How to Reduce Anxiety

  1. Figure out, “How much danger am I in?” If something very bad might happen, and there’s a good chance of it, you’re in danger. If the “something” you’re worried about is not bad or not likely, you’re not in danger. Think about physical danger, social danger, economic danger, and the danger of failure. If you’re not likely to get hurt or sick, lose friends, lose money, or fail at something, you can reassure yourself that you want to reduce the fear rather than escape the situation.

  2. Practice relaxation techniques daily, even if only for a couple of minutes. “Breathe and relax the muscles” is one such technique: when you breathe in, get some muscles in mind. When you breathe out, try to make those muscle loose and limp and relaxed. If your mind drifts to something, else, just gently swing back to the technique, without getting down on yourself for getting distracted. It’s fun to add “biofeedback” to relaxation practice. One way to do this is to get a pulse oximeter (for about $20) and notice how much your heart rate goes down as you relax and how much it goes up when you imagine the scary situation. There is no way to “fail” at changes in heart rate – noticing the changes just makes the relaxation practice more fun, for some people.

  3. You learn to be less afraid of something by practicing dealing with it successfully, without a lot of painful feelings. Putting yourself in the situation so you can practice dealing with it is sometimes called an “exposure” to the situation. Exposures are best done when you’re feeling safe. Longer exposures are more likely to help you get used to the situation than short exposures.

  4. You can do exposures in imagination, and practice dealing with the situation by imagining yourself in it. For example, someone with a fear of the dark imagines themselves lying in the dark, and feeling safe and relaxed while doing so.

  5. If the situation is too scary to practice dealing with in a cool and calculating way, you can practice with situations that are similar, but “lower on the hierarchy” of scariness – that is, less scary. For example, if someone fears giving a speech to the whole class at school, the person might practice giving a speech to a trusted family member while sometimes imagining doing it at school. If the person is afraid of talking with new people, the person might practice having conversations with a sibling or parent or grandparent, etc.

  6. When you handle a scary situation better than you have before, try to feel good about it. Try to actually think words like, “Hooray for me! I did something brave!”

  7. Be aware of your self-talk. If you find yourself saying things like “Oh no, oh no, this is terrible, I can’t stand this, it’s going to be horrible,” be thankful that you have noticed these thoughts. Noticing them is the first step in replacing them with less upsetting thoughts.

  8. 4 types of thoughts to practice when getting used to scary situations are 1. Not awfulizing 2. Goal-setting 3. Listing options and choosing, and 4. Celebrating your own choice. There is more to learn about different types of thoughts, that will be very helpful. Here’s an example of the four thoughts for someone who is nervous about giving a speech. 1. This isn’t awful, because nothing terrible will happen if I don’t do well. Plus it’s not very likely that I’ll do a very bad job, because I will have practiced. 2. My goal is just to read off my speech in a loud enough voice that people can hear me, and not worry about perfection. 3. I can relax my muscles to help myself calm down. I can write out the speech word for word so that all I have to do is read it. I can imagine myself in front of the group while I’m practicing. I can not worry about it if my heart is pounding when I start to give the speech. I think I’ll do all these things. 4. Hooray, I think I made some good choices.

  9. A key idea is to practice dealing with scary situations when you are not actually in those situations, but when you are feeling safe.

  10. A very useful technique is to come up with written fantasy rehearsals of how you would like to think, feel, and behave in the situation, and to read those fantasy rehearsals very often. If you get bored with them, that’s a good sign, because it’s hard to be scared and bored at the same time.