5 Tips to combat anxiety and fear of change

When our thoughts are focused on all the things that can possibly go wrong we are much more likely to create an emotional response that mirrors the negative thinking: fear and anxiety.

Blogging is new for me. Sure I'd written countless college papers, and have years of experience composing work presentations, reports, speeches and have even written autobiographical stories about my own life challenges. In fact, my first career was as a photojournalist working with reporters and editors on newspapers, I wrote weekly feature stories as well as all the captions for my photographs. The experience I have as a writer and my self-confidence in my skills as a psychotherapist didn't stop fear and anxiety from triggering when I sat down to write my first blog post. My emotional mind told me to feel fear because this is change, it's doing something new, and it would be "too hard" and "I wouldn't be any good at it." Sound familiar?

Change often triggers fear and anxiety, and stops positive action before it has a chance to begin.

Since we are habitual beings, most of us like things that are familiar to us. It can provide routine and a sense of control in our multitasking and sometimes chaotic lives. We often eat the same kinds of foods, drive similar routes and buy the usual things at our favorite stores because we know what to expect. When we know what to count on in our relationships, job duties or household responsibilities, then we can settle in and get comfortable because they are familiar.

Taking steps to do something new can bring on a mixture of excitement, curiosity and some anxiety, and that's very typical. Anxiety and fear do serve their purpose to protect us when facing dangerous situations and help us balance impulsivity or recklessness. But when anxiety pairs up with self-doubt, low self-esteem, guilt or shame, we can become terrified to make a change and get stuck. Even when we dislike the current situation, we may feel paralyzed to take a step toward something new and different because the fear of the unknown transforms into anxiety.

While we may feel more in control by sticking to what is familiar, it can also limit our experiences and trap us into a false belief that we can't make positive changes, which may lead to depression and anxiety.

Anxiety is a physiological as well as psychological state of being, meaning it's a combination of your thoughts and feelings along with body functioning. If you have a fast heart rate, your breathing is shallow and fast, your teeth are clenched, and you're thinking about all the bad things that can happen, you have a great recipe for creating anxiety. A perceived stress such as going somewhere new can set off a chain reaction know as the "fight or flight" response, which is largely an unconscious reaction. Our body reacts to this stress by releasing hormones and brain chemicals called nerotransmitters, which give us a boost of energy. When we pair this physical energy boost with negative thoughts, we usually create fear and anxiety.

The good news is you can conquer fear and anxiety by practicing skills to control your emotional responses and take manageable steps to move forward to positive change.

Here are 5 tips to decrease fear and anxiety and move toward positive change:

  • Identify what triggers your anxiety to help you prepare for those situations before any anxiety begins. Triggers may include: meeting new people, changing jobs duties, needing to alter your usual manner of organizing things, trying something for the first time, or focusing on the future or the past instead of the present.
  • Increase your awareness of physiological signs in your body when the anxiety begins, such as rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, perspiring, head pounding, tense muscles, hot flashes or cognitive difficulties.
  • Give special attention to the messages you are telling yourself when facing change or other anxiety triggers. What kinds of self-talk do you have? Are you focusing on all the possible negative outcomes, whether they are real or imagined?
  • Recognize how differently positive and negative self-talk affects your emotions, and then your behaviors. Thoughts, feelings and behaviors are cyclical, meaning that focusing on self-talk such as "You're not good enough," "My idea won't work," or "People think I'm weird" will create low self-esteem, anxiety and sadness. When you feel that poorly about yourself, your behaviors will likely follow those negative beliefs about yourself. When you give in to those self-limiting beliefs, you then in turn will continue to have negative self-talk.
  • Learn and practice new coping skills such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques like challenging fearful, negative thoughts and replacing them with positive possibilities, meditation, writing and regularly reading positive affirmations or enlisting an encouraging friend or family member to support you.

Practicing increased awareness of how change may create fear and anxiety can help us to begin to question whether those self-limiting thoughts and beliefs are true. Noticing anxiety responses and practicing coping skills will empower you through the fear by transforming self-defeating thoughts into self-confident assurance. With the right tools, you can alter fear and anxiety with a foundation of knowledge and coping skills.