Four action steps to get past your fear

What can we do when the world is in chaos

There is terrible news all over the media these days. War in Europe. Financial disaster looming. Gas prices spiking. Storms on the way. It’s natural to feel worried and stressed. The news reporters are screaming, bombs are exploding in the background. Everyone is worried. 

What can you do when the world is in chaos? How can you get past your fear?

Remember, you can’t control the world

The first thing to remember is that we can’t control the world. Some of us worry and stress when we think about current events, with the same unhelpful thoughts spinning around in our brain. Dr. Alice Boyes, author of The Anxiety Toolkit, says that anxiety and rumination (thinking the same negative thoughts over and over) form a feedback loop where one causes the other. Rumination and worry are often associated with being closed to new ideas and with poor mental health. You can recognize your own rumination when you keep thinking about the same topic or the same news report over and over. So, here are four action steps to get past your fear, and at the same time, increase your resilience. 

  1. Dr. Boyes says that rather than helping you problem-solve, rumination and worry usually just make it difficult to see the big picture for all the minutiae in your brain. So, instead of worrying about global affairs, try to focus on something you can actually do something about.

Focus on a current problem you have, or on a project that you want to complete. You’ll actually be productive and get something done. That’s a much better outcome than randomly thinking the same unhelpful thoughts for hours.

  1. If your brain won’t let you focus, I understand. I’ve been there. I’m a worrier too. Certain calming methods really do help you get past the anxiety and focus on the things that you can do something about. I wrote about some of these in my article, “Still anxious and stressed?” 

Try calming breathing techniques – practice breathing deeply and regularly. Find the number of seconds to breathe in and out that’s most comfortable for you and actually count while you breathe.

Meditation can help calm your thoughts. A friend helps.
Meditation can help calm your thoughts. A friend helps.
  1. Meditation works too. If your brain is going a mile a minute and you’re new to meditation, try a guided one. The guided “Garden Walk” meditation is just a couple of minutes long, but will leave you feeling more peaceful. The only requirement for meditation is to be comfortable.
  1. Journaling your thoughts can also help you process them. Your journal is your safe place. Write anything you like in your journal and you won’t be judged. Get your thoughts on paper so they’re not cluttering your head.

Try one or two of these recommendations the next time you feel yourself start to panic. (When I recognize myself starting to panic I start by closing my eyes and taking a deep breath. Then I think about something positive I can actually do.) Yes, the world is a scary place now, but you can get past your fear.

Modify anything to reach your goals

You know I’m a fan of goal-setting. And I’m also a fan of setting big goals. So, chances are those goals I set will not be achievable with the equipment I have right now. If I want to do a full push-up but just don’t have the arm strength, I’ll work at it until I can do it. I’ll start on my knees or on my toes and leaning on a low table. The key is to modify anything to reach your goals.

A modification for anything

If I want to do a side plank with leg left, I'll modify it to start on a knee.
Modifying the Side Plank star means beginning on a knee.

As I’ve said before, there’s a modification for everything. That modification may not be immediately apparent, but it’s there. If you want to come along with me and try that full push-up, starting out leaning on a low table may help you to increase your arm strength more than starting on your knees. Once you’re successful with push-ups using that coffee table, you can “graduate” to an ottoman. And then to a stool – going lower and lower. Eventually you’ll be ready to do a full push-up on the floor. And if I want to do a Side Plank Star but don’t have the arm strength now, I’ll start on a knee.

If you’ve set your goal for 10 push-ups, don’t give up after 2. If you’ve reached the floor but your arms give out after 2, don’t give up. Get that stool and finish your set. You’re still building your arm strength on the stool. By the way – even one push-up on the floor is amazing. Time to celebrate! Rewards are an essential part of goal-setting. Make sure that your reward is fitting – save the big reward for doing 10. Now, perhaps, a 15-minute break is appropo. 

After doing the modified exercise, I've built up enough arm strength to do a full Side Plank Star.
After doing the modified exercise, I’ve built up enough arm strength for the full Side Plank Star.

For non-exercise goals

The same step-by-step system works for other, non-exercise, goals. If you want to lose weight – say, 30 pounds, you’re not going to lose all 30 at once. And even thinking about losing 30 pounds is a daunting prospect. But 5 pounds is achievable.

Modify your goal

So, the key to reaching that lofty goal of 30 pounds is to break it up. Modify your big goal to set intermediate goals. And reward yourself every step of the way!

Strength training for your health

You’ve decided to start a fitness program! Yay! You know that physical activity is vital for healthy aging – experts at the Centers for Disease Control recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week (less if you’re doing high intensity and more for lower intensity activity). You may have decided on walking as a first step in your fitness program. But the experts also recommend 2 days a week of strength training. But what, exactly, does strength training for your health entail?

No fancy equipment needed

I’ve said before that as we get older, we lose stuff. Our eyesight, our hearing, our hair, our balance, and, unfortunately, muscle mass and bone density. Strength training won’t do anything for our eyesight or our hearing, but it can help with our muscles and our bones.

Before you say, but I don’t belong to a gym and I’m not buying weights, know that you don’t need fancy equipment to do strength training for your health. Your body weight is a built-in exercise equipment miracle. You can work practically any muscle group with your own body weight. 

Body-weight exercises

Push-ups are great to work just about any part of your body. Modifications are good too.
Push-ups (with or without shoes) are great for just about every part of your body.

Holding the plank position works your arms, your legs, and your entire core. Even if you modify the position so that you’re on your knees, you’re still getting lots of benefits. And if you move into a push-up, you’re really accelerating those benefits. Again, a push-up from your knees is beneficial. Or, try supporting yourself with your hands on a sturdy coffee table. Altering your starting position will work different muscles. There’s always a modification if you can’t do the full position like plank, or the more advanced plank balance.

Sit ups or crunches will really work your core. If you don’t like the traditional crunch, there are plenty of other core exercises that don’t use equipment.

If you want to invest just a little

But if you want to invest a little, a resistance band is a great way to start. If you get one that looks like a big rubber band, try putting it around your shins and doing side-steps, making sure that you’re stretching your band as you step. Or around your thighs while you’re lying on your side and doing the clam-shell exercise. For your arms, hold the band and stretch your arms out laterally to work your shoulders. Try sitting and placing the band under your foot, holding the other end. Place your elbow on your thigh and raise your hand – you’re working your biceps!

No matter how you choose to start, working on strength training for your health will help you live a richer and more active life. Be conscious of your form while you’re performing the exercises. Make sure to keep your core tight at all times to keep your back healthy.

Strength training for your health is good at any age

“Regardless of your age, weightlifting allows the muscles to grow and become stronger,” said Michael Reinke, an Advocate Aurora Health athletic trainer. “Weightlifting also improves bone density and improves heart health, all while decreasing the risk of injury during activity.” Body weight strength training is the easiest way to start. Try strength training for your health! It’s easy and beneficial.

Why start a fitness program?

Last week I was completely winded after a practice agility run with my dog. I was huffing and puffing and thought to myself, “If I want to do more of this (which I do), then I’ve got to figure out a way to build my endurance and stamina.”

Do you huff and puff on the stairs?

Now, you may not want to run agility with your dog. But you may want to get fit for any number of other reasons. Do you have to pause on the stairs? Or do you look for a parking spot closer to a store’s entrance? You may wish you were in better shape, but thought it was impossible to succeed because your metabolism just isn’t what it used to be. So to start a fitness program would be futile.

The truth about your metabolism, even after “a certain age”

According to Dr. Nick Pryomski of the Advocate Aurora group, that’s nonsense. Your metabolism is the same as it always was. But you may find it more difficult to find the motivation to get out of your chair and do something about it. Dr. Pryomski says, “Metabolism doesn’t necessarily slow as you age. It only does if you are less active.” Likewise, “slender people don’t necessarily have a higher metabolism than larger people.” That’s good news for most of us.

So, it is scientifically possible to get fit at any age. But you may be completely overwhelmed by the prospect of losing weight or starting an exercise program. 

Make your reason a no-brainer

Why start a fitness program? I started a running program for my dog.
Why start a fitness program? I started for my dog…

The secret? Be really honest with yourself. Know why you want to get in shape. If your reason is just to look good or age gracefully, that’s probably not good enough. But, if you want to be able to play with the grandkids as much as they want to? If you want to go for walks in the park (when the weather improves), or travel and be able to see the sights you’ve always wanted to see, then you’ve got a pretty good reason to start a new healthy aging program. 

I certainly would not be pushing myself on the treadmill, up to 6 miles per hour so far, so that I have a prayer of directing my off-leash dog on an agility course, if I didn’t want to succeed in the sport. 

Start small

The way to start your new program is small. Make small changes to your routine. Like walking for 2 minutes after breakfast. Get used to those little changes first before you make bigger changes. Then you can start to determine the bigger changes you need to make. 

If you want to start a new eating plan with the goal of losing weight, same thing: start making small changes. Perhaps cut down on your starch and dessert portions. Don’t eliminate them – you know that I’m a believer in not depriving yourself! – just make those portions smaller for now.

Small goals lead to big results

No matter if you’re starting an exercise or an eating program, set goals for yourself. (See “Set goals – big and little.”) First set short-term goals – something for the next two weeks or a month, perhaps. Those goals should be doable but challenging. For example, if you start with walking 2 minutes a day, work up to a half hour in the next 2 weeks. Or lose 4 pounds in the next 4. And when you reach those goals, be sure to reward yourself with something that’s meaningful to you. Download that book you’ve wanted to read.

If you need an accountability partner to keep you “honest,” enlist a friend. I started out by scheduling my workouts on my calendar – my “date” with myself. You may find a step tracker a useful tool for motivation.

The key is to never give up. If your reason to get healthy is important enough, you’ll find the motivation and the tools to help you.