One of the hardest things to do in life is to stand up and face your fears, whatever they may be. Anxiety can creep in and rob us of a life filled with amazing experiences, moments of celebration, and ultimately reaching our full potential. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety affects more than 18% of people over the age of 18 currently living in the U.S.
Anxiety has a tricky way of making a person believe something that may or may not be true. It's all about perception and sometimes we have a way of twisting it to match our insecurities and subconscious thought patterns. Honestly, it's a form of self-sabotage and it isn't healthy. Using cognitive behavioral therapy can truly transform how we think, how we cope, and how we grow.
Cognitive Behavior: What Does It Mean?
Over the course of a person's life, many experiences occur, from our first day of school, the first time we were punished, when someone laughed at us, a scary movie we watched, heartbreak, grief, and the like. When moments like these occurred our brains created patterns. And it's not created solely on one thing, but rather a combination of how something smelled, what we looked like, how we responded, sounds we heard, and what resulted from that experience. These patterns are then formed and they become a sort of habit to a way a person thinks, behaves, and responds emotionally.
So, hypothetically, if you were bullied at a young age by classmates, you may have retreated to your desk, put your head down, and avoided socializing with them. Fast forward years later and you find yourself glancing over your cubicle at your coworkers who are laughing and you automatically perceive them to be making fun of you. You put your head down, keep working, and spend the rest of the day letting your mind brew over what is wrong with you and why everyone laughs at you. In reality, you have no idea what was being discussed. It may have been a funny birthday card someone was sharing or possibly a funny meme on their phone. What you did was assume and assuming without clarification keeps you locked into those same patterns. The key is unlocking your ability to handle situations and change the way you respond to them.
Change Your Thoughts: Practicing Mindfulness
Your body has a fight or flight stress response system that is triggered when you face a situation that could be deemed dangerous. The danger is individualized to what you perceive as a threat. It could be giving a presentation at school or work, pressure to perform well on a test, or entering a room where everyone else is already seated. This is where practicing mindfulness comes in, which means being fully aware of how you are feeling and taking control over how you respond to it at that moment. One way we can change this is by tapping into our parasympathetic nervous system and countering those stress responses with a state of calm and clarity.
"The sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system acts like a brake. It promotes the rest and digest response that calms the body down after the danger has passed." -Harvard Health
Here are some healthy suggestions you can start practicing to change those unwanted thought patterns.
Meditate Daily Meditation is a powerful tool that you can practice for as little or as long as you'd like. Find a quiet place free from distractions and use this time to close your eyes, picture a safe place, focus on deep, full breathing and let go of things that are bothering you and things you cannot control. Doing this daily for just 5 minutes in the morning can clear your mind and help you go through your day with intention and purpose.
Yoga This can be an excellent way to destress, unwind, and relieve tension. Yoga can be done at any time but is more beneficial after the most stressful part of your day. You should aim for 30-60 minutes, 3-4 times a week for optimal benefits.
Journaling Jotting down our thoughts is a great way to do a sort of brain dump. Take note of your emotions. Are you feeling angry, vulgar, happy, or sad? This is where you can let go and get it all out without anyone seeing it - a private display of raw emotion.
Mirror Conversations This is literally a-you-to-you chat. It builds character and charisma. Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself three things you love about yourself. Practice talking, tell yourself positive things, and literally reflect on what you want others to perceive of you.
The Rubber Band Trick In order to be mindful of your actions when you respond, you can wear a rubber band around your wrist. Whenever something triggers that stress response, you can pull that rubber band to smack your wrist. This is your cue, to remember all the things you have been telling yourself in the mirror, all those positive affirmations, and to be aware of how you want to respond. Eventually, this will become a habit and you won't need the rubber band anymore.
Cognitive Restructuring: The Roadmap
Using these tools can help you take control of how you want to feel and how you wish to respond. At times there will be doubt, especially in the beginning. But the takeaway is that you continue to work on it until you are satisfied. It can be scary to put yourself out there and fail.
Be prepared and be realistic. Let us use a scenario where you are preparing to give a speech.
A negative thinking pattern: This speech is going to be awful. I dread doing this presentation in front of a crowded room. My hands are going to be sweaty. I might pass out. I might stutter over my words, and forget what I was going to say. They will all be looking at me. What if I sound nervous?
A positive thinking pattern: I need to practice my speech in front of the mirror. I will take deep breaths before I go up. My (insert boss, mom, friend) is going to be so proud of me. I can finally show all of my hard work. This might be scary, but it will help me get past my fear.
You can be honest and tell yourself you are scared, but you need to also be honest and tell yourself you'll be fine. It's not going to kill you, it's not going to make people hate or dislike you. And it's only going to last for a small moment of time. If someone thinks you were too nervous, you probably were. No one is born great at speeches. It takes practice, which means doing it in order to become better at it. Wouldn't you rather face your fear and overcome it rather than always be worried about it. Imagine living with at least half of that worry gone. Doesn't that sound so much better?
An Indian Professor of Philosophy and a great speaker named Osho once said,
"The greatest fear in the world is the opinion of others, and the moment you are unafraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom".
Now it's time for you to become a lion.