How To Overcome Anxiety and Fear

This is a problem that I struggled with for most of my life. I wish I had a father figure around to teach me how to overcome anxiety and fear and guide me a little bit through the rollercoaster of testosterone-fuelled youth. However, through many years of practise I have managed to cobble together survival mechanisms to help with this through the slow guidance of others, and myself.

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Anyway, today I look on in this world and shake my head as we scramble to adopt phrases like ableism that completely abdicates the responsibility of working on oneself when we can now just easily give someone a label and be done with it — “I suffer with anxiety” with no outward thought as how to work with ourselves and other people to pull back the reigns of fear.

I’ll admit, it’s a potent concoction abdicating the accountability of owning up to responsibility when one can just say, “oh, I suffer from [x] illness” and be done with it, and one that I can fully relate to as I had fell foul to this way of thinking before I began to heal.

Not that I’m saying everyone with mental health problems fall into this trap, but I can relate to a good many, because it is far easier to think of yourself as stuck when you are feeling defeated, and that what you have is forever.

To give you an example of what I had to deal with, in 2001 I was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia. I suffered from intense delusions that the government was plotting to kill me because I knew too much. It was always a fantasy that I had that I was more intelligent than everyone else that I met, and given my massive ego at the time, and the thought that I was someone special, it all filtered into the same thing. Massive bouts of crippling anxiety. My prognosis, whenever I researched it was always the same — I’d be dead in a few years due to suicide. Something that I was determined to overcome.

anxiety and fear

Overcome it I did, but not without enormous personal sacrifice and facing head on with crippling fear. Survivors never talk about the sacrifice, or the crying, or the intense fear of overcoming that which scares you the most — which is usually yourself. Mostly because it puts people off. Why try when the journey is through hell and shaking hands with the Devil on the way?

It is something that I’ve dedicated to helping my son with, because I already see some of the oddities that I dealt with as a young man seep into his life, but it will be different for him. He’ll have a dad to tell him that it’s perfectly normal to experience this, rather than the fear I experienced of having no-one to bounce my thoughts off, which just creates more fear. There were no easy answers on how to overcome anxiety and fear.

Anyway. If I can help anyone in any way then I hope these tips are of some use:

Your fears will always be there, and you’re not going to make any progress if you don’t deal with them

I’ve spent this last five years drumming this into my son’s head, and thankfully, I think we are seeing the fruits of my labour now as he tackles his problems head on, even when I can see he is physically scared.

We’ve had severe issues with Alex’s attendance at School. Since he started he’s always thought to himself that if he pretends that he’s ill then he wont have to go into school and deal with whatever it is that is scaring him that week. But running away from your problems only delays them for a time; kicks the can down the road until the problem is there to deal with later, and has grown.

I keep telling him that once he leaves education then participation is optional. If he takes too much time off work then it’s not as if he *has* to be there. Employers will just opt for a safer option with someone that attends regularly. Eventually, no-one will hire him and he’ll be forever unemployed, and that’s not a good position to be in.

I’m not saying that you need to ride off screaming into the fire pit, axe in hand, with a look of murder blazing in your eyes, but what worked with me was small introductions into that what scared me. Maybe I will tackle something small and work my way up to big problems in the future. Like everything, it’s not something you instantly become good at. It takes time and perseverance. Knowing how to overcome anxiety and fear is no quick fix.

running off into the fight

In my last job I was speaking to a big crowd of people about the services I had to offer and I lost track of what I had to say for a moment, and then I crumbled in an epic display of stuttering and red-facedness. My colleagues had to take over. Embarrassed, I walked out and phoned my boss. I told her what happened and she said,

“Right, go dust yourself off, then go right back in there and face the music — you’ll find most of them would have been glad to not be you, and you’ll get a lot of empathy”

I did, and that day I signed up way more people to my project than in any other day. If I had ran away I wouldn’t have got the respect from the people. I realised that day is way more people emphasise than previously thought. If I could attribute anything on realising how to overcome anxiety and fear I would say my last boss helped a great deal. She had a way of dropping me in the most intense situations and letting me deal with it on my own.

Giving yourself a label will ultimately pigeon hole you. To yourself, and to others.

“I have anxiety. I can’t do that.” or “He has anxiety, he can’t do that” – seems incredibly frustrating to me because humans are way more robust than we give them credit for. Thinking this will ultimately box you into your label. Before you know it you will be calling people ableist because they asked “why” can’t you do something.

It’s far easier these days to point fingers at other people than work on yourself. Of course I’m not judging, this is something I did myself at the beginning, and it’s a hard mindset to get out of because now you have essentially an excuse for literally everything. I’m being ableist here aren’t I? Yup. I knew you were thinking that.

All I can say is try something new. After a lifetime of saying that you can’t, why not instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do — this is how I ultimately got by and still do.

It might seem impossible now, but in the future it might not seem so. I like to use Andy Dufrense in that example. In the Shawshank Redemption Andy escaped through a hole in the wall in his jail cell. At the beginning that was an impossible feat. But after 20 years of chipping away at it slowly, boom, he eventually makes a hole big enough to escape. Problems are never as big as they are when you tackle them piece by piece.

In fact the Shawshank Redemption was a great film about how having the right mindset can enable you to climb mountains regardless of the obstacles in front of you.

Embrace Sacrifice

I had to give up 50% of my coffee intake last week because it was making me feel like I was too stressed and anxious. Of course this may be different for you because I’m in my 40’s, and in my 20’s I could handle way more coffee than I could now. But the idea is the same. Sometimes we need to give up some things for a better and stress free life.

giving up coffee

In my 20’s I had to give up alcohol totally, and in my 30’s I had to give up smoking cigarettes — both I really enjoyed doing but were having adverse effects on not only my bank balance but also the centre of my wellbeing. When I gave up these, it seemed far easier to face up to the anxiety that was holding me back.

Think of sacrifice as a way forward and not a way back. Obviously what’s happening in you right now isn’t working. It’s time to cut loose those behaviours that are holding you back.

That being said it’s not just about behaviours. Sometimes I’ve had to sacrifice long standing friendships for a way forward. Some friends have you doing things that you don’t want to do. I once had a friend Pete, he always had me doing stupid stuff just to please him. That stupid stuff made me anxious as hell. Once I cut that friendship loose my life became massively better.

Think of how to overcome anxiety and fear as a journey, rather than an obstacle

The fact of the matter is that if you struggle with anxiety and fear then it’s not something that you’re going to overcome overnight. It’s small baby steps over a long period of time. You can’t conquer Mount Everest in the first try without any training. You start off with the small hill outside the back garden and work your way up. This is pretty much true for most things in life. Even if it’s getting out of bed earlier in the morning. It would be

Goal 1. Go to bed earlier at night.

Goal 2. Have breakfast earlier than 10am

Start off small and work at it. Eventually repetition will become routine.

Believe it or not most people suffer from anxiety and fear

Throughout my 40+ years of existence I can tell you that most people suffer from anxiety and fear, the only difference is how we deal with it. I think that has mainly to do with how we dealt with our problems as children and how our parents let us problem solve — on our own or with a little bit of help.

I realised this when I first met my wife, that even although she was incredibly relaxed around me, at some points, I could detect some under the radar anxiety, and from there I realised that some people deal with it better than others.

It can appear on the surface that some people have absolutely no trouble with fear and are absolutely invincible, but really, underneath all the bravado they are just either able to hide it better, deal with it better, or a little bit of both!

One thing is for sure is that it’s probably about time to stop crucifying yourself for feeling different to others, and that what you’re going through is far more normal than you realise. A great man once said to me,

“Be the change you want to see in the world, Raymond”

And through this I hope to reach a few. I can’t change the world, but I can surely make it better for a few people!

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