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‘Aging Optimally’ Part 2: Tips for evaluating and taking control of your stress

This is part 2 of a three-part series on the book “Aging Optimally” by local author Dr. Carol L. Monson.  

Fear is our emotional reaction to perceived threat or danger, causing a change in our metabolism, bodily functions and behavior. 

Our fears are set off by present or past events, as well as thoughts of future events. Our fears keep us from doing things we want to do or being who we want to be. They can keep us from being successful, happy and loved. Over time, fear decreases our life energy, satisfaction and pleasure, which can cause grief; worry; and wear on our body, mind and spirit. Fears create stress, increase inflammation and negatively affect our immune system.  

How can we confront our fears? 

Make a list of your fears. Begin work on your list when you are relaxed and have uninterrupted time. When you find yourself experiencing negative emotions associated with your fears, use this emotional intensity level to rank them from least to most. Note changes in your body. Do you feel tense? Are your neck and shoulders tight? Are you clenching your hands? Is there movement or tension in your legs? Does your stomach feel queasy? Do you feel anxious? 

After creating your list, put it down and relax. Exercise, meditate, breathe deeply, etc. Decide on a specific time when you will begin the work to overcome your fears. Begin your work with your least fear and work only with that one. Imagine and relive being in a situation that triggers this fear. Stop your imagining when you become fearful or anxious. Relax yourself again. Then, analyze and separate this fearful experience into smaller parts. What happens first? What happens next? When do you first remember this fear occurring? What happened then? What did you do that made it worse? What could you do to make it better? 

After you have relaxed, go back and reimagine this experience by changing your response and imagining a better outcome. You may need to repeat and continue practicing this process multiple times before your level of fear decreases. Each time you feel fearful, stop, relax yourself, go back and repeat. When you are successful in practicing, congratulate yourself and decide to let this fear go. 

Remember: The next time you are in this situation, you can respond differently. When you respond differently to others, they respond differently to you. 

Dr. Carol L. Monson is a family physician and psychotherapist. Her book is available on Amazon, and her website is agingoptimally.org.

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