relaxed, more conscious routine.
Make lifestyle choices that help you achieve a regular, more relaxing life. To feel calmer, you must reduce the amount of stimulation you expose yourself to. That means spending time with less frightening or less anxiety-producing activities, situations, people, movies, games and other stimuli. Get more sleep. Meditate. Do gentle yoga, tai chi, or qigong. Don't miss meals. Cut down on coffee, energy drinks and cold foods and drinks. Stay out of cool, damp, and drafty places.
By following these six simple suggestions, you'll be able to balance out your fear and feel more peace. Take a couple of baby steps daily. Break things into doable steps, and shiver when you stall. You'll find that you enjoy whatever your day brings and can willingly participate with humor and equanimity.
Want to find out which destructive attitudes and emotions dominate your character? Take a quick self-quiz here, then try the coping strategies designed to address them.