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How to Overcome Chronic Fear and Anxiety

If you're finding it difficult to overcome the tendency to experience fear and anxiety about a health condition or any other aspect of your life, I hope that you realize that you're not alone. Fear and anxiety are emotions that are common to every person's journey, but especially for those who are living with a long-standing health challenge.

A while back, a fellow in his late 40's who I had been working with shared the following thoughts with me:

"I have the hardest time not getting anxious or depressed about my health condition. I know that having so much anxiety about my situation is only worsening it, but I can't seem to help this.

"If you were in my situation, what would you do? How would you think? How do I overcome the fear that I have that my situation will progress to the worst possible scenario?"

To this person and others who feel this way, I would say that I hope that you're encouraged in knowing that you recognize that chronic anxiety and fear are hurting your health. I also hope that you understand how significant it is that you are earnestly looking to experience peace of mind; there are many folks in this world who are too deeply entrenched in chronic fear and anxiety to be able to recognize how harmful these emotions are to their health, and these people may not have the wherewithal at the present time to search for a way out.

Overcoming chronic fear and anxiety requires an understanding of where these emotions come from. Ultimately, these emotions come from your central nervous system, as fear and anxiety are memories that are storied in specific regions in your brain. The three most prominent such regions are:

  • Your cerebellum
  • Your basal ganglia
  • Your amygdalae (bulbs that hang off the ends of your medial temporal lobes)

The fear and anxiety-related memories that you have stored in these parts of your brain can be triggered by any number of stimuli in your everyday life to produce fear and anxiety in the present moment.

Your body is designed to store and recall emotional memories in this fashion to keep you alive. For example, to have the stimulus of seeing a big fire in your home trigger your emotional memory of fear (stored in your amygdalae) is a good thing, as your fear prompts you to take quick action to preserve your life.

The problem with chronic fear and anxiety that are triggered by stimuli that do not present acute danger to your life is that these emotions sap your resources, causing your self-healing and preserving mechanisms to be ineffficient. So the longer you experience chronic fear and anxiety, the worse your overall health becomes.

My personal belief is that overcoming unhelpful fear and anxiety requires that you create memories that can modify or overpower the memories in your central nervous system that are responsible for these harmful emotions. But this is no easy task, as your current memories are deeply established electrical and chemical connections that exist between the trillions of interactive surfaces that exist between the billions of nerve cells that make up your brain.

To give you a clear idea of the depth of complexity we are talking about, please consider the following data:

  • The average personal computer has approximately 100 billion bytes (100 GB)

  • The print collection of the Library of Congress in the United States is composed of approximately 32 trillion bytes

  • Your brain contains up to 1,000 trillion synapses

An article on memory in the November 2007 issue of the National Geographic puts it like this:

"A memory is a stored pattern of connections formed by the brain's neurons, or nerve cells.

"A chemical neurotransmitter released by one neuron signals another.

"Each point of connection is called a synapse, and the average adult brain holds trillions."

To create health-promoting memories that are powerful enough to free you from a chronic state of fear and anxiety requires that you work hard at being mindful of the thoughts that you choose on a moment-to-moment basis because the thoughts that you choose are what shape your beliefs and the new memories that are being formed in your brain.

If you are skeptical of how much power you have to overcome chronic fear and anxiety via the thoughts that you choose and the beliefs that you adopt, please consider the remarkable story of Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes.

Before Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier, people felt that it was not physically possible for a human being to run a mile in under 4 minutes.

During his training sessions, Roger repeatedly visualized himself running a mile in under 4 minutes. He did this so often that he got to a point where there were moments when he felt that he had already done it – his imagination had crossed the border into his perception of reality. Put another way, he created enormously powerful emotional memories of his desired goal.

Ultimately, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile barrier because he believed that it was possible.

The most fascinating part of Roger Bannister's story is that after he broke the 4-minute barrier, it was broken 26 times the following year. And as track and field enthusiasts know, it has been broken thousands of times since.

In retrospect, we can see that when Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier, he also broke the collective belief that human beings couldn't run a mile in under 4 minutes. When others realized that it was possible, they too began to believe they could do it, which led to them manifesting their beliefs.

When I first learned of Roger Bannister's story, I had just graduated from chiropractic school at 23 years of age and had moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area. While I had confidence in my abilities and hope for a meaningful future, I was extremely insecure about my ability to make a living and find someone to start a family with because of a skin condition called vitiligo that I developed when I was 19. At that time, I strongly felt that my unusual physical appearance would make it difficult for me to make a living and find a life partner.

Roger Bannister's story inspired me to begin the practice of spending quality time each day visualizing the life I envisioned, and vividly imagining that my goals had already been attained. I thought about these things throughout the day as I worked, and I made it a point to stop by a place called the Berkeley Marina each evening on my way home from work to sit by the San Francisco Bay, look out at the Golden Gate Bridge, and let the sunset and rolling waves be my companions while I mindfully allowed my nervous system to embrace the vision that I had for my life.

During the six months that I devoted myself to this practice of mindfully choosing my thoughts, I developed a foundation of emotional strength and understanding that allowed me to make significant progress in overcoming anxiety that I had about my physical appearance.

To this day, I take every opportunity possible to go within and use my thoughts to remind my nervous system and spirit of my intention to have a health-enhancing impact on those I encounter. Even on days when I can only do this for a few minutes while falling asleep, I derive great peace of mind from this practice.

If you're interested in practicing visualization and the process of mindfully choosing thoughts to overcome emotional obstacles that are hurting your quality of life, I encourage you to begin slowly, to do just a bit each day, and to remember that lasting results often don't come quickly. Remember: the goal is to create powerful memories within your nervous system that can overpower or perhaps replace existing memories that are the source of your current fears and anxiety. Based on my experiences, I strongly believe that creating such helpful memories takes a lot of repetition. But each time you consciously visualize what you want, you are etching synaptic pathways in your emotional memory centers that can one day become prominent enough to allow you to experience peace of mind on a consistent basis.

For comprehensive help on how to use guided imagery and visualization to improve your health, I highly recommend the following resource: Guided Imagery for Self-Healing - this is the book that introduced me to the power that our thoughts have to influence every aspect of our lives.


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Thank you for posting such a beautiful solution to such a scary part of experiencing life. I also had a severe episode of fear, anxiety, heart palpitations, and fear of leaving the house. I did not take drugs to mask the symptoms; however, I did the similar things that you prescribed above and I was cured.

Living with fear, anxiety, heart palpitations and fear is no way to live. We should all be living with peace, happiness, courage, joy and good health. I knew in my heart how I wanted to live; but somehow the anxiety and fear crept in and took me over. At my worst symptoms, I would feel that this was going to be my last bit of life as the fear and anxiety took over.

It led into a vicious cycle of all the symptoms of feeling so uncomfortable and fearful to just try to live and to do my everyday errands, never go to work and perform as though I was alright.

So what brings on all these symptoms. I use to think I was sick and that there was nothing to do about them except to accept them as the norm. I would even hold my breath as I waited for the next symptom to appear. And guess what? Just holding my breath to listen and anticipate the next symptom always made way for the symptom to occur. My heart raced, it skipped beats, I breathed too fast in fear, I couldn't walk I straight line because the floor would seize up in front of me. I would have a feeling of panic that I had to get home right away, right away, or else that would be it, I would be a gonner.

That's no way to live. It was torture. I wanted to be well and to live and be happy. I wanted to go places and enjoy life.

So how did I cure myself? And cure myself naturally without any drugs or meds. Ok, I tell you.

This is what I did:

I started training my mind to think only good thoughts, I figured my brain was like a computer and whatever I thought my body would do it. I started repeating to myself : "I am happy, healthy, peaceful and and calm" If another thought that was negative would crept into my head, I would immediately say the word "cancel" and just like giving a computer an instruction I would cancel the negative thought and replace it immediately with the positive thought.

It takes time to retrain the mind to think correctly. And the symptoms will not go away right away. It takes time for the new thought process to kick in.

Also, when the worst of the symptoms would happen, I would learn to not fight them or react to them; instead I would let them try to do their worst to me and I would say to myself, I do not care what you do to me. I think after a while I took the power of fear away from itself and peace became there instead.

Also, it is important I think to keep away from any job that is occupying your time and energy when it is a job that you cannot stand to do. I think it is of major importance to do a job that you love or at least like. Staying in any situation in your life that is not agreeing with your emotional health, means that you need to change your situation and be at a place that you like.

I think we were all meant to live happy and to be joyful and peaceful. I also believe that many people who suffer from fear, anxiety and panic are extremely sensitive people who have a lot of love in them and want to give out alot of that love to the world.

Being creative is also important to be healthy and happy I believe. We all need to express ourselves creatively as an outlet.

Don't forget to exercise as well. I started running and worked up to running a mile every two to three days. I believe exercise and being in a nature setting is crucial to becoming and staying well. Be near the trees, flowers, rocks, sky, ocean, mountains whenever you can. Listen to the sounds of nature and feel the sunrays, or rain drops when they are there to share with you.

Remember to love and to say "I love you" to whomever you love. Love in itself is a great healer. You can even love your pets because they have alot of love to give back.

I believe existence meant for us to be loving and courageous and not to be fearful.

I hope this will help anyone who suffers the way I did. I believe you can be well and will be well. The wellness is just on the other side of a very thin veil that you think you can never get past. But I learned that you can get past it, wellness is closer than you think. Never give up.

Good Luck!!

Thanks for a wonderful story, im quite sure many people will find it helpful and its a big source of inspiration. I enjoed ur article greatly. TY

I'd loved what he said it's brilliant it gives hope

Your tips just inspired me to think that "till I can survive and live a happy and peacefull life"!!! I just need to change my Thoughts !!!! I will definitly overcome all these physical symptoms (it would be a huge list and some symptoms I have are unique as well, so I am not stating all here)and will find Peace of Mind for remaining life time. Thanks....!!! The only thing I disagreed that I will bring in the "liking of my Job" as well, because Disliking of my Job and frequent Changing of my Job have ruin my career in a big way already.

I do agree that the Nature and Physical excercise can bring in a big change in my life. I am determined to do Breathing Practice (Ramdev's yoga) and Swiming regularly.

In brief, I am an anxiety sufferer perhaps from childhood and been under Psyciatric Treatment for last 14 years time. I have given off my Anxiety and Depression Medicines and setting a desire in my mind not to have it anytime in my lifetime. I eventually will turn into my promise.

I'm glad I read your response. A lot people do not understand the extent that anxiety can do to you. I developed major non-diabetic hypoglycemia because my adrenal glands were working overtime, because of how terrible my anxiety had gotten. I just ignored it for 2 years, and thought I was fine... but then when a stressor came in my life (my phobia of thunderstorms) it just got worse and worse. Now I am recovering from this, and I am trying to get my body to function the way it did before. I was breathing so much with my upper chest, rather than the natural way (through the diaphram). This was causing me to hyperventilate at certain times, so I figured I would have to do something about it (I'm only 14 by the way, and it's tough to deal with this on my own).

I started to go to biofeedback sessions after a therapist recommended me to go there. The lady monitors my heart rate, adrenaline levels, head tension, and hand temperature. She has me do breathing exercises, and other sorts of relaxing exercises to release tension in the body, and promote blood flow, as well as health. It is really helping me, and I am coming along well.

Evelyn, thank you so much for writing this thoughtful and helpful note. I am definitely going to give your methods a shot.

Thanks Evelyn for sharing such a helpful experience of yr life . I too am going through the same problem as yours , hope to recover soon by following your foot steps & rules

Dr Kim,

I'm always looking for helpful cutting edge information to pass on to people - such as your website. So in that spirit I offer this:

I have found and been successfully using on myself for a couple of years a tool within the field of energy medicine called EFT-Emotional Freedom Techniques -also referred to as psychological acupuncture - that works quickly to release fear and anxiety. EFT has been expanding in the potential of what it does and is increasingly being used for so many things - from allergies to trauma and PTSD, to chronic physical conditions - by more and more people world wide - by therapists, doctors, teachers, coaches, sports therapists, and as a self-help tool. I've even read of some acupuncturists who have incorporated it into their practices. It's easy to learn. It was developed by Gary Craig. You can Google him for website. (Didn't know if you allowed websites in comments.) There's a video that explains EFT, and a free manual download.

EFT is a system of tapping with fingers on face and parts of body at meridian intersections. It calms down the amygdala and the fear centers - that disruption in the energy system caused by the stored memory/reaction/meaning. It's also been used to release pain. And it works FAST! A few weeks ago I was feeling such anxiety while driving - heart palpations, hyper energy, feeling like I was jumping out of my skin - within a few minutes of tapping, I felt myself calming down. For me - I get a signal, I start yawning when the energy shifts and is moving. I was yawning and yawning.

I've done affirmations for years. It takes lots and lots of repetitions to retrain the brain. EFT works so much faster than affirmations alone because the tapping neutralizes and dissolves the emotional charge in the nervous system and any "Yeah, buts" - the subconscious resistance to the postives you are saying - for example, your conscious mind is saying" I feel calm" but your subconscious is saying "no I don't". And you don't have to believe that it works.

It usually only takes a minute or so to do. Once you get into the habit of using it, your body is retrained and it works faster for you. I was amazed at how successful I've become at using it. Gary Craig has said to try it on everything. There is new information about changes in EEGs after using EFT and also unclumping of blood platelets.

Hope this is helpful.

Thank you for all that you share with us.

I was so happy to read your response to Ben's article on anxieties and fears. So often I feel a missing link is the foundations of EFT and it's succinct application. I have advanced with this method and know the resulting peace to be lasting. As John Lennon might have said, Give EFT a Chance.......

If I am not mistaken, medical students in Washington D.C. are learning EFT. Great news!

Thank you for this article (and for the comment above). It has renewed my belief in the power of visualization. For me it takes a while to come up with a visualization of what I want, I need to feel it in my heart, thoughts are so focused on the pain or anxiety I'm experiencing that it's a challenge to visualize and feel what I actually want. I've found that dreaming helps me to experience what I want and I trust that my dreams will give me the sensations to hold on to so I can visualize things when I meditate. I've started to do that myself in order to create the kind of coaching practice I want and perhaps a life partner, too. And, I know that the visions will manifest themselves.

The mind is pilable and with consistency, it can be shifted. As a Fearless Living Life Coach, I am trained to support people in shifting their thinking by WRITING DOWN gratitudes and self-acknowledgements. Because I have been doing this myself for a few years, I know that writing these things out daily creates drops in the bucket and those drops become an ocean and thinking shifts. You begin to see everything differently, more positively and when you naturally are able to do that, your future experiences shift as well.

Again, thanks for the reminder about the power we all possess to change our circumstances.

I have found diet to have large effect on anxiety. I avoid sugars, anything caffine, bad fats, and try to stay away from processed foods. I try to drink enough water to get rid of the toxins. I also meditate but some people can't so deep breathing is another way.

Obviously there is some past events that effects it also for most people so learning to love, forgive, think positive thoughts, being non judgemental, gratitude. Avoiding tv, movies and rock music usually helps. Movies are the worst I think because watching it you will experience ups and downs more than in the real world.

I also transcended fear and anxiety by changing my thoughts. I started by repeating to myself the following phrase : "I am happy, healthy, peaceful and calm". In the beginning the fear and anxiety would still appear; and I decided to just let it do its worst to me. I stopped caring and reacting to the fear and anxiety and gradually it started to go away. I took its power away when I stopped reacting to it and just allowed it to pass over me. It never did it's worst that you always think it will. Once you take its power away and retrain your brain to only, only think positive thoughts, you begin to heal.
However, I also learned to use the extra energy that might be used by fear and anxiety to exercise instead. Because your energy needs to be used in a positive way also.

hi there

any updates about the effects of your affirmations until now?

Dr. Kim your artical is wonderful, touching and inspiring. I cant thank you enough for writing this, I will put it into practice right away.

This article is very helpful and practical. Thank you so much for your website and for your great life advice! I had to laugh to myself because I was listening to classical music while I read it, so I believe I am on my way to peace of mind and anxiety-free living:)

Please check out this. >>>>
Awesome technique. I wish I had started practice much earlier.

Just wanted to say that I found the comments as valuable as the article; thanks very much for your experiences and pointers, everyone!

Does this CD have sounds of thunder? I'm looking for rain sounds without thunder to play while veterans with PTSD receive a multi-modality program of massage, acupuncture, etc. because thunder can jar and trigger stress symptoms for hyper-vigilant, hyper-reactive veterans.

I think feedback is really important and id like to say i think the world is a better place for having you in it, thank you for a fabulous article! Understanding how anxiety and fear physically work was extremly helpful to me and then being given tools on top of that information is just a perfect learning and understanding tool that makes so much sense anx has given me hope this morning. Thank you so very very much, i am deeply grateful xo