5 ways to reduce fear and calm your nerves.

Mar 31, 2017

Fear. Sweaty palms. Shaking legs. An annoyingly pounding heart. Something in my stomach that doesn't feel like butterflies, but more like an ant's nest. Fear.

I know it all too well. Heck, I propaby feel it on a weekly basis. Mostly it's caused by things I know  I shouldn't objectively be scared of. Like having to drive somewhere and not knowing for sure where I'll find a parking spot. Or running into someone at the grocery store who I know a little, but actually really not that good (should I just say 'Hi' and walk by or is that rude and am I supposed to start a conversation?).

I've had these fears for as long as I can remember. As a child I was afraid to learn how to ride a bike and to swim. But even more afaid to be laughed at if I tried it and failed. As a teenager I became afraid to say something in a group of people, especcially if I didn't know them well and even more so if they were boys (having as a result that I never even gave people a chance to get to know me, which made me believe that people simply didn't like me, which made me eve more shy).

For a long time I thought I was the only one feeling so afraid all the time. The only one who was so insecure, so scared to fail, to be not good enough. But now that I'm getting a bit older and confident enough to talk about it, I actually learned that several of my friends have these fears too. And not only that, I regularly see people opening up about them on social media.

Turns out there's a name for this shit: it's called an anxiety disorder. (On a note: I'm not saying I have this, I've never even seen a doctor or therapist about it. Maybe I'm just an anxious person. In any case I'm not a fan of putting labels on everything, but reading more about anxiety issues did make me understand better what I'm going through sometimes and also helped me put things into perspective.)

So apperantly one out of five people has an anxiety disorder sooner or later in life. Often these fears are treated with anxiolytics (especially in Belgium they are quite a popular drug). These work directly on your brain and lesson the feelings of terror within several minutes. Quite tempting, except for the fact that they are also highly addictive and positively dangerous if not used with proper guidance.

The problem with anxiety disorders is that simply reasoning with yourself doesn't help lessen the fear. We know we don't have to be scared to get on a train or ride with a bike through the city, after all, what is the chance that anyting might happen? And still our body refuses to listen to our mind, and our nerves simply won't calm down.

So how do we conquer this? If anything, it's not by avoiding what we're scared of. In the end that 'll only make it more scary. On the other hand other people's well meant advice: 'You just have to do it, you know! Be afraid, but do it anyway!', might seem utterly useless, when you're feeling so crippled by the fear that even thinking about it makes you want to cry, hide under your pillow and die.

I certainly don't have the answers. And if you are really overwhelmed by these anxieties, seeing a psychologist or a therapist is probably your best option and in some cases very neccesary. I have however found a few things that have helped me lessen the fear the moment it's comes up, or have helped me to feel more self secure and thus less afraid to fail.

1. Being in a solid, loving relationship. Okay, so you have every right to roll your eyes at your screen right now. I know this isn't a handy pointer that you can simply put into practice, because well, obvious reasons. I did however want to take the chance to acknowledge how being loved by my man, whithout any expectations, just for who I was and am, has really helped me to love myself. I actually believe it's quite weird that I needed that, because I have the most loving parents and a sister (and cousin) with whom I have this amazing bond, but somehow I always felt like they loved me because they were family so they had to? Yeah, I know, I got issues.

2. A hug. In the moment that I am panicking, what really helps best is a hug. As Grey's Anathomy thaught us, a hug helps slowing down our heart rate and calm our nervous system. And if there's no one there to hug, I suggest making yourself a cup of tea, put on really warm socks and your comfiest pyjama's and rolling yourself really tight in a blanket. Because that helps too.

3. Yoga. Yoga has helped me so much in not only building fysical, but also mental flexibility and strength. It helps me calm down, center, wipe out the noise. But also seeing my body make progress makes me feel so much more confident about myself. Finally, a physical activity that I'm good at and enjoy, as opposed to those dreaded PE classes in highschool.

4. Spend time in the outdoors. As a kid, I never enjoyed the long hikes my parents wanted to make on vacation, but the older I get, the more I see where they were coming from. We live right by the river Schelde and I love to go for a walk on the riverbank. There's so much peace, quiet, serenity and beauty to be found in nature. No pressure to perform, to look good or fashionable, or to live up to anybody's standard. You can just be.

5. Be goofy. Laugh really hard, make ugly faces to yourself in the mirror, do silly walks or just dance it off to embarrassing 90's music that you secretly really love. You might not feel like it when you start, but by the time you're done, you'll feel better. Or well, at least it works for me.

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by fear even when you know you have no reason to be scared? And how do you deal with that? I'd love to hear about your experiences!