I was a fearful, anxious kid who grew into a fearful, anxious adult.
For a long time, I didn’t like trying new foods, going to new places, or meeting new people and was essentially closed off to new experiences. I was also, to varying degrees, anxious or fearful most of the time; things like confrontation, spiders, heights, strangers, crowds, enclosed spaces, the dark, driving in the dark, waiting in line, not knowing where the bathroom was, or sometimes even just leaving home gave me the stinky stress sweats.
Many of those are unavoidable, but I said “no” more often than I said “yes,” and I was blissfully ignorant in my little bubble of pseudo-safety and comfort.
I’m not saying that I’m completely free of fear and anxiety now (I’m definitely not), but I’m also not that person anymore, thanks to one change I developed over the last few years.
Before I even knew the word for it, I started reframing my fears and anxieties rather than continuing to allow them to disempower me.
Reframing may be challenging, but it can help us shift our experiences. The classic example is: instead of thinking of something as a “problem,” which has a negative connotation and sounds like something you’d want to avoid, think of it as a “challenge,” which is more motivating. Calling something by a different name to change the way you feel about it might seem silly, but reframing can actually be highly effective.
Keep in mind that reframing is not the same as denial or the old adage to look at the bright side, nor is it simply about saying yes when you could say no.
“Reframing helps us to use whatever life hands us as opportunities to be taken advantage of, rather than problems to be avoided,” writes Linda Bloom, LCSW.
Though I’ve used my method of reframing mostly for fear and anxiety, it’s proven useful in facing other uncomfortable circumstances as well, like having difficult conversations at work or being vulnerable in my personal relationships.
When the need arises, these seven words completely transform my experience:
Once I say this to myself, running away becomes impossible. If I turn away after acknowledging the potential benefit of facing the situation, that’s essentially the same as saying, “Nah, I’m good; I don’t need to grow or improve any further.”
And that’s just not me. This is exactly what makes this phrase so effective. Not the actual words, but rather, the call to action that they represent — the dare to keep growing.
When I say this phrase, I transform those fears and anxieties into opportunities to be courageous, tame my inner demons, and shine light on the shadows that make me want to run.
This method has bettered my life in more ways than I can explain, but here are just a few.
My life is brighter.
With fear and anxiety occupying less space in my life, I have more space and energy for positivity. I say yes more, and as a result, I’ve been able to see amazing places, make new friends, or connect more deeply with people I already know and generally enrich my life.
Without these words, I never would have landed my dream job, gone to Japan, or discovered one of my new favorite foods (Japanese curry).
Every time I’ve used this technique to manage my anxiety, I’ve come out the other side feeling better about myself.
I feel courageous.
I’m afraid of flying, and on my first flight after five years of not flying, my body seemed to think death was imminent. My heart was racing; my face was hot; I was sweating profusely. I’m pretty sure I didn’t blink the entire climb, and I was only able to breathe — albeit rapidly — thanks to my meditation practice. But when we landed at the end of the flight, I was filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. I did it. I faced my fear, got on a plane, and didn’t die.
I’m still afraid of flying, but it gets a tiny bit easier every time. That’s because facing the things that scare you actually trains your brain to be less fearful.
And the opposite is true too: running makes you more afraid.
For me, facing fears and anxieties comes with the added bonus of feeling strong and brave. That confidence helps me be brave in other situations that might have scared me before.
This — what I’m doing right now.
I’ve always been a writer at heart. For years, part of me was too scared to share my work, but another part of me desperately wanted to share for the pure joy of sharing and to allow my work to benefit even just one person.
Whenever you put your heart and soul into something, agonizing over getting it just right, you have a terrifying moment immediately before making it public. No matter how long you’ve been doing what you’re doing, you are incredibly brave the moment you choose to share despite that fear.
Purposefully stepping into vulnerability in this way is pure awesome.
These seven words have truly changed my life, but I started out with little things, did the work, and made the choice to grow, regardless of the outcome of that particular situation. I’ve found that things tend to work out better when growth is my only goal.
I also make the choice to say yes within the context of myself. If I’m feeling exhausted or bummed out and am presented with an opportunity for adventure, doing it despite my current state probably won’t help me grow; it’ll just make me cranky. Being able to discern when to push myself and when to give myself space was simply a matter of trial and error.
For me, this mantra is so effective because it speaks to what deeply motivates me: learning and growing. Even when it’s tough, I’m happiest when I’m finding my edges and stretching them.
If you try this method, the phrase you use shouldn’t be judgmental or degrading; rather, your words should directly reflect (or question!) your core values, empower you to face your anxiety, and even offend you if you don’t answer the call. Finding the right phrase might take a while, but keep trying in different situations and you’ll find the one that fits.