Category Archives: Letting Go of Fear and Anxiety

# 53 Act as If You’re Not Anxious

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Here’s another one:

“I haven’t accomplished the things in life that I could have because I have social anxiety.  I can’t talk to people.  When the therapist gives me courage, I will do the things I’m afraid to do.”

Real life goes like this:  I saw a man who said he had been crippled by social anxiety all his life.  He had no friends in high school, didn’t date in college.  He never spoke in meetings.  I asked him, “If a miracle occurred in the middle of the night, and you woke up free of this terrible burden of social anxiety, what is the first thing you would do?”  (I learned this technique from David Wexler).  He replied, “Oh, I would be so happy.”  I countered, “No, I asked what is the first thing you would do that very next day?”  He answered, “Well, I guess instead of eating lunch at my desk, I would go into the breakroom where everyone eats, and I would walk up to someone and say, ‘Hi, mind if I sit here?’ and I would introduce myself and sit down and eat lunch with that person. ”  “Great,” I said.  “You know where to begin.  Now go and do it,” and he did.

Real psychotherapy goes like this:  “You are anxious.  What would you do if the fear was suddenly removed?  Confront your fears, do it anyway.  Courage will follow.”

What are you afraid of? How long have you been afraid of it? Write down how afraid you are on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the upper limit. Start with something on the list that is around a 3 or 4.  Now act as if you’re not anxious and do it anyway. What is the number afterward? Do it a second time, a third time, and a fourth time. What is the number now? Has your level of courage risen as your fear has gone down?

 

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Reference

Wexler, D.  1991.  The Adolescent Self:  Strategies for self-management, self-soothing, and self-esteem for adolescents.  New York:  Norton.

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# 50 Touch Your Finger And Recall Good Experiences

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Hand painting 2In moments of acute distress, we are flooded with negative emotions–fear, frustration, discouragement, disillusionment, hopelessness, rage. Sometimes we add to this distress by focusing on all that is wrong in the present, all the unfortunate things that have happened, and imagining life as a continuation of more of the same on into the future. Like a computer virus spreading across your screen, it eats up the “good” files that are stored there.

Clinical psychologist David Wexler developed a technique to access or re-connect with the good in life called the “Four Finger Technique.” It is thus: Place your thumb to your first finger (of your dominant hand) and imagine a time when you were completely exhausted (e.g., after jogging, playing tennis, moving furniture, etc.) and sank down onto a sofa or bed. Touch your thumb to your middle finger and recall the nicest compliment you ever received. Savor it. Touch your thumb to your ring finger and recall the most loving experience you ever had. Touch your thumb to your little finger and recall the most beautiful place you have ever been. After you practice this a few times in a quiet place, enhancing the scenes and memories with as many sensory details as you can, it becomes easier to access them quickly. Then you can do the technique at any time without attracting notice–after an argument, sitting in a meeting, or sitting in your car stuck in traffic.

Let’s add on to this technique. Use your non-dominant hand this time to access four other sources of positive experiences. Place the thumb to the first finger and recall the accomplishment you’re most proud of (i.e., it may not mean that much to others, but it means a great deal to you. It may be your having lost 20 pounds, or quit smoking, finally breaking up with an abusive boyfriend, or finishing your degree after eight years of night school). Touch your thumb to your middle finger and recall a place, a group of people where you feel you really fit in. You were a kindred spirit. You were among like-minded people. Touch your thumb to your ring finger and imagine yourself doing that activity at which you really excel. It is your moment to shine. Again, it may not mean much to some other individual, but it means something to you. It may be cooking, dancing, carrying on conversations with strangers, taking care of children, or chairing meetings. Touch your thumb to your little finger and visualize something which you experience as really beautiful. It could be your favorite photograph or painting, your favorite piece of heirloom furniture, the inside of a pomegranate, a ruby-throated hummingbird, a stained glass window in a great cathedral, etc.

If these are too many fingers, narrow it down to four. Add one of your own if it is not listed here but it is very helpful to you. You may want to make calming statements to yourself as you do it. Examples: “Be calm. Shift your focus. This bad moment, this bad experience will pass. It is not everything. Overlook the bad. Seek the good in the world.” _

Wexler, D. 1991. The Adolescent Self: Strategies for self-management, self-soothing, and self-esteem for adolescents. New York: Norton.

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#20 Let Some Laughter Into Your Life

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Français : Woody Allen au festival de Cannes.

Français : Woody Allen au festival de Cannes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the movie, Hannah and her Sisters, Woody Allen plays his familiar character–a neurotic New Yorker struggling with the complexities of modern life.  His character is a divorced television producer with a failed show.  At first he is thought to have a brain tumor but finds out he’s all right after all.  Rather than be thrilled to go on with life, he lapses into despair over the realization that he could die at any time and that his life doesn’t mean anything, that he doesn’t believe in something big.

Allen tries to convert to Catholicism, then tries to join the Hare Krsna’s.  When these efforts fail, he puts a loaded gun to his head, determined to end it all.  The gun slips out of his hand and fires a bullet into the ceiling, startling him, not to mention his neighbors.  Shocked at what he’d almost done, he goes for a walk in downtown Manhattan and wanders into a Marx Brothers movie.

He says, “I started getting hooked on the film.  I started to think, ‘How could you think of killing yourself?’  What if there is no God and you only go around once and that’s it?  Don’t you want to be a part of it?  I should stop searching for answers I’ll never get and just enjoy it while it lasts.”

What saves Woody Allen’s character from despair and suicide is laughter.  He sees there is humor all around him.  This world is an interesting place.  It’s not too bad after all.  Why not be a part of it?

  • Life is like a river flowing past your door.  We can sit by the side of the river and agonize about the water quality, or bemoan the fact that not the right kind of boats come by, or fret over the tricky currents and possible waterfalls downstream.  Or we can just get into our own little boat and push off the bank and enter the stream.  We don’t have to know what it all means, or where the river is going.  Maybe, if we go down the river, we’ll figure it all out in the end.  In the meantime, we can enjoy the scenery and laugh a little.

How can you have more laughter in your life?  How can you pass it on to others?  The internet makes this easy.  Search websites for jokes, funny signs, cartoons;  send one to a friend or two.  Review some U-tube videos and send a funny one to a friend.   Note whether it gave your mood an uplift.

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