"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
So famously said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but with all due respect to the former president, I'd beg to differ with this famous quote. If you're in the middle of the street and there's a car coming at you, you'd better be scared and get out of that road as fast as you possibly can. And it's only common sense to be afraid to swim out past the buoys when you go to the beach.
Like so many other things, when taken in moderation, fear can be a good thing. It can make us stop to think things through before doing something rash. It can motivate us to work harder. It can be an absolutely essential survival instinct. But like any other emotion, it can also get out of hand, sometimes all too easily. That's when problems set in. Some people might have a phobia, or "an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something"; even in the dictionary definition, phobias are clearly irrational. Others might suffer from anxiety, "a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension".
But even for those of us without a diagnosis of a panic or anxiety disorder, we probably all experience seemingly unfounded or irrational worries at times, to one degree or another. And it's when these unwarranted fears get out of control that fear itself can, perhaps, become something to be a little afraid of after all.
I know that, for me, most of my less-than-logical anxieties tend to center around my perfectionism and tendency to blow certain things up out of proportion. Social interactions are hard for me, in part because of my general introversion and shyness (see this blog post!), but also in part because I'm always afraid that I'm going to say something wrong, accidentally come across in a different way than I intend, or "mess up" in some other way. And the same goes for me in so many other situations, be it trying to learn a new skill, having a new responsibility, taking a test, auditioning for something... the list goes on. I'm always sure I'm going to make a mistake—and I don't want to make a mistake. Sometimes, I'll also be siezed by terror based on more general things—anything from illness to climate change.
While everybody's mind and emotional processes are different, I'm going to guess that most of you have probably felt stressed, insecure, or afraid at one time or another. So today I thought I'd share some tips taken from my own experience for dealing with such unwanted fears.
- Take a step back
I know, I know, you've heard it before. But it became a cliché for a good reason. If you've been reading my previous blog posts, you may have noticed that this is a theme that I've referred to more than once before: Breathe. Take a metaphorical step (or a physical step, if circumstances allow!) away from whatever is stressing you. One of the things that makes fear so powerful has is the ability to overwhelm you. Sometimes panic has a way of taking you unawares, and once you're in the grip of a wave of terror worry, it's hard to break free of the cycle. So, in turn, one of the most powerful tools you can use to counter such fear is just to pause. Close your eyes for a moment. Count to ten. Take several deep breaths. Deliberately relax your body. Shake your arms out.
- Go for positivity
When you're in a negative frame of mind, it's too easy to only pick up on other negative things. You're angry, so every little thing drives you up the wall. You're depressed, so everything just seems worthless. You're scared, so the whole world feels like a sign of doom. You're so caught up in the bad, you forget to notice the good. I know that I struggle with this relatively often, and it's a very common pyschological phenomenon that can become a truly vicious cycle.
So make an effort to counteract it by going out of your way to notice positive things, generally speaking. Do something that makes you happy, whether that be drawing, writing, reading, playing or listening to music, singing, going for a walk, playing with your siblings, petting your dog; anything. Some people find keeping a gratitude journal helpful; whether you write in it daily, or just every so often, you can look through that to remind yourself of some of the many good things in your life. Some have inspirational quotes that help them get through anxiety, or positive verbal affirmations they use to help calm down. (When I say "affirmation", in this context, I'm referring to an encouraging, uplifting, soothing, or otherwise positive short sentence that reminds you of something or helps counteract self-defeating thought proccesses. A few examples of affirmations might include "I have confidence"; "I will make the best of things"; "Everything will be okay"; etc. Even the quote I shared earlier, "This too shall pass", can function as a great affirmation.)
You know what makes you happy better than I can, so just remind yourself to look on the sunny side too and take some time to enjoy yourself, to avoid getting too bogged down in blind panic. Former S2S mentor Larkin actually wrote an excellent blog post about dealing with depression, and I personally find that many of these tips can help me personally when I'm stuck in other negative mindsets as well, whether that be anger, sadness, or fear.
- Check your perspective
After you've cleared your head to the best of your ability, try to be realistic. As I pointed out when I opened this article, sometimes fear can be a sign of common sense—in which case the next bullet point I'll be getting to is the one to look at. :) But often, fear/anxiety makes it easy to lose perspective, so ask yourself honestly—what's the worst that could happen? Maybe your GPA will drop by one point. Maybe you'll feel embarassed. Maybe you won't get into the ensemble you were hoping for. Yes, these things would be disappointing. But remind yourself that it's not the end of the world. And, as a famous saying often attributed to Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) goes in Jewish tradition, גם זה יעבור. "This too shall pass."
Whatever happens, you'll be able to move past it eventually, I promise; and who knows? Maybe the thing you're afraid of, even if it does ensue, will turn out to be for the best in the end.
- Think things through
But, okay, even though you've realized that it's not such a horrible disaster even if the thing you're worried about happens, you'd still rather avoid it if possible. So have yourself a brainstorming session. Get a pencil and paper, if writing things down helps you. Figure out some things you can do to help prepare for whatever the source of your anxiety is. If you have an audition coming up, practice! If there's a big test, study. If you're stressed about social interactions, try listing some ideas for things you could say or how to handle a situation that might arise; if it helps, you could even hold some "mock conversations", either with a friend or family member if there's someone available, or even just with yourself in a mirror. If you're scared of illness, you can't be guaranteed to prevent it—but you can try to eat healthily, get some exercise, and so on, to generally strengthen your immune system. And you can't fix climate change, but you can do your small part for the environment by using reusable items, recycling and composting instead of putting everything in the garbage, walking or biking instead of driving, etc.
Instead of just sitting paralyzed with fear, try and actually take action. Do something to make what you're afraid of less likely, or brainstorm ways of coping if you can't avoid it.
- Reconcile yourself
Obviously, in the end you can't control everything in life. No matter how much you do, there are going to be things that happen that you don't want. You are going to be stressed sometimes; it's just a part of life. So acknowledge it, accept it, and remind yourself again of reality—what happens happens, but it's not the end of the world. Sometimes we just have to accept things for how they are. We do the best we can, and if you studied and you still don't do well on that test, or you practiced and you still don't get into the orchestra, or you ate healthily and you still come down with the flu, that's just how it is. Try to make the best of it and move on; don't let yourself wallow in it for too long, even if your fears do come true.
- Talk to someone
I saved this tool for the end—but this is a definitely a case of last but not least. Bottling emotions up for too long is seldom for the best. While anxiety and fear are deeply personal things, they're also something that virtually every human being alive is faced with at some point. There are people who care about you—both people in real life (friends, family, teachers, etc.) and if you're on NMG, there are people online too! You aren't alone in this boat, and you don't need to—I would perhaps even go so far as to say that, often, you shouldn't—go this alone. So talk to someone about how you're feeling. For one thing, they may be able to help you with some tools I mentioned earlier, such as being realistic and brainstorming coping techniques. If nothing else, getting an outside perspective can sometimes help with breaking through the overwhelmingness of fear. In addition, often just opening up about how you feel, getting it off your shoulders, can make a huge difference. When you bottle up your fear (or any other emotion), it just stays inside you. When you talk to others, while it probably won't be that easy to entirely eradicate, in a way you're already diminishing the power the anxiety has over you.
Even if you don't have friends or relatives you feel comfortable opening up to, there are likely counselors at your school who are there specifically to listen to you! And if nothing else, any of you are always more than welcome to PM me if you need to talk about anything whatsoever. <3
Do you ever feel fearful, anxious, or otherwise uneasy, with or without cause? What tends to trigger these types of feelings, for you, and how do you like approach handling them? Is anything in this blog post helpful for you, or do you have any recommendations of your own? Please share in the comments below, as always!
In the end, like so many other parts of life, fear can be very bad, fear can be very good, or—more often than not—it can lie somewhere between these two extremes. And what's most important is not whether we experience anxiety or fear, but how we handle the anxiety or fear that is bound to crop up sooner or later for all of us.
After all, as Ambrose Redmoon once wrote (in a quotation which, coincidentally, is sometimes attributed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt): "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear."