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3 powerful ways to reduce fear and anxiety about coronavirus
Mar 25

3 powerful ways to reduce fear and anxiety about coronavirus

By Dr Berni Sewell | Overcome your fears

“Calm the fuck down!”

Several times I have seen this phrase written on colourful backgrounds of social media posts since the terror about coronavirus has clutched the world. Since people are self-isolating, social distancing and panic buying. And we all fear for our own lives and those of the ones we love.

And you know what? Me, personally, I would love to calm down.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up and realise it was all over? To find the threat of coronavirus disappeared over night.

And with it our inability to breathe. Or to focus on anything but the looming catastrophe. We wish for nothing more than to stroll into a sunny, new dawn with a light heart and a peaceful mind.

Knowing we are safe. And all is well in the world.

But it’s not that time yet.

And for those of us who struggled with anxiety and panic attacks before the pandemic, the current level of fear becomes unbearable.

Everything is changing yet again every few hours. We are overwhelmed by uncertainty. And a constant feeling of dread chokes us.

We try our best to keep functioning in a world that is now devoid of routine.

But we can’t eat because our stomach is too tight with anxiety. We can’t sleep, our mind ruminating endlessly, tormented by worries and fears. And we barely hold it together during the day.

And nobody knows how long this nightmare will continue.

So, what can we do to stop our emotional health from imploding? And the anxiety from swallowing us whole?

What can we do to calm the fuck down?

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What to do when you panic about coronavirus
Mar 14

What to do when you panic about coronavirus (Part 1)

By Dr Berni Sewell | Overcome your fears

Part 1: How to protect yourself and others from COVID-19

Novel coronavirus has been spreading across the world for weeks, followed by 24/7 news coverage.

As I start writing this post, at 4.40pm on 13th March 2020, 140,081 cases and 5,123 deaths have been recorded worldwide. By the time I’ll finish writing later today, the toll will have risen further and the whole situation will have changed.

Things are moving too rapidly to comprehend.

We are now dealing with a full-blown pandemic. Whole countries are in lockdown, travel bans in operation. Healthcare systems face breakdown, doctors and nurses burn out. The world economies suffer as stock markets plummet.
Schools and universities are closing. Supply of some essential items is low due to panic buying. Sporting events and concerts are suspended. Thousands of flights cancelled. Millions of people quarantined.

And we panic.

We are scared for our own health and the lives of the people we love. We are overwhelmed and confused. Focus on every sign of illness in ourselves and those around us. We are petrified of meeting other people. And we worry we run out of food (and toilet paper) in case of a lockdown.

Our anxiety spikes as we are bombarded with terrifying headlines and pictures of people in hazmat suits. And sometimes we can’t breathe and our hands shake. Because all the horrifying information on the unmanageable enormity of the problem becomes too much to handle.

So, in exceptional circumstances like this, how can we stop panicking? And how can we protect ourselves and others?

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Understanding the root cause of your anxiety
Feb 27

Understanding the root cause of your anxiety (to finally heal)

By Dr Berni Sewell | Overcome your fears

I noticed lately that anxiety is creeping up on me again.

Several times in the last few weeks, if only for a moment, its invisible, cold hand clutched my chest and twisted my stomach. Especially before meetings, teleconferences or when I had to go out. Even if it was only to take the cat to the vet or my daughter to ballet lesson.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

I’ve told you many times that I overcame my anxiety. I keep instructing you on ways how to eliminate the fear. And maybe that’s the reason why you are still reading my emails. Maybe you are hoping that you can free yourself from anxiety if you do what I did.

Because I succeeded.

So, to hear that anxiety is still part of my life must feel like a slap in the face. WTF, right?

But the thing is that I am not worried by anxiety’s return. I am not scared that I will be doomed to a life paralysed by fear. That I will return to a life sentence of misery. Trying to function in the world without anybody noticing my constant state of terror. Pretending that I’m fine while battling a fire-breathing monstrosity every minute of every day. Mortified of people’s judgements whenever I fail to contain the panic.

Been there, done that. Can’t recommend.

I no longer fear anxiety. It doesn’t make me feel like a failure, or a hopeless case. Or, in fact, a hypocrite.

Because I know something now I wish someone had told me 20 years ago. How much suffering it would have spared me.

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How to get unstuck (without leaving your comfort zone)
Aug 28

How to get unstuck (without leaving your comfort zone)

By Dr Berni Sewell | Overcome your fears

I love life. But sometimes I feel like I am sitting at the edge of it. Looking in, observing.

Yearning for the adventures I want to experience, gauging the mountains I want to climb, pondering about the goals I want to achieve.

But never moving. I watch other people accomplish what is only real in my imagination. See them reach milestones I only ever meet in my careful plans. Witness them living the life I crave.

And I envy them. I try to move forward. But it feels like I run on the spot, trapped on a giant foam roller. Exhausting myself turning the wheel underneath my feet without ever progressing towards my dreams.

And I beat myself up for my ineptitude. Curse my job for occupying too much of my time. Blame my family for all their needs, wants and demands that stop me from moving towards my goals.

I feel angry about my current circumstances that keep me trapped. Resent the people who hold me in place.

When the truth is that I am scared. Terrified that I may fail and know once and for all that I am not good enough to reach my goals. Horrified of how my life may change if I succeed.
And petrified of the unknown. The unexplored blank space that lurks between my familiar existence and my goals and dreams. Full of threats, dangers and risks, but also possibilities I will never discover.

Because I am stuck. Caught in the unsurmountable pull of my comfort zone. Watching life rather than living it. Making plans instead of executing them. My back aching under the pressure of unfulfilled desires, frustration and disappointment.

With one question burning on my mind: How can I ever leave my comfort zone and finally get unstuck?

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How to ignore fear of change (and start transforming your life)
Feb 25

How to ignore fear of change (and start transforming your life)

By Dr Berni Sewell | Overcome your fears

My life sucked. But I couldn’t change it.

At the age of 25, I should have been socialising, meeting friends, enjoying myself. Travel, start a promising career, go on dates. Have fun, be daring and outgoing, open to new experiences, challenges and adventures.

I should have been happy.

But instead, I was scared. Terrified of facing the threats of a dangerous world. So, I sat at home, a hostage of my anxiety.
At night, my heart raced and I choked at every unfamiliar sound. During the day, I avoided meeting new people. Sweating and panicking at the mere thought of the humiliation, rejection and self-flagellation that would inevitably follow.

I functioned at work. But it took all my strength to appear normal. To hide the unbearable state of terror that was my life. To pretend that I was calm and collected while anxiety was ripping my body apart.

Fear destroyed my life, ruined my happiness. I felt stressed, lonely, paralysed. Trapped in a puny comfort zone that had become a nightmare.

I was desperate to transform my life. And yet, somehow, I remained stuck.

Because I feared one thing more than anything. I just didn’t know it yet.

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How to stop obsessive worrying (in 2 simple steps)
Feb 18

How to stop obsessive worrying (in 2 simple steps)

By Dr Berni Sewell | Overcome your fears

Last week, I had to give a presentation about rapid cancer diagnosis services at a conference.

As you may know, I managed to overcome my severe generalised anxiety about 10 years ago. But the thought of standing in front of hundreds of people presenting my work still triggers a hefty fear response.

Whenever I thought of it, my stomach knotted and an icy steel hand attempted to crush my throat.

For two weeks, I woke up at 3 am, endless thoughts whirling in my mind like deck-chairs in a hurricane.

What if I go blank and embarrass myself? Will more qualified people question my methods and I won’t have the answers? Will the audience discover that I don’t really know what I’m doing? And what if I burp? Or fall off the podium?

All hope for a restful night’s sleep was wrecked by my unproductive rumination. And my days grew darker as the incessant worries fed my apprehension. Mutating a simple 10-minute presentation into a confidence-eating, mood-killing monstrosity, out to destroy me.

Just because, sometimes, I forget my own advice.

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A liberating way to reduce anxiety quickly and naturally
Apr 24

A liberating way to reduce anxiety quickly and naturally

By Dr Berni Sewell | Overcome your fears

I had a sadistic teacher in high school who mocked and ridiculed every pupil who dared to attract attention. I was petrified of needing the toilet during his lessons because I knew he would verbally abuse me for asking permission.

So, I worried about German lessons all day in advance. And my body reacted to my anxiety with an overwhelming urge to pee as soon as the lesson started.

I suffered through those 50 minutes, digging my finger nails into the palm of my hand, so the pain would distract me from my screaming bladder. But too often, I was forced to raise my hand and face his derision because I couldn’t hold on any longer.

It made me feel pathetic. Like my body betrayed me. Worked against me.

I started to mistrust myself and my ability to control my actions (and bladder). As a consequence, I developed toilet anxiety, which haunted me during my teens and all the way through my twenties. Whenever I had no immediate toilet access (for example when travelling in the car, in the cinema or on hikes), I needed to go every 15 minutes.

And it wasn’t just in my mind. I really desperately, urgently had to pee! Every time.

Ashamed of my irrepressible bodily reactions, I tried to hide my anxiety from everybody else. When I was out with other people, it took all my strength to keep it together. To stop my anxiety from swallowing me whole and my body from humiliating me. All while maintaining a composed exterior.

So nobody would know how weak I was. How inadequate. How much of a failure.

But my mind was consumed by worries about the nearest facility access, absorbed by suppressing the feelings of panic, overwhelmed by the almost impossible task to act “normal”. And every outing was torture.

So, I avoided activities that involved other people whenever I could. Locked myself into my small flat where it was safe. Where I wasn’t at risk of humiliating myself and my bladder behaved.

For many years, I missed out on life. I merely existed. Imprisoned by my anxiety. Suffering in silence and isolation.

Until one liberating (but terrifying) step changed it all.

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A powerful way to stop worrying
Feb 15

A powerful way to stop worrying

By Dr Berni Sewell | Overcome your fears

My 4-year old has a little cuddly toy called Biff. Biff is a “worry eater”.

When she’s worried about starting school, scared of the dark or anxious about performing the ABC song in the nursery play, we write her worry on a piece of paper.

We put the piece of paper in Biff’s mouth, close the zip and put him in bed with her.

The next morning (with some Mummy assistance obviously) the worry is gone. All gobbled up. Or so she thinks.

The important thing is that she stops worrying. She surrendered the anxious thoughts to somebody else and trusts that the problems will be taken care of.

End of story. No more worry.

I guess now you think: “What a lovely way to stop worrying. For a pre-schooler. But how could this ever work for me?”

Well, the good news is that this tactic works at every age…

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The 3 eye-opening truths that will make you immune to criticism
Jan 16

The 3 eye-opening truths that will make you immune to criticism

By Dr Berni Sewell | Overcome your fears

Several years ago, I was part of a multidisciplinary team updating a national guideline for breast cancer detection and management.

I finished a presentation of the research plan to 20 leading oncologists and cancer geneticists, as one of them stood up, shook his head in disapproval and said:

“This is all wrong! We are dealing with an important issue here. People’s lives are at stake. We can’t have your inexperience screw this up. What are you? A student? This is not up to scratch.”

As you can imagine I was stunned. Hurt. And angry. We had worked hard on the research plan and it was good.

A sharp, burning feeling spread through my throat as I suppressed tears. I wanted to defend myself and my work. Tell him what an ignorant, arrogant idiot he was.

But instead, I mumbled: “Ok, we will revisit it until the next meeting”. And excused myself to cry in the toilet where nobody would see it.

At the time, his criticism crushed me. Made me doubt my abilities. For days I replayed the events in my mind. Overanalysed what had gone wrong, what I could have done better to avoid the inquisition. And beat myself up for stupid mistakes I made and for not standing up for myself.

If the same happened to me again now, I would react differently.

It wouldn’t offend and hurt me, or knock my confidence. Because I know 3 important truths about criticism today that could have spared me a lot of suffering, upset and heartache.

If only someone had told me 10 years ago…

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