Strategies for coping with fear and anxiety

By John Brant | 14th June 2018
guest in life makeover workshop at La Crisalida Retreats

Fear normally gets a bad name – it’s been blamed for wars, poverty, social and health problems to name just a few! On the personal level, I think we can all identify with times when fear and anxiety have overwhelmed us and kept us stuck at some stage in our life – whether it be in relationships, work, family or our health and wellbeing.

When we hear excuses and justifications, often anxiety, doubt and fear have taken hold.

In this article we look at fear from a different perspective. We aim to convince you that even though you may be blaming fear or anxiety for your issues, they are not really the problem. The good news is that in this article you will see that there is something you can do about it! We conclude with 20 separate strategies for coping with fear and anxiety.

What are some of the key benefits of fear?

There are a number of key benefits of experiencing fear:

  1. Fear can keep us away from danger, and so keep us safe. If there was no fear, we might try and jump off a cliff top to see what would happen!
  2. Fear can act as a motivator. There are a lot of things we wouldn’t do if there was no fear. For example, we may not bother going to work if we don’t fear missing a mortgage payment.
  3. Fear can create excitement and an adrenaline rush. Sometimes there is a fine line between fear and excitement. Performance nerves can be a good sign – for example, a singer may need this type of mild anxiety to produce top performance.
  4. Fear creates challenges to overcome. When we do overcome fear and anxiety we can get a huge sense of personal achievement. It can help us to develop self-worth and self-esteem. Life would be boring without fear. If everything in life was easily achieved, we would probably lose motivation and focus.
  5. Fear can make us focussed. If a wild tiger jumped out in front of you, you wouldn’t be thinking about the washing at home or what’s on at the movie theatre tonight. Fear can create urgency and help keep us focussed to get things done. It can therefore improve our quality of life.
  6. Fear can make us stop and think. Sometimes, the fear of looking stupid or losing money will make us stop and consider whether what we are doing is wise. Fear can emerge if we indulge in excessive risk taking – and can help us develop awareness of our actions and beliefs.
  7. Fear can make us look after our health. This is fear in action as a motivator. The classic example is someone who has had a health shock (like a heart attack). Often a shock like this can act as a motivator for us to stay healthy, eat well and look after our wellbeing.
  8. Fear can make us examine our own emotional “baggage”. Fear can help us to become more self-aware and identify areas where we may need to heal old wounds. It can become a form of communication.

What are some of the key drawbacks of fear?

Fear has drawbacks too of course.

  1. Fear can make us panic and push us towards danger. For example, fear in a crowd of people has sometimes lead to dangerous stampedes.
  2. Fear can paralyse us. The fight or flight instinct can kick in and we can be confused about the way forward or scared about taking the action we need to take leading to paralysis, doubt and inaction.
  3. Fear can create other negative emotional states. For example, some people may also feel anger, sadness or hurt.
  4. Fear can be a challenge too far. Even though fear can be a motivator, it can also de-motivate if we find that the challenge is too great based upon our skill level and experience.
  5. Fear can make us distracted and scatter our energy. If we are unsure what action to take – the fear can distract us from what really needs to be done. We may worry about things and prioritise things foolishly under the influence of fear.
  6. Fear can make us emotional and irrational. This point is very similar to 1. Sometimes we need to be rational to sort out a problem and fear may stop us.
  7. Fear can have negative health consequences. Having fear or anxiety in our lives for long periods of time can have a long term affect on our health and typically leads to chronic health issues. Extreme stress, without relaxation can also lead to acute problems including life threatening heart attacks.
  8. Fear can put us into denial and blame. Sometimes fear can stop us taking responsibility for our problems.

How is fear not the problem?

We have listed above eight benefits of fear and eight drawbacks. If you take another look you will see that the second list is the exact opposite of the first. Fear can benefit us, or it can hinder us depending upon our relationship with it.

What this really means is that fear is not the problem. The problem is really how we handle the fear or our relationship with fear.

The number one determinant of your quality of life will not be how much fear you feel, but by how you handle your fear. If you use fear to your advantage (e.g. by using it as a motivator) you will have a very different experience of life to someone who lets fear to overwhelm them.

Strategies for coping with fear and anxiety

There are many ways in which we naturally handle or cope with fear and anxiety. If you have problems with anxiety or fear, consider whether you could make use of some of the following list of ideas in the future:

  1. Take Action. Susan Jeffers wrote a book called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. She suggests that the most effective way of overcoming your fears is to face them and do the very thing that you fear. So, if you are frightened of heights, go to a training school to take a parachute jump!
  2. Ignore it or forget about it. This can be an effective strategy if we have absolutely no direct control over the fear. For example, you could worry about a nuclear war, but have absolutely no control over it – so this strategy of ignoring it may work well in that situation.
  3. Breathe. Sometimes our anxieties and fears are exacerbated by the shortness of breath that often comes with these states. If we can remember to take a few deep breaths or even spend a few moments in meditation we can sometimes manage our anxiety or fear. Read this months article on yoga breathing.
  4. Do yoga. If you are able to take your attention into your body during your yoga practice, it becomes a special form of meditation. Getting back into your body and out of your mind can help to calm us down and see things more clearly.
  5. Ask for help. Sometimes just asking for help from a professional or a friend can help us to handle our fear. They may be able to help us with practical solutions or ideas about how to handle it.
  6. Study and educate yourself. Most fears come from ignorance. If we are able to study and educate to help develop intelligence and awareness our fears normally are easier to handle
  7. Practice. If we don’t have the skill levels required to do something and this is creating fear, then practicing it can help. For example, if you fear public speaking, practice your talk in front of the mirror, and then in front of friends and you will soon develop the skills.
  8. Rationalise it. Sometimes thinking something through can help eliminate doubt, confusion and fear. For example, working through whether you can afford a mortgage commitment on a new house can help ease any worries
  9. Change your attitude. Sometimes a simple change of attitude is what is required. This can be very helpful if you get into a cycle of negativity. Stand up, shake yourself down and resolve to do whatever is required will transform your relationship with fear.
  10. Think the worst that could happen. This sounds a bit pessimistic and most people try to avoid the negative but sometimes just considering what you would do if the worst did happen can be freeing. Usually we realise that what we are worrying about it not nearly as catastrophic as we imagine.
  11. Think of the best that could happen. This strategy can also help if we’re getting into a negative spiral. It can help if it is combined with a change in attitude too.
  12. Find a support group. Sometimes getting some support and talking through issues with people who are facing the same type of problems can help.
  13. Ask good questions. Sometimes we feel anxiety and fear because we are habitually asking ourselves disempowering and victim like questions (e.g. why does this always happen to me?). If we can change the question to more solution focussed (e.g. what can I do to resolve this) we can change our state of mind and take control of the fear.
  14. Exercise. Going for a walk or a run can help to clear our minds if we are getting into overly negative states of mind.
  15. Protect yourself. Sometimes it is entirely appropriate to protect yourself. If you are frightened of being burgled, why not install a burglar alarm for peace of mind?
  16. Plan ahead. Sometimes the lack of certainty about the future will push us towards fear and anxiety. If we are able to plan ahead we can often manage these things without them escalating.
  17. Negotiate and influence others. If we are worried about what others might do to us, why not follow a strategy of talking to them and persuading them to accommodate your concerns.
  18. Learn from others. If we can get good advice, particularly from those who have been in similar situations to you it can be invaluable. You may also be able to find classes from those who specialise in dealing with the issues that are troubling you.
  19. Relax. Simply relaxing and taking time to chill out, spending time in nature or in the garden can help change your state and give you a different perspective on things.
  20. Seek out coaching or counselling. Professional coaching or counselling can sometimes help to determine the deeper causes of any inappropriate fear or anxiety issues. Life coaches can help you pull together action plans and help you find the self-belief you need to move things forward. Read more about coaching at the retreat here.
  21. Use these strategies to your advantage – the appropriate strategy for coping with the fear and anxiety will depend on the individual and the context of the problem. Many of us over rely on only a few of them which lead to problems and getting stuck. For example, it might help to share your predicament with your friends but it is not likely to be effective if that is what you do all the time.

Be flexible and adaptable and one day you may even be able to consider fear as your friend. Go ahead, take a deeper look at how you handle fear and you will create a new relationship with yourself!

Explore more on a life makeover retreat

In our life makeover workshops here at La Crisalida Retreats you can start to look at your inner patterns, beliefs and workings. In our Life Makeover retreats we share more tips to help you take control of your life, so that you can create a life that you love and find the authentic you.

Headshot of John Brant - Retreat Founder at La Crisalida Retreats
John Brant

John is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. He leads our life makeover programme as well as overseeing the retreats.

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