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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Overcome Fear and Anxiety with These 4 Mindset Shifts

Overcome Fear and Anxiety with These 4 Mindset Shifts

It’s your first day on the job. You’re at a meeting of 40+ colleagues.

“Listen up every one, here’s our newest team member!”

All eyes turn to you.

“Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us all an interesting fact about you?”

Instant panic.

Adrenaline levels? 11/10.

All words gone, replaced by sub-Saharan dry mouth.

Blushing, trembling or total amnesia…Sound familiar?

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You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority.

This is just one of the many common types of anxiety we can experience. Whether it’s social gatherings you’ve talked yourself out of, holding back at work in fear of judgement, or catastrophizing situations before they happen, anxiety can manifest itself in different ways for all of us.

If this is a daily battle for you — an exhausting and defeating inner battle that’s preventing you from truly living authentically and being in the moment — then you should be applauded. You’re already ahead of the pack because you’ve made that conscious decision to find out what anxiety is and how to overcome it.

Rest assured, you’re going to find out.

What You Need to Know About Anxiety

Did you know that nearly 300 million people[1] suffer from anxiety in some form? These feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease that arise in reaction to (or in anticipation of) something painful or uncertain are, sadly, “normal” feelings to experience.

It may be normal because many people experience it, but it’s not something you were born with (although there are some genetic tendencies that can mean you’re more prone to it). It’s actually something your brain has learned how to do.

Have you ever seen an anxious or self-conscious baby? Coming out of the womb worrying if they sound weird or look funny? So you see, anxiety is something that we’ve learned to do. It’s “normal” because a lot of us have learned it.

How? Glad you asked…

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The Subconscious Mind: A Friend or Foe?

To understand how anxiety can be “learned,” it’s crucial to understand that anxiety isn’t something that happens on a conscious level. It begins in the subconscious mind. It’s the reason you can’t just switch the anxiety off (as much as you want to!) because it’s not a conscious process.

The distinction between the conscious and subconscious was effectively illustrated by Sigmund Freud’s[2] iceberg analogy. He likened the tip of the iceberg – the bit that sits above the water – to the conscious mind. It’s the bit we can “see,” and it’s the smaller of the two. It’s the least informed and it helps you talk, think, move, and act in daily interactions.

For example, if you’re hungry or if you trip and hurt yourself, your conscious mind sends the signal to get food or find painkillers.

Then there’s the rest of the iceberg, the part that’s submerged underwater – seemingly invisible – and crucial to the structure as a whole. This, Freud said, represents the subconscious mind. It holds your memories, feelings, and habits and controls your emotions. It can learn things like how to create anxious feelings because it’s malleable, meaning it can change and be influenced by our life experiences. Scientists call this phenomenon neuroplasticity[3].

“The idea that the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity is, I believe, the most important alteration in our view of the brain since we first sketched out its basic anatomy and the workings of its basic component, the neuron.”[4]

From the time you were born to the age you are now, your mind has been changing and forming new neurological patterns. Whether they are good or bad depends on what you’ve been through. Panic attacks, depression, and suicide are all things that happen when your subconscious has taken on some pretty destructive thought patterns, telling you that you’re not good enough, you don’t deserve to be here, or you can never be “fixed.”

This is because, as human beings, our subconscious minds[5] are programmed to lead us away from pain and toward pleasure. It’s human instinct, and it likes what’s familiar to it. Moments of impact in our life cause us to make new patterns or break old ones, but ultimately the longer you do or think something, the more it just feels natural and begins to happen automatically.

How Did I Learn Anxiety?

When it comes to anxiety, your subconscious mind learned to cause feelings of worry, unease, and stress when a specific trigger was pulled. It’s different for all of us, but if your trigger is public speaking, for example, your automatic reaction after being told about it could be a knotted stomach, dread, and images of you failing or looking nervous. And those images are played over and over again.

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Take a moment and think back to a time in your life — your first ever memory of feeling anxious, scared, or judged in some way. You might struggle to think of this consciously if it’s a particularly painful memory. That’s something the conscious mind has the power to do (not the subconscious). It can prevent the immediate recall of painful memories so that you don’t have to feel that pain again.

However, sometimes we need to address them, but it’s more effective to do so in a trance-like state during mediation or hypnosis, so you can really remove those conscious limitations…because your subconscious remembers everything. It remembers being bullied at school. It remembers when you struggled to make friends. It remembers that traumatic car accident. Whatever it might be, your subconscious filed that memory along with the pain associated with it, and it’ll do anything it can to stop you from feeling that pain again.

How does it do that? It makes you feel anxious, of course! The more anxious you feel, the more likely you’ll refrain from facing that pain again. Anxiety is actually trying to help you, but if you’re still reading, then chances are anxiety is not doing anything good for you now.

It’s preventing you from living a happy and free life where you can make friends easily, or get up and speak confidently, or feel relaxed in everyday situations, etc. Knowing all you know now, you’re well on the road to overcoming fear and anxiety. The next step is putting it all in action.

Mindset Shifts to Overcome Anxiety

First, to learn how to overcome fear and anxiety, you need to reflect on some situations that might have led your subconscious mind to form this understanding – everyone’s different, and your brain has created this reaction for you solely because of something it heard, saw, or felt in the past.

If you really struggle with this part, therapists (particularly hypnotherapists who specialize in communicating with the subconscious mind), can lend a hand here. Then, in order to change the pattern, you need to change it at a subconscious level – by shifting your mindset – and there are few ways you can do this.

1. Hypnosis

One of the most effective ways to reprogram your subconscious mind is through hypnosis. It’s a trance-like state, similar to meditation, where you can dialogue with your subconscious mind and give it positive suggestions.

During hypnosis, your brain waves shift from beta to alpha, meaning your subconscious mind is open and willing to listen to new thoughts and ideas. Hypnosis is not scary, and it’s not mind-control. It’s a direct way to talk to the subconscious, and it’s something you can do with a certified hypnotherapist or RTT therapist, or you can simply find the hundreds of free downloadable resources on the internet that can help you shift your mindset.

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2. Creative Visualization

Start meditating. Ultimately, the more you practice calming yourself down, the better you’ll be at it. Visualize yourself in the state in which you’d like to be. See yourself living calmly, happily and confidently – see it in great detail. Spend some time every day doing this with a good soundtrack and you’ll see that your thoughts and your mindset will begin to change.

3. Change Your Language

Stop identifying with anxiety and fear. If you’ve ever said, “my anxiety,” “I’m an anxious person,” or “it’s just the way I am,” then you’re owning it. Anxiety and fear are NOT who you are – it’s just something you do, and that’s ok. Soon it’ll be something you used to do (i.e. say “I feel anxious sometimes” instead of “I’m an anxious person” or “I have anxiety”).

4. Self-Talk

Did you know that your mind will believe to be true anything you continually say to it? If you tell yourself every day that you’re bad at public speaking or you always get anxious at work, then guess what? That’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Whether you write it down or say it aloud every day, list out the attributes of the person you want to be and tell yourself every day, for as long as it takes, that you’re that person. You’ll see just how effective this is.

When you identify the cause of anxiety and fear, it’s important to say thank you. Speak to the anxiety:

I understand why you came into my life, but I know now that I attached the wrong meaning to [event], and I no longer need to believe that I’m [not good enough/different/a bad communicator]. Today I’m deciding that I don’t need it anymore. Anxiety no longer serves me.”

Final Thoughts

These are genuine, proven methods that not only reduce anxiety but will help you overcome it for good. Your brain is malleable, and it can change. You just need to tell it how you want it and be gentle with yourself. You’re only human!

More Tips on Overcoming Fear and Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Tim Trad via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Daina Worrall

Lawyer, C. Hypnotherapist and RTT Therapist - Personal Development & Mental Health

Overcome Fear and Anxiety with These 4 Mindset Shifts Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice) How to Cure Depression (Professional Advice from a Therapist) How to Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Action Now How to Take Personal Responsibility and Stop Blaming Circumstances

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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