Confidence is not a social flair that some have and others lack. It is the threshold in everyone where you cross over from believing you can’t cope, to knowing you can. You can’t happily stand up and give a wedding speech to hundreds of guests if you are thinking of all the ways you could muff it. But when you can draw on a range of previous experience, when you have something you want to say, and when you are having fun with friends, you see the situation as an opportunity, not an ordeal.

Anxiety and confidence work like a see-saw: as one goes up, the other goes down. When you are confident, you can meet difficulties with resilience, even with gusto. But as soon as any threat seems greater than your ability to deal with it, your anxiety increases and your self-esteem plummets.

Whenever you find yourself feeling helpless to do anything about a bad situation – such as ill health, declining sight or hearing, not having enough money, interpersonal conflict or frustration at work – up goes your anxiety, down goes your confidence.

How can you tip the balance the other way? You can reduce the seeming enormity of the problem; and you can increase your conviction that you can handle it.

Here are three ways to begin scaling down a problem from overwhelming to manageable:

  • Think of a problem as only a situation: difficult, painful or exhausting, perhaps, but not as catastrophic, shameful or beyond redemption as you may feel it is. Stay with it, experience it a little.
  • Acknowledge and put a name to the emotions you are feeling – fear, regret, rage – and let them surge around and eventually away, as if you were watching an extreme weather event from somewhere safe inside.
  • Focus on the facts. Apart from what is not ok, what remains ok?

Here are three immediate ways to scale up your ability to cope:

  • Take five minutes to do the ‘Five Things’ exercise. What five things do you see? What five sounds can you hear? What five sensations do you notice in your body? Come to your senses! It is much easier to relax and see things in perspective when you first pay full attention to here and now.
  • Encourage yourself. Think: ‘I can handle this.’ At the very least: ‘I am willing to try.’
  • Do one thing right away that is better than nothing. Phone a friend, have a cup of tea, clear out a cupboard. Every small decision you make empowers you.

Your mind has an inexhaustible capacity to learn, change and see things differently. Focus on what you can rather than on what you think you can’t, and your brain will steer in that direction until ‘Yes, I can’ becomes a simple statement of fact.

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