Strategies in acute anxiety situations

Fear is learned and it is changeable!

Fear is the emotion that has a particularly strong influence on our actions and wellbeing. It literally freezes us and paralyzes us. Fear is the physical indication of an actual or suspected danger. The sympathetic nervous system is overactive and all physiological and psychological processes in the body go crazy.

Important to know:

We cognitively create the feeling in the emotion by our evaluation of a situation!

According to Michaela Brohm-Brady, this has already been scientifically proven. With normal fear, we become more alert and active, but if it gets out of control, it robs us of the air we need to breathe and makes us unable to react and act. We can also do something about this, both preventively and in acute situations.

Just as we have “learned” a fear, we can also unlearn it again or set counter-impulses, e.g. with a positive target image, positive visualizations or constructive thoughts.

If the fear arises e.g. primarily from worrying thoughts, try it with the thought stop, the shift or zoom technique. In a modified form, you can also use these methods if the anxiety arises via images. You can directly support the stopping of an anxiety or panic attack with the help of scents.

Find your method from the collection and practice it regularly. The more often you do the exercises, the greater and faster you will see success.

Show yourself a stop sign internally to break the downward spiral of negative thoughts that tend to end quite quickly in painted horror scenarios. You may have to repeat the stop sign 2-3 times until it works. Then do a fact check to get a more realistic view of the current situation.

The Zoom technique, developed by anxiety expert Klaus Bernhardt, can be explained very well using a concrete example:

Do you know this?

You get anxious just thinking about the fact that you have an exam next week. Or you have a course coming up that you have to hold online, and you don't know whether the technology will work at all, and you don't know how many students will take part or actively participate.

What happens in your head?

Does an image appear in your head in a flash or does an inner dialogue start about what could go wrong? For example, if you see yourself standing in front of your audience or your examiner with a red head, nausea, a lump in your throat, and beads of sweat on your forehead, you are planning a fearful image at that moment.

What is the consequence?

You internally assume that you will have to go through this unpleasant situation again during the exam or during the course. The more often you think the worrying thoughts or “create” the fearful images in your mind, the more a thought and belief pattern becomes solidified. Often we literally torture ourselves through such fearful situations. Or we get sick to avoid them. But we can't always get sick. The fact that we always feel bad when holding lectures or exams cannot be the solution either. In the long run, this is detrimental to our emotional, mental and physical health.

What can you do?

1) Create a positive counter-image in which you successfully pass your exam or hold your event with ease and a sense of wellbeing.

2. See yourself walking off the stage with pride and the satisfaction of receiving feedback and, if applicable, applause for your performance.

3. Afterwards, imagine your fear image in detail. As soon as it appears in your mind's eye, concentrate on how the image quickly becomes smaller and smaller. Smaller and smaller until it is finally zoomed out to the point where you only recognize it as a tiny dot. At that moment, the previously designed positive target image is supposed to pop out of that tiny dot in a flash.

What happens?

In this way you create a snapshot of your perfect future. Comparable to a pop-up window on the computer, which suddenly pops up and remains large, colorful and friendly in front of your inner eye. Repeat this process several times until, when you return to the fear image, you can no longer perceive it correctly at all. Repeat this process several times until, when you return to the fear image, you can no longer perceive it properly at all, until only something blurred shrinks to the tiny point from which the positive target image automatically emerges.

You can also use the sliding technique by Klaus Bernhardt as another emergency technique in acute anxiety situations.

It is suitable if your fears are activated visually by pictures or auditorily by an inner dialogue.

What is to be done?

1. Think of a picture of the fear that you can visualize well. Pay attention to which side in your mind the image appears.

2. now try to move this clearly negative image to the other, positive side of your head.

3. do the exercise right now before you continue reading. You can't do anything wrong.

What did you notice about yourself during the exercise?

Often the image gets stuck in the middle, as if it refuses to move to the other side. This is not surprising, because the brain has never learned to visualize negative images on the other side. If you succeeded in moving the image, you noticed that the image had to change by itself in order to be moved. So the negative image has to transform, at least become neutral or even better positive, in order to be perceived on the other side at all.

Hang in there!

In the beginning, the negative image on the positive side will only disappear. With time and a little practice you will notice that your brain will soon start to create more and more positive images on the positive side by itself. Look forward to this great moment when you notice this in yourself.

We often engage in black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing perspectives, instead of recognizing that there are differences and gradations in terms of fears, abilities, and levels of performance—both good and bad. Cognitive behavioral therapy, particularly advocated by figures like Aron T. Beck, is based on this understanding.

Many individuals with perfectionistic tendencies exhibit this black-and-white thinking in a highly pronounced manner. They firmly believe that they must execute their profession with absolute flawlessness. If they fail to do so, they perceive it as a complete failure. However, there exist numerous degrees between perfection and failure. How can these gradations be identified?

One potential solution could involve adopting a more forgiving attitude toward oneself. Let's examine this with an example:

All – or – nothing thinking:

“If I don't do well on the exam, I don't need to take it in the first place.”

Indulgent approach:

“I'll go to the exam and see what I can deliver.”


“I will do my best, this is enough.”

Attention: In anxiety-provoking situations, we tend to make very high demands on ourselves. Be attentive when you hear the following statements from yourself: “never”, “always”, “have to”, “I can't”, “I am incapable”.

These support all-or-nothing thinking and reinforce resistance. Replace the statements when possible. So “never” can become “sometimes” and “always” can become “often.” The statement “I can't” can be replaced with “I find it difficult” or “it is difficult for me.”