Fear - Taming The Beast
You never fully recover from anxiety. You just manage it better every time that it shows up. Even if you meditate and exercise every day, confront your fears, and stay positive, chances are that if you're pre-disposed to anxiety - that you'll experience it again at some point throughout your life. That's not meant to discourage you. Knowing this gives you an incentive to do everything that you can NOW to learn how to manage anxiety better so that it doesn't control your life. Once you open up to fear and anxiety, you break free from the shackles it puts on you.
So you can experience a fear response every now and again but still be a total chiller when you react to it.
You might have heard my story about how I recovered from anxiety. I consider myself as recovered as anyone can ever be, but the truth is that I can't hide from my triggers. Occasionally I will be triggered by the way my life is unfolding and I won't be able to stop it.
My two main anxiety triggers are being sick (or caring for a sick child) and being alone (even moreso if I'm unwell.) This week my husband was away for work and I felt that anxiety taking hold. This time last year my husband went away for an annual conference, and my daughter got really sick. I spent the entire 4 days on an anxiety bender feeling terrified that I was going to get it too. I was completely alone and scared out of my brain.
Thankfully I didn't get sick that time, or this time... but it didn't stop me being struck by fear for much of his trip away. About an hour after my husband left for the airport, my daughter complained of a sore tummy. Cue, sheer panic. That morning I was due to meet up with a friend for a playdate over an hour away, so as the clock ticked down, my fear-mind went into overdrive imagining all the possible scenarios and I interrogated my daughter about her symptoms.
I was stressed and anxious, something I hadn't felt for such a long time. I started to cry.
I reminded myself that recovery from anxiety didn't always equal an absence of anxiety.
Our logical minds say that we shouldn't have fears that are irrational or unlikely to occur. We tell ourselves that we're silly for having them, that we should be ashamed of them. I've seen people with fears around having a heart attack, being in a plane crash, about bridges collapsing or about their child dying. These are all things that would definitely elicit a fear response, but they are not really all that likely to occur. Most of the time, life could pass by without any of these things even coming close to happening.
My fear is also very unlikely to manifest just because I'm on my own for a few days, but it's not a simple decision for me to simply switch off my fearful thoughts or my anxiety response. I can try to apply logic or statistics to the situation, but the fear still exists within me regardless of how likely the event is to unfold. This is why we need to approach anxiety and fear gently and resist the urge to say to ourselves "this is unlikely, therefore I shouldn't have this fear."
Consider a fear that is more likely to occur, such as seeing your extended family at Christmas time. That might bring up fear for some people and it's fairly likely to happen. Just because this fear is attributed to something that is likely to occur, doesn't make it more worthy or real than your irrational fears. Your experience of fear and anxiety is the same regardless of what your triggers are.
So, I brought in all of my ACT and mindfulness resources and I weighed up the situation. I really wanted to make it to this playdate, but I was willing to forgo it if my daughter ended up being unwell - which wasn't yet determined, so I worked through the 4 A's.
This process is useful for any strong, unhelpful feeling, particularly anxiety and stress.
Honour what you're feeling. Don't try to justify it or fight with yourself about why you shouldn't feel that way. Simply acknowledge to yourself, "I am experiencing anxiety right now." or "I notice stress in my body."
We've grown accustomed to always pushing away or trying to hide from anything that scares us, but it's impossible to remove or run away from anything that resides within you. The alternative is to just let it be there. I know that this is scary as hell, but when you accept what you're experiencing to allow yourself the freedom to stop fighting with it.
This is the step where you decide what you're going to do, but first you need to connect with your values. Look within and ask yourself what truly matters in this situation. I remembered that catching up with friends is something I value highly and I realised that it was worth going ahead with my plans even if I felt scared, and even if my fear might manifest (which it didn't.)
The final step is about committing to doing the best thing for yourself, even if it's hard, different or scary. I often find that an affirmation or mantra helps you to stay on course and remember what's important. Here are some that could be helpful for you:
- Anxiety is present and that's okay.
- I am willing to do (values-guided-action) regardless of anxiety or fear.
- I do what is best, not what is easy.
So I got on with life, in the presence of fear. I prepared myself to deal with any potential consequences, of which there happened to be none, and I acknowledged and accepted every feeling and thought within me.
Taming the beast is rarely easy. It takes courage to do the best thing for yourself, but every time you do, you affirm your worth and you slay another gatekeeper at the door to freedom.