Stress, anxiety and depression

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Ten ways to fight your fears

Moodzone: Practical problem solving

Media last reviewed: 14/02/2013

Next review due: 14/02/2015

Whatever it is that scares you, here are 10 ways to help you cope with your day-to-day fears and anxieties.

1. Take time out

It feels impossible to think clearly when you're flooded with fear or anxiety. A racing heart, sweating palms and feeling panicky and confused are the result of adrenalin. So, the first thing to do is take time out so you can physically calm down.

Distract yourself from the worry for 15 minutes by walking around the block, making a cup of tea or having a bath. When you've physically calmed down, you'll feel better able to decide on the best way to cope.

2. What's the worst that can happen?

When you're anxious about something  be it work, a relationship or an exam  it can help to think through what the worst end result could be. Even if a presentation, a call or a conversation goes horribly wrong, chances are that you and the world will survive. Sometimes the worst that can happen is a panic attack.

If you start to get a faster heartbeat or sweating palms, the best thing is not to fight it. Stay where you are and simply feel the panic without trying to distract yourself. Placing the palm of your hand on your stomach and breathing slowly and deeply (no more than 12 breaths a minute) helps soothe the body.

It may take up to an hour, but eventually the panic will go away on its own. The goal is to help the mind get used to coping with panic, which takes the fear of fear away.

3. Expose yourself to the fear

Avoiding fears only makes them scarier. If you panic one day getting into a lift, it's best to get back into a lift the next day. Stand in the lift and feel the fear until it goes away. Whatever your fear, if you face it, it should start to fade.

4. Welcome the worst

Each time fears are embraced, it makes them easier to cope with the next time they strike, until in the end they are no longer a problem. Try imagining the worst thing that can happen – perhaps it's panicking and having a heart attack. Then try to think yourself into having a heart attack. It's just not possible. The fear will run away the more you chase it.

5. Get real

These tips are designed for people who are coping with day-to-day fears and anxieties. If you have been diagnosed with an anxiety-related condition, see our page on generalised anxiety disorder.

Fears tend to be much worse than reality. Often, people who have been attacked can't help thinking they're going to be attacked again every time they walk down a dark alley. But the chance that an attack will happen again is actually very low.

Similarly, people sometimes tell themselves they're a failure because they blush when they feel self-conscious. This then makes them more upset. But blushing in stressful situations is normal. By remembering this, the anxiety goes away.

6. Don't expect perfection

Black-and-white perfectionist thinking such as, "If I'm not the best mum in the world, I'm a failure," or, "My DVDs aren't all facing in the same direction, so my life is a mess," are unrealistic and only set us up for anxiety.

Life is full of stresses, yet many of us feel that our lives must be perfect. Bad days and setbacks will always happen, and it's essential to remember that life is messy. 

7. Visualise

Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine a place of safety and calm  it could be a picture of you walking on a beautiful beach, or snuggled up in bed with the cat next to you, or a happy memory from childhood. Let the positive feelings soothe you until you feel more relaxed.

8. Talk about it

Sharing fears takes away a lot of their scariness. If you can't talk to a partner, friend or family member, call a helpline such as the Samaritans (08457 90 90 90, open 24 hours a day). And if your fears aren't going away, ask your GP for help. GPs can refer people for counselling, psychotherapy or online help through an online service called FearFighter.

9. Go back to basics

A good sleep, a wholesome meal and a walk are often the best cures for anxiety. The easiest way to fall asleep when worries are spiralling through the mind can be to stop trying to nod off. Instead, try to stay awake.

Many people turn to alcohol or drugs to self-treat anxiety with the idea that it will make them feel better, but these only make nervousness worse. On the other hand, eating well will make you feel great physically and mentally.

10. Reward yourself

Finally, give yourself a treat. When you've picked up that spider or made that call you've been dreading, reinforce your success by treating yourself to a candlelit bath, a massage, a country walk, a concert, a meal out, a book, a DVD, or whatever little gift makes you happy.

Page last reviewed: 11/04/2014

Next review due: 11/04/2016

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The 14 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Terry999 said on 11 October 2014

Hi All:)

I had my first panic attack when was 14, I kept getting them for about 18 months , then for some strange reason they stopped.. from 15 onwards I was fine, jetting here there and everywhere and not a care in the world, until I was 23 and it started all over again , but even worse!! 20 + years time, I till have panic attacks and agoraphobia...I would pay someone to cure me.... as panics and anxiety have ruined my life.
I am the type of person who can help other suffers because I know symptoms an how to deal with it, but when I am alone and it is happening to me, who can help me? and that IS the hard part...which I am sure nearly everyone who gets these conditions will know only too well....

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Starter Quitter said on 08 August 2014

Thank you Tracy Johan for the good advice there. I have just quit my job to do exactly that; do a startup, and I have been having panic attacks worrying that I did the wrong thing. I need to follow my dream otherwise I will always regret it, it is just totally scary at the beginning. The worst thing that can really happen is that I have to get my old job back, which is not so scary.... When I really think about it...

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Donnylad said on 11 April 2014

I have had anxiety for well over 3 years its a struggle to cope with as I can not work I can not travel I have had meds and did not help don't really know where to turn now it has totally left me fearing from leaving my home and as for going back to my GP as I am 30 years old they won't come to see me as they say cos of my age if I was more like 75+ then may be they would come see me open to any help am at a dead end now I will try anything

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Runner76 said on 04 March 2014

As someone who has suffered on and off for 10 years with GAD, these are good tips. If any of you smoke, give up, this was one of the best things I did for my anxiety (as well as my overall health) nicotine causes stress in the body, increases blood pressure and all sorts of other horrible things. Yes it's hard giving up but the sense of calm your body feels after it has expelled the toxins is well worth it. I also took up running and cycling, exhausting the body physically leads to better sleep, lower heart rate and a calmer state of mind. I still have the odd 'moment' but I am in control, you will get there x

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Over Thinker said on 02 January 2014

Thank you for these tips. Just reading through them has really helped me to calm down, relax and want to put a plan together to help me deal with my anxiety around my workload. And even though I am already familiar with with the advice being provided here, it's just good to be reminded that a few simple changes can make such a positive impact.

I've always been a worrier, but at work I tend to stay in control, however recently this has not been the case. After recently finding the strength to end my abusive marriage I've found my anxiety levels really high so much so that they have spilled over into my personal and work life.

I hope to face my fears at work and regain my confidence in myself and the innovative work that I'm capable of producing.

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Hayley1994 said on 28 December 2013

I have tingling and heartburn alot in my chest, i do suffer from anxiety and i keep worrying that its something fatal/heart condition/a slow heart attack this is on my mind now alot as even my breathing is bad...:(

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Tracy Johan said on 23 November 2013

You know that you want to quit your job and that you want to start a startup. You’ve had this desire for quite sometime now and you really must begin.

But you don’t.

You don’t because you’ve got responsibilities. You don’t because you’ve not got the perfect time. You don’t because you don’t have enough cash. You don’t because you procrastinate.

The bottom line is, you don’t because you’re afraid. The rest are all excuses.

The Simple moral is Just Do it do not think so much...

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Atriades said on 09 November 2013

These suggestions are the first port of call for anyone who has recently developed anxiety or has something in particular bothering them, but for those of us who are "hard core" anxiety sufferers it is all too simplistic. I don't think there are 10 tips which could help such a deep seated and all consuming condition. I get fed up with hearing about when people's anxiety started. I've had since I can remember- I had panic attacks when I was under 5.
I also get fed up with hearing Get enough sleep. Fear of not sleeping and an inability to sleep is part of it and being told you need it makes it even worse. My advice to anyone for whom these tips are not working would be see a doctor, get CBT, but be prepared for medication. I've read everything on panic and had CBT which helped.

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Jayjay92 said on 21 October 2013

I started suffering with anxiety two years ago, I was throwing up wouldn't leave the house my mum had phone the doctor and was given drugs to knock me out. Two weeks later I saw the psychiatrist who put me forward to CBT. I would recommend CBT to anyone suffering from anxiety. I am no were near anxiety free but it made me over come certain fears and I haven't thrown up since! I do agree with these tips the best way to over come things is to just do it and ride it out which is a lot easier said then done (I would know) . If you looking for tips on medicines to control anxiety I would go to your GP rather then looking online. I'm on citalopram which does help you think more clearly and also I have tablets to knock me out a bit if I feel terrible but to be honest I try not to use them as this doesn't actually solve anxiety . Wish everyone the best who suffers from it, it is a right pain in the **** !

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oikos35 said on 10 September 2013

Great advice and very practical. The good thing about these tips is that it"s simple and does not use lots of complicated and in most cases unnecessary medical terms and medical solutions like you would expect from the NHS. My first thoughts upon reading this were that it is quite radical.eg telling people to "expose yourself to the fear" could seem risky but to me is the best advice. Well-done to the team that wrote this for taking a few risks with their advice and not just sticking to cold scientific solutions.

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nooneknows said on 21 July 2013

I have not found these 10 steps helpful either - I suffer anxiety every week - can't see how any of these tips can help as the cause of the anxiety cannot be removed by thinking of a nice place, have tried breathing techniques but they don't work. My anxiety causes digestive problems as well. Thought NHS would provide more helpful links - I do not want to take drugs.

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twolions said on 16 June 2013

I registered only to be able to comment here. I would have expected from NHS to offer more serious and medical approach on how to cope with fear. This article is on the level of school children understanding. I will certainly read it to my 5 year old - but for me as an adult it didn't help in fact made me dissapointed for I wasted my time reading this and trusting NHS to come up with the best answers. The suggestions above did not work for me as a grown up with fears and anxieties.

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SBJH said on 27 October 2012

I Googled 'how to cope with anxiety' and came here. This info is on the basis that fears are not real but perceived. I have Hyperacusis. I'm waiting on an CT scan of my brain and and appointment with an audiologist, My fear is the noise that sets off my Hyperacusis which is caused by my husband’s grandfather who has dementia and as such plays with this hearing aids constantly in turn causing the debilitating noise that I am in fear of. This is a REAL fear. Back to Google for me. No help here. FYI, told I may be waiting until March to see the audiologist!

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darbs9172 said on 26 September 2012

7 weeks I've been off work with Anxiety.
I've had a constant headache for 7 weeks and have only just been told that this is known as an anxiety tension headache. I get regular bouts of dizziness and as a result of this, I've not been to work in all this time as I dont feel safe driving my truck. The techniques above do not work for me. I'm open to suggestions.

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Media last reviewed: 16/09/2014

Next review due: 16/09/2016