Focusing on the Facts Can Help You Manage Anxiety and FearApril 17, 2013 • Contributed by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW
How is one to cope with the fear and uncertainty of a national media saturated with negative and frightening images of one tragedy after another? There is no need to identify specific incidents; it would be difficult to miss any of them. What I am hearing from people—whether living with a disability or not—is that they are afraid.
I was reminded this week in discussions with a couple of people who have disabilities that we often make bad things worse by how we think about them—or the stories we tell ourselves about things. Here are some ideas to better understand and manage these uncomfortable feelings:
- Remember that your feelings/emotions follow your thoughts. When you have feelings that are uncomfortable and/or you begin to feel overwhelmed, check your thoughts. The self-talk we use can either escalate or deescalate our emotional state.
Stop the chatter in your head and write down the exact words you are saying to yourself. This can be done in a minute or so. Often, you will find that you are projecting fear into the future about things that have not happened, or focusing on the past about things that cannot be changed.
- Challenge the thoughts you are telling yourself; figure out if they are true. In many cases we are trying to fill in the blanks to make sense of something we are unsure about. Unfortunately, that can create fear and anxiety about things that are often not even true.
Ask the following questions to defuse the energy: Are these thoughts/stories true? How do I know they are true? What is the evidence to prove that they are true? Are they true all the time? Are there ever exceptions?
- Let go of the stories/thoughts that are not true and replace them with facts. As you find exceptions to the stories/thoughts, your feelings should become more manageable—if you are willing to let go of the story.
Often we are very tied to our stories. Letting go of those that are not true is a choice. Stories from the past can keep you stuck in old habits, fears, and relationships. Worrying about things that have not happened may keep you paralyzed by fear of the future. It is just a story, and does not have to be your identity unless you refuse to let it go. Replace the story/thoughts with the facts.
- Focus only on the present—specifically, things you can control. If you are wondering how to let go of old stories or future worries, the solution is simple but not easy. By focusing on the present, we let go of the past and future. That sounds too simple for such an overwhelming problem, I realize.
Keep your mind and body together and focus on what you are doing, seeing, hearing, touching, or smelling. By doing this for one or two minutes, you bring your mind back to the room, calm your anxiety, and relinquish the fear.
How It Works in Real Life
Scenario: You are taking a test for school and begin to see people leaving the room as they complete their tests. Your mind starts saying things such as, “You are not going to finish the test … you are going to fail … then you will lose your financial aid … and you won’t be able to pay your rent … you are going to be homeless …”
Is this helping you finish your test or hindering your progress?
Questions: Ask yourself the questions for each of these negative thoughts and arrive at reasoned answers: “Everyone is finishing the test … I am not going to finish … I am going to fail!” Is this true? I don’t know. How do I know it is true? I don’t. “I am going to lose my financial aid and can’t pay the rent … I’ll be homeless!” Is this true? Have you lost your aid? No. Can you pay the rent now? Yes.
Better thought/story: “I still have time to finish the test. I have other grades for this class, so regardless of my test score, I may pass and things will be fine. Right now, I need to focus on and finish the test.”
Reunite your mind and body: “I am sitting in class now … I still have time to finish the test. There are other people here; the instructor is still here. I am wearing a yellow shirt. My foot is on the seat in front of me. I hear the fan blowing overhead. Someone is coughing in the back. The clock on the wall is ticking. I have an itch on my right knee. I smell oranges. I see my pen moving across the paper. I feel a breeze.”
Welcome back to reality; this is how to manage your anxiety and fear. It gets easier with practice. Don’t let the “buts” pull you back in. If you slip, focus on the present again to get back.
© Copyright 2013 by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW, therapist in Denver, Colorado. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.
biancaApril 17th, 2013 at 1:14 PM
I have enough trouble focusing on facts under normal circumstances. fear and anxiety just make it worse. while I definitely do want to turn this around and actually contain the fear and anxiety about future, it does not seem to work. yes, worrying about the future gets us nowhere but doesnt just letting go make you feel you are not in control? that happens a lot to me and I cannot seem to overcome that feeling of losing control. always want to be in control.
Melinda DApril 17th, 2013 at 3:24 PM
This is such a wonderful idea but I wonder how many anxious people will really find a way to do this. I am not someone who experiences anxiety at a level that it paralyzes me the way that it does with some, but I know how troubling that it can be to get all of these thoughts in your head and then be so confused by what is and isn’t real. It almost seems like this is a case of something being easier said then done and I wouldn’t want someone to get discouraged if they are not able to master this the first time that they try.
Steel nervesApril 17th, 2013 at 10:37 PM
What exactly are these people scared of anyway? You have a roof over your head, clothes on your body and food on the table – that is a great deal in itself. A large segment of the global population does not have these basic necessities. You are lucky that you have them,no need of being afraid of anything, be strong and keep your head up people!
ChadApril 18th, 2013 at 3:50 AM
These are the bad things that we allow happen to us when we are convinced that we aren’t good enough and that there will always be something there to get the best of us.
I remember being in school and having that same thing happen to me, watching others finish assignments far more quickly than I did, and assuming that I must be doing something wrong, not getting it, otherwise I would be finishing just like them.
This caused me a whole lot of anxiety and it was not until much later in life that I accepted that I work a little more alowly but that doesn’t mean less successfully. But that is a hard thing to accept as a kid when all you want to do is be just like everyone else.
PKApril 18th, 2013 at 1:36 PM
ITS THE FOCUSING ON FACTS THAT MAKES ME ANXIOUS…THINGS ARE BAD AND FACTS SAY IM DOOMED.WHAT DO I DO?!!
mobius one Daryl ReynoldsMay 31st, 2013 at 10:16 AM
You must understand your mind is the battle field for positive and negative. You must continue focusing on the present and speaking to the situation in a positive manner, such as (My situation isn’t as bad as it seems and I will work things out in time in the name of Jesus then expect it to happen and capture every oppurtunity regarding the matter, believe it will receive that in will in your spirit as your feet walk with oppurtunity in it or towards it receive it in the body as well, never say I’ll try something, it leaves room for failure, always say I will do, its complete you only have to walk it out, meanng obstacles turned to victories you’ll look back and its done glory.
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