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Strategies for managing fear and worry

Strategies for managing fear and worry
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What can you do to alleviate fear or anxiety that’s worrying or bothering you, but is not at a level severe enough for you to see the doctor? Good ways to help alleviate worry and stress in a general way include regular exercise– a walk, a swim, going to the gym, or a jog. Keeping company and discussing your fears– you may find that in talking things through with a friend that there’s an easy solution, or that you’re not alone in your worries. Using relaxation techniques, including mindfulness, which gets you to focus on staying in the moment, can really help alleviate stress, worry, and fear when it’s bothering you a lot.
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One good approach can be to list your worries in order of priority and then put possible solutions beside them. You may have to ask yourself, do these issues warrant the level of worry or attention that you are paying them? Also, if you get solution focused, you can get into that mode, and the problem may not seem that big. And in fact, the solution can reduce it or even remove it. Other useful strategies are to distract yourself from thinking about the issues. Stay busy and keep actively engaged in activities.
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Some people, when they start to worry or become fearful, can withdraw and stay at home because they get more anxious when they go out and feel less anxious in their own environment. Or they will only go out when there is someone with them. We call this agoraphobia.
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Another circumstance that can lead to people becoming housebound is a safety fear. For example, a fear of falling, particularly when they have had a fall already.
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What’s the best approach in these types of circumstances? Well, it’s really best to push through the fear and go out. Otherwise, it’s very hard to break this cycle. To get over this type of fear, sometimes the person has to try and overcome the fear in a gradual way, going out with others first, and then a little bit on their own, and then building it up. To summarise, anxiety, fear, and worry can be a normal reaction to stress and living. But when severe or irrational, you may need to seek help. So let’s ask a few questions. Are you a worrier? Have you always tended to be a worrier?
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By that, I mean a born worrier, or have you become more anxious recently? Ask yourself what’s worked best for you in terms of dealing with your anxiety.

It’s hard not to worry, no matter what stage of life you’re at, but there are some practical strategies to help you manage your fears and anxiety.

  1. Exercise is a great stress buster. You may find that you worry less when you exercise regularly. We talk about how best to exercise as you get older in Week 3.
  2. Keep socially engaged. Meeting your friends and talking to your family is a great way to get support and remind yourself that you are not alone in your anxiety and worry. Week 4 of the course explains why this is so important.
  3. Break down your worry into bite-sized pieces by listing your anxieties in order of severity and thinking of a possible solution to address each worry.
  4. Practice relaxation, mindfulness or yoga. Mindfulness can be described as paying attention to what you are actually doing at any given moment. Mindfulness is being more awake to whatever is happening in our lives and learning to live in the present moment (Dolan, 2015).

What does being mindful mean?

We can sometimes be on “automatic pilot”. Hours can slip by without us being really aware of what we are doing. Mindfulness includes simply noticing what you are experiencing – being aware that you are breathing, walking, driving, making a phone call, cooking a meal. Becoming mindful and aware of what is going on in our mind helps us to accept our thoughts and feelings.

How to start being mindful in daily life

Choose any of the activities mentioned below and see if you can remember to pay attention while you are doing it. You do not have to slow down or even enjoy it. Simply do what you normally do, but pay full attention to what you are doing, rather than getting caught up in thoughts, fears or worries. Notice all the bodily sensations.

  • Using the telephone
  • Going up or down stairs or steps
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Showering
  • Washing your hair
  • Eating

Every time you drift into thinking, just acknowledge that you have had a thought and then bring your attention back to noticing these sensations (e.g. your body on the chair, sounds in the room, the taste of what you are eating). Practising mindfulness over time reduces stress and gives people a better sense of control over their lives.

You can also play a part in helping others manage their own fears and worries.

For example, if you have noticed that one of your good friends has become more housebound after a fall, recognise that she may be afraid of falling again and is staying in on her own. How can you help? First of all, you can offer to take her out and walk with her. She will feel more confident walking with you. You should then encourage her to walk a little on her own and to gradually build up her confidence in walking again. Solution-focused activities – helping yourself and helping others – are a great way to manage fear and anxiety.

  • Are you a worrier?
  • What do you feel has worked best for dealing with your anxiety?

Brian Lawlor is Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin.

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