By now you know that your beliefs determine your reality.
What you believe about yourself and the world becomes what you find. Psychological science backs this up. Whatever we expect to find is what we will find.
This is one of the keys to fear. That your fears are made up of your beliefs.
Imagine a person who is afraid of getting ill. Every time they develop a runny nose or a cough they go into a panic. They worry about how ill they’re becoming. They create all kinds of stress and anxiety in their life because of these worries. The worry, anxiety, and stress all force the body into overdrive. The adrenals are on high alert. The body is working double time thinking it’s under attack.
Why? Because that’s what the mind believes.
The body prepares itself for this onslaught by becoming exhausted. You sleep more. You feel sluggish and run down because your adrenaline has been burning you out. And you feel shaky and less than confident because you’re questioning every single little symptom that’s developing.
Can you see how this person becomes what they fear? By fearing that they’re becoming ill they’re basically creating illness. Their body is reacting to their thoughts, to their beliefs, and is in overdrive thinking that it’s under attack. So the person feels more ill, which they take as further evidence that they’re seriously ill.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Now someone who isn’t afraid or worried of getting ill will interpret the whole situation differently. They’ll brush off the sniffles or a cough as just that – the sniffles or a cough. Not evidence for some deeper health issue. They’ll hope for the best and keep up with their workouts and their social life. Their stress levels will stay stable, their body won’t go into overdrive, and they likely won’t have any more symptoms develop.
Worry is the motor of fear. It drives whatever we’re afraid of. Fear is like gas on the fire of our wildest imagination – the one that goes off the deep end with worst case scenerios.
So what the heck do you do about it? How can you become the person who isn’t afraid of getting ill if you tend to assume that every ache means you’re falling apart?
Well, you have to turn your beliefs. And you do that by becoming aware of them and them choosing something different.
Simple, but not easy.
You become aware that of every worry and every concern you have and you don’t let them control you. Because at this point, that’s half the problem. Your thoughts are controling you. You probably aren’t even aware that you’re flushing yourself down the toilet of worry, angst, and stress when you start to get afraid of something until you’re half way down and you don’t feel capable of climbing out of it.
So what you need to do is work on paying attention to when you start to fall into the habit of worrying and amplifying your fears. Then you can make a new choice.
Now, you may be saying to yourself “yeah, great, but how do I stop worrying?“.
You choose to.
Yup, worrying is a choice.
How do I know this? I used to have issues with worry. I would worry about nonsense bullshit most of the time too.
I would play out entire conversations in my head when I was trying to go to sleep at night. Tossing and turning and thinking “what would I say if they said this?”. Or I’d think of possible worst case scenerios in my life and then plan for them “what will I do if my dog gets cancer?”.
I thought that the worry was keeping me safe. That living in FEAR of what COULD happen was keeping me from the pain of it happening. But that was utter bullshit. Instead, it was making me experience the fear and pain when nothing was wrong!!! I was basically torturing myself for no better reason than I thought that it prepared me “just in case the worst happens”.
So I know what I’m talking about when I say that you can choose to stop worrying.
So how did I stop? As I mentioned earlier – I first started to become aware of what I was doing. I woke up to my worry. I would say to myself “okay, I’m sitting here worrying. I’ve got to stop this”. And I would do one (or several) of the following:
Write them down and put them away
Write down my worries and put them away. Get up and physically write them on a piece of paper. This would get them out of my head and stop them spinning around and crashing around my brain and creating other worries.
What can you do about it?
So you sneeze or cough and you assume you’re getting sick. You become aware of your worry. So you think “what can I do about this?”. Well, you could get a good night’s rest, avoid alcohol, and nourish your body with ginger tea. Those things might actually help IF you’re getting sick. But thinking about every ache and pain? Not helpful. Panicking? Not helpful. Worry? Never ever helpful.
Drop that this at the door.
When I used to have this problem I would say to myself “is there anything I can do about this that will help?” if the answer was no – I’d stop worrying because I realized I wasn’t helping anything. If the answer was yes, I’d get up and DO something. An example of this is when I would worry about finishing my dissertation in graduate school. Instead of sitting and just worrying the day away I would actually get up and do some work on it. I’d always feel better. But when I’d worry about my dog getting cancer. Nope, drop it like it’s hot. That shit isn’t worth thinking about and there isn’t anything I could do about it anyway.
Play it out to it’s logical conclusion
What’s the worst that could happen?
So, for example, say you’re afraid your son’s baseball game will get rained out. What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll reschedule it and he’ll be disappointed and bored. What’s the worst thing about that? Being inconvenienced to go back to the field another time and trying to entertain him and cheer him up. That sounds like stuff you can handle, doesn’t it?
Another example, you fear that you’re going to lose your job. What’s the worst that could happen? (and this is an example I heard from a client once). “I’ll have to flip burgers my entire life”. I asked my client “but you have a graduate degree. Why would you take a job flipping burgers? Don’t you think there are other things you could get paid for, and make more money at, than flipping burgers?” She and I brainstormed about 10 different jobs she would be able to do that had nothing to do with tossing beef onto buns. Suddenly the fear evaporated and she realized that she’d been torturing herself with something that had no basis in reality.
The basis of this technique is that you can trust yourself to deal with whatever comes you way. No matter what – you’ll figure it out. And when you take the fear to it’s logical conclusion you’ll be able to see that.
Distract Yourself with an opposite emotion
If I can’t just stop then I’d distract myself. I’d get busy doing something I loved like watching a funny movie, go take a shower, masturbate, call a friend. Do whatever you can to feel GOOD. Feeling good is contrary to fear. You can’t do both at once. So stimulate feel good emotions and you’ll stop fear in it’s tracks.
Put your mindfulness skills to practice. Zap your mind right into the present moment.
One of the fastest tricks I taught myself to do this was the “describe the room” trick.
Look around the room and describe everything, in detail, out loud. Saying it out loud is key here.
Because when you’re saying out loud “the curtains are while with orange polka dots, there is a zig zag pattern that’s really small on the couch and it sort of feels like old velvet, and there is a crack in the baseboard about 3 centimeters long, and my purse is an orangish red and I can see three books, my wallet, and my turquoise phone case sticking out of the top. And over there is my dog who is sleeping on a soft chenille blanket. And there are 5 light switches in this room. And 3 lamps. And 2 lamps are black and one lamp is white. But one lamp shade is square while the other one is a circular barrel shape” – um yeah – you get the picture. There’s no fucking ROOM for any other thoughts when you’ve got a running diatribe of description going on like that.
And the beautiful thing is that once you distract yourself for 60 seconds or so, the worry and the fear are gone. Emotions only last about a minute to a minute and a half if we don’t perpetuate them with our thoughts. So if we can distract our thinking for that long. We can stop the worry, fear, or whatever the fuck else is keeping us stuck.
Now, next time you’re afraid or worried go get busy describing all of the spices in your kitchen 😉