3 Tips for Reducing Feelings of Worry and Fear

It’s surprising how many hours we spend in a day worrying about concerns trivial in nature. These concerns range from getting to work on time when the roads are under construction, to failing to choose between soup and salad, to dying cold and alone, with no one around to hold your hand as you depart from this earth. If you’re anyone like me, your worries are of existential proportions: what if I’m still living with my parents when I’m forty years old? What if I never find true love? What if I’m diagnosed with a terminal disease tomorrow, and how will I cope with it? While such worries may or may not come true, ruminating on them certainly doesn’t help. Therefore, I have devised three tips in order of their importance that I believe are instrumental in reducing feelings of worry and fear, especially for those of us who are constantly apprehensive about an uncertain future.

Tip #1: Refrain from thinking in the subjunctive too much.

The subjunctive is a mood tense we use in language to describe doubts, demands, wishes, uncertainties, and desires. Two examples of subjunctive thoughts are “I don’t think I will ever be happy” and “I doubt that I will do well on this exam“. The first tip I would offer for reducing worry is to omit these types of thoughts from your mind by a considerable degree, as they are neither an accurate depiction nor reflection of reality and, like the fears and worries they precipitate, can be quite insidious if left unchecked. If you happen to notice a subjunctive thought passing through your mind, try to convert it into something more objective and less emotional. For example, you might be tempted to convert the thought, “I don’t think I will ever be happy” into “Everyone is equally capable of achieving happiness, and I am by no means an exception to this rule.”

Tip #2: Convince yourself that you have nothing to lose.

A couple of months ago, I conducted a little thought experiment by applying to Disc Replay and seeing if I would get called in for an interview. I had no intention of leaving my current job to work at a place where I would get paid $4 fewer, but I wanted to see if my 5+ years of experience in working retail and one-year-long experience of running a personal blog would increase my chances of landing a job interview, regardless of the institution I applied to. Not surprisingly, Disc Replay called and asked if I could come in to answer a few questions. There were nine candidates up for a position—only one would get the job.

Once there, I was instructed to fill out a form while waiting my turn to be interviewed. On the form was a series of questions testing my proficiency in alphabetization and solving basic math problems. One question in particular asked me to calculate the difference left over from a transaction with a customer and add to it a 20 percent sales tax. Under normal circumstances, this question would have thrown me completely off guard, but in that moment I couldn’t care less about getting the answer right because I wasn’t going to accept the job anyway. I therefore guessed incorrectly on the question, turned in the form, and stepped up to the interview with total confidence. By virtue of that, it went smoothly.

The point I’m trying to make here is that you can function a lot more effectively in life when the stakes in the game aren’t just lowered, but nonexistent. If I had any semblance of emotional investment in landing the job, I would have worried about answering that math question incorrectly so much that I compromised the interview process, and projected auroras of inadequacy and ineptitude to the manager and guaranteed that he wouldn’t hire me. Think of this tip along the lines of approaching an attractive girl at a bar with hopes of getting rejected by her to win a bet that you made with your best friend: if she says no, you just won $100. If she says yes, you walk away with a phone number. It’s a win-win.

It turns out that faking it until you make it works.

Tip #3: Live by the mantra, “You are not your thoughts. Only your actions.”

Part of why people see suicide as a viable option is because they’ve listened to that little voice inside their heads that constantly tells them they’re no good, and heeded its criticisms. Understand that all that voice consists of is transient and relatively insignificant thoughts—some conducive to survival and others not so much—and that the only way those thoughts will ever have any basis in reality is by acting upon them. Of course, you can tell yourself that you’re no good all you want, but so long as you strive to be any good, those thoughts of worthlessness, dejection, and self-hate will remain but a fictional story you tell yourself congruent with negative past experiences and attuned to your biases.

And there you have it—three tips for reducing fear and worry. Do you think any of them will prove useful in cleaning up the anxious mess that you are?

Are You Only 20 Percent Effective?

Self-discrepancy theory states that our selves, or the core understandings of our identities, are split according to three components: the ideal, ought, and actual self. The ideal-self is the person we aspire to be, the ought-self is the person we want others to be and the person others want us to be, and the actual-self is the person we actually are. The theory was developed by Edward Tory Higgins in 1987, and since then much research has been aimed at identifying the three selves’ existence relative to one another and which of them is the most predominate. Not surprisingly, the actual-self dominates the other two.

Self-discrepancy represents a conflict that wages inside our own heads—and between our partners—every day. My spouse wants me to stop smoking, but cigarettes are the only things that remedy my stress. I know I should lose weight, but food tastes too damn good. My father wants me to become a doctor, but I’d rather be a pilot. I want to do well on that exam, but I’m too lazy to study for it. The list goes on. Do any of these conflicts sound familiar to you?

I am a classic example of a self-discrepant person. Need proof? I know that I should completely cut alcohol out of my life because it’s hazardous to my organs, but I still enjoy the occasional drink after a long day at work, or with a good friend. I know that I should revamp my diet because I consume too much grease and am probably clogging my arteries, but I can’t stop eating hamburgers, pizza, and pasta. I know that I should stop playing video games so often and start devoting more time to pursuing a career in psychology and expanding my reservoir of knowledge for the sake of it, but I love grinding my character in Destiny. And finally, I know that I should advertise my YouTube videos to stimulate viewership and conduct research on the stock market to make informed decisions on my investments, but I don’t care enough to do either of those things, so why even bother?

And yet, by sitting around and waiting to take initiative, I am actually doing more harm than good to myself. By continuing to drink alcohol, I am further eroding my organs. By continuing to consume greasy foods, I am routinely putting myself at risk for heart disease. By continuing to play too many video games and not pursuing a career and expanding my base of knowledge, I am setting myself up to live with my parents until I’m 40 and making myself stupider. And by not advertising my YouTube videos and investing in the stock market, I am wasting my time producing the videos in the first place and losing money.

If I was a truly self-sufficient person, I would write 5 of these articles a week instead of just 1 every other week. I would market my YouTube channel 8 hours a day to maximize audience retention and engagement, and I would release at least two, high-quality, 30-minute long video essays a month. I would quit my weekend job at the local supermarket and find a better one. I would practice meditation to more effectively manage my emotions. I would go to the bar to talk to women and get out of my shell. I would address every single criticism that I’ve ever had, or currently have, of myself—and then some.

The fact remains that I’m not 100% self-sufficient. Most of the time, I’m 10-15% self-sufficient, and 20% self-sufficient on a good day. That’s not very… sufficient of myself.

Can you imagine where humanity would be today if it utilized 100% of its potential? We probably would have cured every known disease, colonized the galaxy, and transcended space and time itself. But we know that human beings are not THAT perfect. How could they be? They’re notoriously flawed creatures. We’ve accomplished many great things, but only to a certain degree. We still quibble amongst, and go to war with, each other, we still haven’t cured some of the most deadly diseases, and we still haven’t traversed and uncovered the secrets of the far reaches of the galaxy. At least we invented the fidget spinner and sliced bread.

Perhaps our aggressive laziness could result from our propensity to favor pleasure over self-improvement. The human brain is largely rewarded through instant gratification, and not through evaluation of long-term consequences. Given the proper time and training, it can learn to delay gratification in the interest of its longer-term goals, but for the most part, it demands to be rewarded instantaneously and without obstructions. It explains why there are alcoholics, pornography addicts, and obese people—if they really wanted to improve themselves, they would’ve done so a while ago.

Self-discrepancy seems to be a conflict that arises from incessant instant gratification. In essence, we weigh the amount of pleasure we can derive from any given activity (i.e.: playing a video game, partying, or reading a text book) relative to whether or not such activity is befit to our well-being, and almost always, our hedonistic instincts kick into overdrive.

So what can YOU do to reach your potential? Close the gaps between your ideal, ought, and actual selves as much as you can. I’m not saying that I’ve done it already because it’s a conflict I struggle with every day, but I have become more aware of it.

It’s true that while you’ll never reach your full potential, you can come as close to your full potential as absolutely possible. And that’s about the best you can do for your short (and sometimes miserable) time on this God-forsaken floating rock.