We have all experienced anxiety at one time or another. What causes anxiety for you is as unique as your fingerprint. Some fears, like snakes, public speaking, and meeting new people are common. Other fears are more unusual. Never be embarrassed by what causes you anxiety. Everyone’s life path is different and you have reasons for your fears. Many of our fears are based on our life experiences or the experiences of those we love or admire. If your grandmother who you adore is afraid of ants, you’re more likely to have a fear of them. If you’ve been in a car accident, you might be anxious driving. If your life experience has shown you that people are unkind, you may worry excessively about rejection and judgment. In fact, fear of rejection is the most common fear my patients deal with.
Do you suffer from fear of rejection? If you agree with several of these statements you probably do:
- When you meet someone new, do you think more about whether they like you than how much you like them?
- Do you feel you have to hide or exaggerate certain personality characteristics or preferences to be accepted by others?
- When you get left out, do you assume others see you negatively rather than considering that they might be busy, overwhelmed or inconsiderate?
- Do you get jealous easily or distrust your loved ones’ intentions?
- Do you think about how you must not seem interesting or worthwhile to other people?
- Does every rejection leave you thinking that you aren’t talented, capable or intelligent?
- Does being rejected make you imagine how disappointing you are to people you care about?
- When you think about doing something that might lead to rejection, do you get physical symptoms of anxiety, like stomach pains, diarrhea, difficulty taking a deep breath, or headache? Do your symptoms sometimes stop you from doing the thing you intended to do?
If anxiety of ANY kind keeps you from doing things you want or need to do, take these steps to help:
- Know your anxiety triggers. Avoid or confront them depending on what you feel ready to deal with at that moment. If going to parties is a trigger for your anxiety, only go to them when your stress level is low. Get the support you need when you’re ready to confront your triggers by recruiting friends for moral support. When your anxiety triggers are unavoidable, make an action plan for facing them. After a shooting incident at a local university, many of my patients became anxious about going back to class. In this case, having an action plan helped them recover and eventually feel comfortable at school.
- Relax your muscles– relax your mind. Anxiety isn’t just in your head. You feel it in your body too. That stress headache, stomach upset, muscle tension, trouble getting a deep breath, or insomnia that occurs when you’re stressed is physical. When you’re feeling anxious, take time to slow your breathing to short circuit the stress response. This practice can be done anywhere, but find a quiet spot if you can: Breathe in for the count of 3, hold for the count of 4, and breathe out for 5. Repeat this for a few moments. Note where your muscles feel tense. One by one, tighten the muscles where you feel the tension even tighter, then release the tension. Practice this or other relaxation techniques daily and when stress builds up in your life. Read More on lifestyle changes for anxiety.
- Turn around the negative energy. When you feel judged or attacked, stop what you’re doing and do something to make someone else feel comfortable or loved. A genuine and heartfelt compliment to a stranger or positive text to a friend will do the trick. Random acts of kindness like putting away the dishes when it’s not your turn, petting your dog, or throwing away litter that isn’t yours will make a difference. If you’re trying to fall asleep when worrisome thoughts intrude, write down your kind intentions and act on them in the morning.
- Stop the momentum of negative energy. Set yourself up for positive energy by using your talents to do acts of kindness on a regular basis. Volunteering in your community is a great way to do this.
- If you feel inadequate, do something you’re good at for a few minutes, even if it’s playing a video game or baking cookies.
- Don’t give energy to your fears. While it is important to voice your fears out loud at least once, it is equally important to refrain from rehashing and talking about them often. This will only cause you to relive the trauma that you want to recover from. Talk instead about how you want things to be. “I love having many close friends” NOT “ I wish I had more friends” which implies that you don’t. “I love to make people laugh.” NOT “ I wish people would laugh at my jokes.” The differences between these statements is key in freeing you from your anxiety.
- Don’t assume that the past predicts the future. Changing your mindset is vital to decreasing anxiety. If you find yourself having a fixed mindset: “I failed that algebra test so I’m not good at math…or my boyfriend left me so I must not be interesting enough.” It’s time to stop the negative self-talk. A growth mindset means that you learn from the past to improve the future: “I failed the algebra test because I didn’t ask enough questions in class to understand the homework. Next time I will ask for help and study hard.”…or “I look forward to dating someone in the future who likes the things I do and appreciates me for who I am. My old relationship, while painful, taught me what I don’t want in a relationship.” For more information on growth mindset click here.
- Don’t expect others to change to make you feel better. Take a long objective look at the people in your life. None of them are perfect. See them for who they are right this minute without regard to who they have been in the past or might be in the future. If the way they are right now doesn’t give you a positive vibe, spend less time with them. How do you feel when you’re around that person? Happy? Energized? Carefree? Or do you feel drained, inadequate, nervous, irritable, jealous, or sad? Avoid “energy vampires” by politely declining to do things with them. Mute (or simply don’t follow) them on social media. They will only bring you down. Be extremely selective about who you follow and who is allowed to follow you.
- Forgive yourself and others. If you’re mad or frustrated with a person, distract yourself each time your thoughts turn to what they’ve done (or not done). It is not necessary to look at or erase the past to move on, just as looking back at your footprints will not help you walk in the right direction. What has happened in your past will not keep you from doing the things that you want to do. Your attitude toward them can. Develop an action plan to keep from repeating the past. What specific steps could you have taken to avoid past problems? Write down an action plan. When your thoughts return to past transgressions, reread your action plan. It is not necessary to forget the past or make an open gesture of forgiveness unless it makes you feel better. Just don’t give energy to the negative feelings by dwelling on them. Rather than thinking “I was a victim of bullying.” write down “ I don’t let others’ words change me.” Be as specific as possible.
- Get angry. If your anxiety is caused by a situation beyond your control that you feel is keeping you from living out your dreams, it’s OK to be angry! Anger is a more positive feeling than hopelessness or despair and is sometimes a necessary part of the healing process. CAUTION! While it is OK and often helpful to feel anger toward circumstances or people, it is not OK to act on the anger. If you have brought yourself on your healing path from fear or despair to anger–that’s progress, however, you are not done yet! You need to move on from your anger. Don’t attempt to seek relationships, jobs, or goals while still feeling anger. You will attract anger and lack of understanding. Use gratitude to feel better and move on.
- Feeling gratitude is the most important step. Gratitude is scientifically proven to improve anxiety and depression, reduce pain, and rewire your brain for happiness. Start by appreciating where you are now and how far you have come. What small things are going right in your life right now? You are safe right now. There are those who love you. You had food today. You have access to a computer, a home, friends, family… Gratitude can elevate you from a state of fear, depression, hopelessness, or anger to a better state of mind. Be specific about what you’re grateful for and write it down. Consider keeping a gratitude journal.
“Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey
It’s important to talk, at least once, with an understanding person who is willing to listen without judgment about what scares you. Don’t hide your fears. Talking about your anxiety out loud can decrease your fear. You can talk with a trusted friend or family member, but if you’re told your fears aren’t significant or that you just should get tough, or get over it, it’s time to talk to a professional. There may not be a person in your life who is skilled enough in listening. If your fears keep you from participating in an activity you love or make it difficult to do ordinary tasks like going to school, eating, sleeping, socializing, or driving it’s time to consult a doctor or therapist for help.
Not ready to launch an app? Try this video: How to stop catastrophizing: stop panic attacks, worry, and anxiety in its tracks!