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Stare Down Your Fear

The most commonly suggested way to manage anxiety is to calm the nervous system by using diaphragmatic breathing. By breathing deeply, you are physically behaving in a way that sends a message to the brain that you must not actually be in any danger, so it will kick into relaxation mode instead of fight-or-flight mode.

But I’m going to suggest another effective way to manage anxiety: Convince the part of your brain that has detected a threat to your integrity that you are, in fact, fine. You’re more than fine.

You’re the biggest, baddest, and meanest mother on the planet.

Image: The Top 20 Most Badass Female Movie Characters Of All Time! [PHOTOS]

There is a complicated process that occurs in the brain when you feel anxiety or fear. It may, or may not, involve the amygdala. Actually, it does involve the amygdala, but that’s not important for the use of this hack. Just know that there’s a process of threat detection that occurs in the brain that includes the amygdala.

Once this process of threat detection has occurred, it’s very similar to when your trusty, loyal guard dog perks his ears up upon hearing an unfamiliar footstep outside your front door, and begins barking like crazy.

There are only two things that are going to get your guard dog to stop barking.

Either you’re going to have to open the door and let him go see who is making that noise and he may or may not exercise good judgment in going after the source,

OR

You can be a good Alpha and exercise your responsibility as a dog owner and let your guard dog know in loving, but no uncertain terms that You’ve Got This. Until your dog believes that you are in charge and taking over, it will continue to act as the threat detector and go crazy.

Once you let it know you’re taking over, you’re in charge, it will go back to being your aid and companion…a helper, and not something that is driving you insane.

That’s really all your brain is doing when anxiety gets kick-started…barking like crazy to get your attention that there’s a potential threat to you. Doesn’t matter that it’s a silly fear about not doing well on a test or a work task, and not a matter of literal life and death.

Your brain is going to keep barking and barking and barking with anxiety until YOU strap on your (non-literal) ammo belt, grab your weapon, throw a few grenades in your pocket for good measure and say:

“I’ve got this. Nothing is going to happen that I’m not okay with.”

Repeat: “I’ve got this. Nothing is going to happen that I’m not okay with.”

Does it even matter if that’s even possible? No. Because the truth is you can’t control everything. You can’t prevent all bad things from happening. But, for this one task, anxiety management, all you have to prevent is freaking out. If you can prevent yourself from freaking out, you’ll likely manage anything else just fine.

So, yes, you DO have this. You are going to stop freaking out. You’re not okay with freaking out, and that is not going to keep happening.

My husband is a Vietnam-era Veteran who spent a year in combat from 1967–68. He also happens to be an amazing psychologist who specializes in the treatment of trauma and anxiety disorders. We were going through a box of the things he had saved from the year he was in country, and found one of his prized possessions. He smoked cigarettes during the war (he said everyone did…they came in their rations) and everyone had their own personal Zippo lighter.

Here’s his:

He had it inscribed: “YEA THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH I SHALL FEAR NO EVIL FOR I AM THE MEANEST MOTHER IN THE VALLEY.”

My husband doesn’t walk around like he’s the meanest mother now. He doesn’t need to. But, that’s the mindset that he says helped him to survive a year of never knowing if he was going to be shot dead or blown up at any moment. War was an environment made for constant anxiety, with his threat detection system in overdrive. But he feared no evil.

There are many methods to stay calm under those kinds of extreme circumstances. Being prepared, being vigilant, and being confident are all helpful. Having good backup is crucial. And being a badass is really helpful. Whether this is false confidence, or not, it calms the part of the brain that wants to freak out in any situation where, for whatever reason, freaking out seems to be called for.

So, if you’re in a situation where all attempts to calm yourself are not working, and you could do diaphragmatic breathing from now until eternity and it’s not going to get your guard dog to stop barking, be a badass instead.

Repeat: “I’ve got this. Nothing is going to happen that I’m not okay with.”

And move on with confidence.

Additional reading:

Diaphragmatic breathing: A breathing exercise that calms panic attacks.

Causes of anxiety: What Anxiety Does to Your Brain and What You Can Do About It

The process of detecting fear: The Amygdala Is NOT the Brain’s Fear Center

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