I hate to fly. Hurling through the clouds in a small aluminum tube at 500 miles an hour and 30,000 feet above the ground just doesn’t work for me. I will fly, but I get anxious. I have what psychiatrists call a “simple” phobia versus a generalized anxiety disorder. It means I’m irrationally scared of one thing versus living every day anxiously. Fear of heights, spiders, needles or flying are incredibly common.
Luckily, I don’t fly often. When I do, normally a good book and some deep breaths get me through fine. I’ve resorted to a stiff drink when things get bumpy. A few times, I’ve bruised my partner’s arm by squeezing too tight when I was positive death was near. Of course, I know it’s ridiculous.
Over 40 million Americans suffer with anxiety disorders, ranging from simple phobias like my fear of flying to extremely serious panic attacks. You should see a doctor for medication and therapy if your life is being seriously impacted by daily anxiety, but there are self-help tricks you can use to help improve your life.
1. Aerobic exercise
Everybody should be exercising, but for people with anxiety disorders, aerobic exercise is critical. Not only does it keep your heart and lungs healthy, it keeps your brain healthy by increasing circulation and releasing endorphins (natural painkillers). Studies show that regular exercise helps you sleep better, it eases tension and improves your mood. Just a brisk walk outside for a few minutes can reduce tension and irritability. For the best results, try to get 30 minutes of brisk exercise most days of the week.
You need not be religious or spiritual to reap the benefits of mediation. A 2007 Canadian study found regular mediation produces improvements in mood and anxiety by reducing the tendency to overreact to negative situations with over-thinking or acting impulsively. Individuals suffering from anxiety disorders turn experiences that others judge as normal, into disasters that elicit harsh feelings of panic and fear.
If you start feeling anxious, sit or lie down comfortably. Close your eyes and breath naturally. Pick something to focus on…it could be spiritual or physical. For example, you could concentrate on your breathing. Listen to it. Feel it. You could mediate on being more kind to yourself or others. Take a moment to slow down and be in the moment! This will help you avoid being impulsive.
3. Redirect focus
I have an adorable Chihuahua named Papi. Let’s just say he’s excitable! When he gets himself overly agitated, the best way to handle it is to redirect his focus. He goes bonkers when he sees other dogs and he won’t stop barking. The veterinarian told me to redirect him with a treat or a toy. Sure enough, he usually calms down. This works for humans too.
The trick is to redirect yourself from the irrational fear to something menial. So next time I’m boarding a plane, instead of running negative tapes in my head over and over, I could redirect my focus by trying to figure out how many flights come in and out of the airport daily. I could also make sure to have a healthy snack with me which I could eat until the anxious feeling passed.
4. Self-help groups
The other option is to find a local meet-up group. The only caveat is to make sure you run any information you hear (on-line or in person) past your health care provider. There are many misinformed individuals, and on the internet, you don’t know who they are. Groups are wonderful support, just use caution.
5. Argue with yourself
I used this trick after hearing Dr Phil (of Oprah fame) talk about it. His advice is to refute every negative thought in your brain. We all have tapes we are unaware of that run in our brain every waking moment. Often, the tapes are negative, telling us irrational thoughts about ourselves and our surroundings.
I often talk to people who are anxious about going into a gym because they are fearful that an Adonis will judge them, or even laugh. I understand the fear, but is that really likely to happen? Of course not. First, Adonises are rare. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are over overweight or obese. Second, the rare Adonis that you see is not interested in you. He or she is interested in themselves and not you. Nobody at the gym is thinking about you, nor are they lik.
Last, but not least, if you see someone laughing, isn’t it more likely they are laughing at a joke or something else that doesn’t relate to you? Absolutely. Don’t let negative, irrational thoughts rule your world.
6. Watch a comedy
Laughter really might be the best medicine! Recent studies out of Loma Linda University, show that laughter can lower blood pressure and release endorphins. Endorphins lower the level of the damaging hormone cortisol that courses through bodies of anxious people non-stop. Laughter also blunts the effects of adrenaline which helps people feel relaxed and calm. It’s also a great distraction. It’s impossible to worry about your problems if you are genuinely enjoying a hearty laugh.