How do you deal with situations that cause fear and stress? Discover methods to confront difficult situations and reduce the amount of stress you feel.
- [Narrator] Think courageous thoughts. Our thoughts profoundly influence what we feel and what we do. When we think about times when we've been a coward, we are likely to feel like a coward and then behave like one again. Or, if we think about times when we've done poorly at something we are likely to feel insecure and weak upping the odds that we'll actually do something insecure and weak. It's important to remember that the hard things we have to do or say are rarely what make us uncomfortable. It is the fear that makes us uneasy. Fear is the thing that actually makes actions hard, not the action that we think we are afraid of. Not doing something because we are afraid is actually not the easy way out in the long run. Though it might seem counterintuitive, it is finding the courage to try or push ahead, or speak up, or make a change that will help us find our groove. When we do the hard thing, ultimately, we find more ease. That said trying to control what we don't think about doesn't work. Consider the old experiment where researchers tell their subjects not to think of a white bear. Most people immediately start thinking about a white bear. It doesn't work to say to yourself, "I have to stop thinking about all the ways that I might fail, or I have to stop being afraid. It's the fear that's making this difficult." Even though it is true that you won't become braver by thinking about all the ways that you might fail. Instead, take a two pronged approach to thinking brave thoughts. First simply pay attention, if you notice yourself having an insecure or undermining thought, simply label it as such. "Oh, there's a fearful thought." For example, you're trying to get yourself to ask a question at a conference, but you are too afraid to raise your hand and you notice yourself imagining that the presenter thinks your question is totally dumb. Say to yourself, "that is a thought that will make me feel afraid to ask my question," and take a deep breath. Noticing you're not brave thoughts can give you the distance you need to not act according to that thought and the feeling it produces. Note, don't skip the take a deep breath part, breathe in through your nose and fill the bottom of your lungs pushing your tummy out. This can trigger your vagus nerve, which will have a calming effect. Second actively fill your mind with courageous thoughts. Consider times when you've been brave before, focus on how people just like you have done what you are mustering the courage to do. Think about how the last time you did it, it wasn't that hard. Think about how you'll regret it if you don't do it. Think about how the worst case scenario is something that you can deal with. Simply reminding yourself what your longterm goals are, is a way of thinking bravely. If you are depressed, for example, it can take real courage just to get out of bed in the morning, but your life depends on it. What are your hopes for your life? Remind yourself what you and the world stand to lose if you can't muster the courage. As Meg Cabot so wisely said, "courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." Play around with the thoughts that make you feel most courageous and the ones that lead you to act bravely, then make the best thought your mantra. Write it on sticky notes that you place around you strategically like the bathroom mirror, the kitchen clock, your computer screen, your car dashboard, so you'll be reminded of your mantra when you most need it. The easiest thing, swap stress for courage. There you are freaking out in front of your colleagues when you should be calmly giving a presentation or you're sweating bullets in the ER, waiting for the doctor to bring you news about your daughter's high fever. Descending into a full blown fight or flight response is not going to help and it's just going to drain you. But what can you do? Amazingly, we can actually shift our physiological stress response from I'm freaking out right now to I'm facing a challenge right now. When we do this, we prevent the deleterious effects of a fight or flight response. Our bodies and minds are tightly linked. When we use our minds to reappraise our stress response, as scientists call it from stress to challenge, we can actually change the typical physiological response itself from a stress response to a challenge response. In a typical stress response our heart rate elevates and our blood vessels constrict, which increases our blood pressure and decreases the efficiency of our heart. Anticipating defeat, our heart protects the cardiovascular system by contracting. In a challenge or courage response, the heart rate elevates, but the blood vessels don't constrict, which increases the efficiency of our cardiovascular system. Researchers have found that when people reframe the meaning of their physiological response to stress as something that is improving their performance, they feel more confident and less anxious. Moreover, their physical response to the stress actually changes from one that is damaging to one that is helpful. How does this work? Through our emotions. When we are afraid, we trigger a physiological response, which is more often than not unhelpful and damaging. When we are courageous, we trigger a different more constructive response. So sometimes the easiest thing in a difficult situation is to see our physical response as a sign that we are engaged and our body is helping us meet the challenge. Our heart is pumping more blood sugar and oxygen to our muscles and brain so that we can respond more quickly.
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