9 Proven Tricks For Overcoming Anxiety And Fear

Back in the earlier days of evolution, humans were prey to giant hyenas, cave bears, and predatory kangaroos.

We’ve been able to outlast those guys, but evolutionary psychologists will tell you that we’re still on constant lookout for the thing that wants to eat us next.

The trouble is, the audience at your next presentation is not, in fact, a bunch of razor-toothed animals. They generally want to see you do well.

Since being plagued by anxiety is a sure way to sabotage your own success, we’ve put together a collection of research-backed tips for overcoming your fears.

Kim Bhasin contributed research to this article.

Breathe deeply because it lets your nervous system know that it can chill out.

You've probably heard that breathing is a good call if you're stressed out.

But what's fascinating is the reason why it works so well.

'Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety-reducing technique because it activates the body's relaxation response,' explains Psych Central editor Margarita Tartakovsky. 'It helps the body go from the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system.'

Slowly expose yourself to the things you're afraid of, so they're no longer unfamiliar to you.

If you're trying to get comfortable with negotiating, speaking in public, or other scary activities, psychologists often recommend exposure therapy.

Rehab Institute of Chicago neuroscientist Katherina Hauner has found that it can dramatically improve the way people relate to their fears.

'It is usually done in a series of hierarchical steps, starting with a relatively low level of engagement with the feared situation, and increasing the level with each step,' she told the Huffington Post.

'For exposure therapy with a dog phobia,' she says, 'we might start with just looking at a very small puppy from many feet away, and eventually work our way up to petting a very large dog.'

Recognise when you're succumbing to 'misplaced' anxiety, and let it go.

As Wharton research scholar Jeremy Yip has found, fear about one thing in your life has a way of spilling over into other parts of your life.

If you have car trouble on your way to work, there's a good chance that feeling of anxiety will carry over into your workday.

You might feel less confident about pitching your boss on a new project because when you ask yourself, 'How do I feel about this?' your general feelings of anxiety make you more risk-averse.

To deal with that, try and recognise where the fear is coming from. If you're worried because you need to make improvements, listen to that. If you're worried because your exhaust is making funny noises, don't.

Spend time with your friends -- social support reduces anxiety.

Three decades of research shows that people with close friends are better able to survive divorces, job losses, and other traumatic events.

'Friendfluence' author Carlin Flora says that friendship has long been an evolutionary advantage.

'When we lived in groups where survival itself was difficult, you needed someone who would be guaranteed to throw you a lifeline,' she told Thought Catalogue. 'You can easily theorize that the notion of a best friend developed because we needed someone where we were number one on their list and they were number one on our list in those life and death situations.'

Reframe anxiety as excitement so that you can devote more energy and resources to the situation.

Harvard Business School assistant professor Alison Wood Brooks has found that the best way to work with anxiety isn't to keep calm -- but to get excited.

Emotions happen at two levels: There's the physical sensation, called arousal in the psych world, and then the way you mentally interpret it, called valence.

When you're anxious, your heart rate goes up -- that's high arousal. And you read it as bad news -- that's a negative valence.

The takeaway: If you're anxious, reframe it as excitement, since you can stay in that high arousal state but read it as good news instead. In experiments, that tactic makes people better public speakers and karaoke singers.

Realise that not everything is the end of the world; one way to do this is by consciously trivializing tasks.

Social psychologist Susan K. Perry suggests in her Psychology Today column that you always think of yourself as playing. If something goes wrong, you can just try again, or try it in some other way.

And when you compare something in your daily life to decisions that are truly life-and-death, it gives you better perspective as to what's really important -- and that failure at something that's probably just trivial isn't something to be so fearful or anxious about.

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