People typically want to avoid their fear and anxiety, they feel safe and yet confining at the same time. The struggle we have in relationship to our anxiety can leave us feeling trapped by the thoughts, feelings, and physical ailments that walk hand in hand with fear.
Do any of these fears resonate with you:
Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of being a bad parent. Fear of missing out. Fear of intimacy. Fear of commitment. Fear of following your dreams. Fear of slowing down. Fear of uncomfortable emotions. Fear of rejection. Fear of being alone. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being misunderstood. Fear of being seen. Fear of not having enough money. Fear of leaving a toxic work environment. Fear of leaving a toxic relationship. Fear of setting boundaries. Fear of being truly authentic.
Our fears keep us stuck in the swamp of frustration, stress, and anxiety. Some people cope by using drugs and alcohol while others may turn to disordered eating or over-exercise. Others stay busy, working long days to avoid thinking about the fear that continues to follow them. Then there are those paralyzed by the fear, feeling powerless in the swamp, turning to ritualistic behaviors that somehow keep all the fears in place no matter how irrational they seem, in order to avoid the panic that rises up unexpectedly. These are all ways to avoid fear, and they keep us stuck in one place.
So how do we begin to move through the fear swamp that is thick with mud, dark so we can’t see the bottom, and physically exhausting? Fear may be one part of our experience, but it is not who we are. When we deny our own fear, the swamp grows, and it takes us longer to find our way out. Once we acknowledge that fear is present, we can see our relationship with it and begin to confront our anxiety around it. As we begin to embrace the relationship, we can begin our journey with fear, we can talk to it, challenge it, confront it, have compassion for it, understand it, grieve it, and eventually quiet it down.
For many people, anxiety is the result of a sensitive alarm system. The part of our brain that activates to stay alive when threatened, the amygdala, lights up to tell us there is danger when, in fact, no danger is present. The amygdala sends the message of danger to the hypothalamus, activating adrenaline (or epinephrine for the smarties reading this) in order for us to go into fight, flight or freeze mode to stay safe. It’s like how a sensitive smoke detector goes off when you start cooking, but there isn’t a fire at all. It puts a huge strain on the adrenal and pituitary glands, as well as cortisol, which increases in the second phase of the stress response. All this puts a strain on our bodies and can cause long-term health problems because most of the time we don’t even know this is happening! How messed up is that?!
Okay, hold on – don’t panic! There are things we can do to manage our fear and anxiety. There is no easy fix, and it takes time and practice. Our lack of respect or understanding of fear and anxiety serves to give them power over us instead of us taking the steps we need every day to embrace our relationship to them. Our anxiety has the potential to move us in some pretty powerful and amazing directions if we let it guide us in a productive way.
Movement and physical activity get us connected to our physical body and the breath (our life force!). Deep breathing is a powerful tool in countering a stress response. So get out there and move your strong, amazing body.
Mindfulness seems to be all we hear about these days, but that is because it is so important to the mind/body connection. By focusing on the present without judgement, we stop fear in its tracks because we aren’t focused on future outcomes. This can be done in many ways, including taking a walk and focusing on the environment around you, downloading an app that can guide you as you work toward self-directed mindfulness, or even joining an improvisation class where you are connecting to others while staying present in the playfulness.
Exposure to our fear helps take the power away, as long as it is safe to do so. Having been in a few car accidents in my day, I was terrified to drive after each one. I knew the only way to begin conquering that fear was to keep driving. Did I start with a cross-country trip? Heck no! I started with short distances, talking to myself kindly along the way.
Relaxation and grounding can be powerful tools in managing stress. They don’t cost a thing and will allow your cortisol levels to chill out. It may take some trial and error to figure out what works for you, but the result will be incredibly beneficial in the long term.
Talking it out with a friend can help you to let go of the fear that gets you stuck because the brain wants to replay the thoughts over and over. So call a friend, a family member or a counselor to release the anxiety that’s holding you back.
Talking directly to the anxiety can empower you to take back control. This allows a separation in the mind from anxiety being a part of your identity, rather than it being a problem that needs to be challenged.
As we navigate the relationship we have with fear, anxiety and stress, patience and self-compassion are friends we must turn to for support. Avoidance was only a friend in disguise. There are no short cuts. As Robert Frost once said, “The only way out is through.”
Are you ready to start exploring your relationship with anxiety? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me today.
Please note that this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or mental health professional.