Tip #21: Once you’ve learned your triggers, it’s time to face them.
The Why: I’m sorry dear reader. This is the not so fun part. It may not be pretty, it may make you feel more scared and awful than you thought possible, it may make your heart race faster than the speed of light (okay, not physically possible but you get the analogy). But, it will make you better, braver and more fearless than you ever thought you could be.
It’s time to face your fears.
Make a list of your triggers, and confront them.
If you’re afraid of dogs (I don’t know how this is possible) – find a dog to pet.
If you’re afraid of public speaking – raise your hand in a meeting or class.
If you’re afraid of clowns (this one I totally understand) – go to a circus.
“But”, I hear you ask, “isn’t it a really bad idea to tell people with anxiety to put themselves in situations they are likely to experience panic in?”
In the short term, maybe. In the long term, definitely not.
There is a method to my madness here:
When you develop anxiety, it’s natural to develop a tendency to avoid things that induce the horrible sensations of panic.
It’s an inbuilt protection mechanism to wish to avoid pain, and a very useful one at that.
So, I always question why I see children fall down whilst playing football, cry their eyes out, then get straight back up and carry on.
The difference between younger you and present you? When younger you fell down, cut their knee or scraped their fingers, they got back up. They didn’t stop running because they tripped. They didn’t give up on sports because they got hit in the face with a ball. Kids keep doing the things that could lead to the possibility of pain because the fun they had whilst doing activities they loved was worth it.
We should aim to apply the same logic to our anxiety, or else we risk getting trapped in the negative feedback loop of avoidance.
It begins with feeling anxious on the train, so you take the bus. If you go to a concert you stand near to an exit rather than going to the front. You stop speaking up at work or at school. You feel anxious when trying new things, so you stick to what you know.
Then, you start turning down opportunities because you’re worried about failing. You stop putting yourself out there because you’re scared of rejection. You stop saying yes to going out with friends because there may be strangers there.
Your fear of life in general grows.
You stop. You get stuck. You cease to live.
When you avoid what makes you scared, what you’re saying to your brain is:
“You’re right. This is scary. There is danger here. I’m not going to do it.”
Avoiding your fears means you’re telling your brain that the world is a scary place, which means that your anxiety exponentially increases. Your brain becomes used to doing anything to avoid fear, and feels it’s legitimised in becoming panicked at the thought of the unknown (which most of life is).
What you should be saying to your brain is this:
“There is no reason to be afraid. Here, let me show you, it’s going to be okay. I’m going to do it.”
What will happen is: you’ll pet that dog, you’ll go on that first date, you’ll speak in public, you’ll hug a clown (okay, maybe that’s too brave), and nothing bad will happen. Your fears will unwarranted and your brain will go:
“Ah, okay. I was wrong, I apologise. Next time I won’t sound the alarm bells. I know it’s going to be fine.”
When I first developed anxiety, every time I got on the tube I would feel my heart rate soar, my chest tighten and would go into doomsday mode. But everyday, no matter how awful I felt, I would make that 40-minute hell of a commute.
For the first week I nearly cried every time I was on the platform, but I made a commitment and a promise to myself that I would see this through. I had to do this for myself.
On the 8th day, a near miracle happened. I got on the tube, packed in like sardines, and nothing happened. I waited for the panic to set it, and it didn’t. My hands were a little clammy, and I still didn’t particularly enjoy the experience (it’s hard to with a man’s briefcase in your back and a woman’s massive pink umbrella in your face for over half an hour), but I was okay.
I had reprogrammed my mind to no longer feel fear at one of my biggest triggers.
Next time you’re thinking of standing back, not taking that opportunity, or avoiding what may seem like a small thing in your life, ask yourself this:
“Do I want my life to be ruled by fear, or do I want to live my best life?”
If the answer is no then, for your future self, do the scary thing.