Psychologists’ Tips: Don’t Let Fear Take Control!

Our psychologists have tips and advice about how physical activity can help you constructively cope with feelings of fear, anxiety, and worry.

Cartoon "Als meine Angst Angst vor mir bekam." Credit: Barbara Pöcheim
Cartoon "Als meine Angst Angst vor mir bekam." Credit: Barbara Pöcheim

The last two articles in this series focused on coping with your concerns and worries as well as addressing anxious feelings and fearful thoughts. The third article in this series will focus on behavioral and physical options to help minimize your fears and anxiety.

1. Give yourself permission to shift your focus from time to time

While it is mentally healthy and often necessary to address any fearful thoughts you may have, it is equally important to not constantly focus and dwell on these thoughts. It is just as important time and again to consciously focus on other things. You may find the required reading for your classes exciting enough to distract you from feeling worried or anxious. You could also try doing other small activities that demand your attention, thus distracting you from worrying and feeling afraid.

Our Tip: Small exercises that demand total concentration can distract us from worrying and may even be fun.

Have you ever tried to learn how to juggle? Can you stand tiptoe on one leg on with your eyes closed or make a circle in the air with one hand and tap with the other? Have you ever tried to imitate the drummer in your favorite band? You could also find short computer games that require your full attention? When did you last try a handstand? Can you spell the words "attention hyperactivity symptom" in reverse your head?

Try something new and perhaps something that makes you glad no one can see you at that particular moment.

2. Reduce stress by sleeping, doing relaxation exercises, and exercising

Fear and stress can activate our vegetative nervous system, releasing adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol. This means over a short period, we can be physically active and high-performing, but over time, the strain can result in exhaustion, digestive problems, tension, a weakened immune system and libido, and other physical issues. Regular physical activity and exercise, a good night’s sleep, and relaxation exercises can help counteract the stress.

Our Tip: Even just twenty minutes of exercise a day can significantly reduce your stress hormone levels

It is more important than ever before to incorporate some physical activity into your everyday schedule, especially when we spend the majority of the day at home. In addition to running, cycling or inline skating on a regular basis, the small activities you can do in between can also help you recharge. You can, for example, take the stairs instead of using the elevator, pace back and forth when talking on the phone, skip rope during study breaks, or take the long route when going to the grocery store. Regular exercise also helps you sleep better. When you sleep, cortisol breaks down quickly, regenerating the body, strengthening the immune system, as well as helping you to process the day’s experiences and entrench information in your mind.

Our Tip: Your bed should just be for sleeping

Especially at this time when our days are being spent mainly at home, our beds can sometimes become a multifunctional piece of furniture to sleep in, read, make love, but also play computer games, make phone calls, and study. This may be practical and comfortable but in the long run, it can negatively affect our sleep. Ideally, you should find a separate place for each activity. Find somewhere to study, find a place for recreational activities, and only keep one place to sleep in. But you can do even more to get a good night’s rest. You can positively influence your quality of sleep and your overall well-being by sticking to a regular schedule and going to bed at a certain time as well as waking up at a certain time, creating a sleep routine, making sure the room has been aired out well, and doing relaxation exercises before going to bed.

Targeted relaxation exercises such as autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobson, breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises, imagined trips, or meditation not only help you fall asleep, but also balance out the consequences of long-term stress. These exercises can help you to control anxiety in acute stress situations as well as allow you to mentally relax, thus counteracting anxiety and worry.   

Our Tip: Breathing exercises can help give you a much needed break from time to time

We can influence our vegetative nervous system by breathing slowly and consciously. Each conscious exhalation can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help the body recover, thus replenishing the body's own reserves. Counting how many times you inhale and exhale is a good method to help calm you down in between and distract you from fearful or worrying thoughts.

Breathing exercise: Stand upright, feet in a shoulder-wide stance, knees slightly bent, and rest your arms loosely alongside your body. Focus your attention on your breathing. Breathe in and out through your nose and observe the way your abdominal wall rises and falls each time you inhale and exhale. Take a few deep breaths and then more calming breaths.  Then try to exhale twice as long as inhaling by counting to 4 (or 3 or 5) when inhaling and 8 (or 6 or 10) when exhaling. Do this for five breaths. Do you feel calmer? Exhale in more relaxed way and return more fully focused to what you were doing.

Additional relaxation exercises, imagination exercises, and breathing exercises are available on our homepage at:, opens an external URL in a new window, online, and in our upcoming newsletter.

Additional psychological and psychotherapeutic support services

Sometimes it is hard to address your fears, worries, and anxieties alone and you need professional help and support services. In this case, you can contact the Student Psychological Counselling Service Linz by phone and online.

Call 0732-2468-7930 for appointments for counseling sessions by phone or online.

We are available Monday to Thursday from 7.30 am - 3.30 pm and Friday from 7.30 am - 1.30 pm.