Do you ever feel paralysing fear? The kind that stops you on your tracks and keeps you from experiencing the moment to the fullest? The sort that leaves you feeling anxious, stressed, and on edge?
Dealing with varying levels of angst is always complicated, but luckily, managing it is not impossible. Moreover, gaining a deeper understanding of fear can enable us to lean into it and transcend it in a way that allows us to become calm and ready to take insightful action.
One Friday night, recently, I was just sitting in bed when I felt a gripping sense of anxiety and fear. I rarely experience this type of unexplained anxiety, but here it was, and it nearly knocked me over. I had been comfortably watching a movie, and suddenly, without warning or reason, my body was in a state of panic. While this sensation would normally prompt me to take immediate action, something different happened. For some reason, I remained centered enough to observe my fear, including the thoughts and emotions that arrived with it.
We can all agree – staying stuck in fear is never helpful, but neither are the so-called (often unconscious) tactics us humans employ in a bid to defend ourselves from the uncomfortableness that stems from it.
What do we normally resort to?
You might be aware of the fact that, in case of emergency, our common responses are either to flee or to fight. There are instances in which these two reactions can be helpful, like fleeing from a wild animal chasing you. But, as it stands nowadays, a lot of our fear doesn’t stem from sources external to us, but from internal triggers, like fearful scenarios existent inside of our heads.
Thus, these responses tend to sabotage our progress. In today’s world, fleeing often means harmful behaviours, like drinking, over-spending and eating. Though these actions soothe us temporarily, they also undermine our efforts to let go and move on. What’s more, resorting to these habits usually goes hand in hand with us berating ourselves for falling prey, creating a never-ending cycle that is hard to break from.
Flighting is similarly unbeneficial to us in the long run. When we hide from our fear, denying its existence, we end up suppressing. This, in turn, ends up hurting us, as angst usually creeps up later on, usually in the form of an illness or in a chronic anxiety condition.
So, what to do instead?
Going back to that Friday night, I realized that there were a couple of factors that helped me tap into my fear instead of letting myself be completely paralized by it. In following these steps, I was able to become the watcher of my own fear, and in consequence, I was able to choose a better response.
The first thing I was able to observe was that the sensation had two sides to it: . the anxious response in my body (a tight knot in my stomach, dry throat, waves of panic coursing through me) and, for the first time, perhaps, I became aware of the narrative my brain was constructing around what was going on, from an observer point of view.
Why is this helpful to know? Because when we see fear for what it is – a narrative in our heads, and a panicky response in our bodies, we can choose to react from a place of wisdom. Doing so enabled me to recenter myself and come up with a strategy to get myself out of the situation.
This being said, here are the steps to take when you find yourself in a jam, so that you return to peace:
Important disclaimer: There will, of course, be times when these steps don’t apply, whether that’s because of dealing with different external factors, real physical danger or mental health issues. In other words, if there is a tiger chasing you, run for your life. If not, we can only recommend taking these steps in order to find freedom and exercise your emotional control.
1. Embrace the sensation and experience it fully
Instead of running from fear, give in to the sensation in your body, truly experience the physicality of it. For a few seconds at least, put up with the uncomfortableness and observe the tightness in your chest, the nausea in your throat, feel your heart racing, or any other symptom of fear manifesting itself in you.
With practice, you’ll be able to stand this longer and longer, which means that you’ll be able to perform step 2 all the more efficiently.
P.S: Don’t forget to breathe in and out calmly, you’d be surprised how much it helps.
2. Become the observer of your own mind
Be curious and explore the thoughts running through your head. Your mind could be telling you you’re not good enough to do that presentation at work, or that they won’t like you, so you might as well not ask them out.
The more you observe your thinking pattern, the more you can detach from it and gain the power to let go of whatever your brain constructs, hopefully understanding that, most of the time, it’s not telling you the truth, anyways. Our minds are great at protecting us, not so great at portraying reality objectively - the moment we catch on to this, we have a choice about whether to act from a place of anxiety and fear, or a place of wisdom.
3. Be afraid and do it anyway
If there’s anything you can do, just go ahead and do it! There’s no greater antidote to fear than stealth and immediate action. Publish that blog post, sign up to that class you have always wanted to, ask that someone out on that date.
If there isn’t anything immediate you can do, and the fear is causing you nothing but anxiety, like it did to me on that Friday night, then choose to drop out of those thoughts. These kinds of thoughts, spiraling and unable to help you in any way, haven’t got any power over you but the power that you give to them.
Hopefully, by following steps one and two enough times, you’ll begin to detach from the old narratives and to inhabit your body more. Have patience with yourself; we have learnt to live in a state of denying fear and resorting to unhelpful tactics for a long time. It will take time to drop out of the old scripts that keep you stuck, and afraid, but it is possible and available to you right now. We hope these have helped and feel free to tell us in the comments what other ways have helped you regain balance.
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