Fear

Know who Will Smith is? Honestly, if you don’t, then you’re either super young, super old, or you’ve avoided television and media for the last … 20? 25? 30 years?

The above quote came from George W. Addair, Founder of Omega Vector. It relates to Will Smith because he speaks about his experiences with sky-diving in this video. He paraphrases it somewhat by saying “God placed the best things in life on the other side of terror.”

Now, we’re not all super-masters who’ve established something intended to help other people develop themselves as completely as possible. Nor are we well well-known American celebrities and philanthropists like Will Smith. That does not, however, negate our ability to learn how to move past fear. Hopefully, something I say in the oncoming blatherings can help you firmly set your feet on the path to finding the best things in life!

Our good friends at Merriam-Webster define fear in the following way:

Fear
1  a an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
    b (1) an instance of this emotion (2) a state marked by this emotion
2 anxious concern solicitude
3 profound reverence and awe especially toward God
4 reason for alarm danger

So; fear is an emotion, or it is an event (#4).

I’ve given a great deal of consideration to fear over the years. I mean, there’s the common everyday fears — does my butt look big in these jeans? Will Joe Cool think I’m pretty or ugly? Will my boss decide he doesn’t like me today, or that I’m his buddy? Will my spouse/partner/etc still love me if they know this about me …

By saying “common, everyday fears,” I do not mean to make light of them. But when you contemplate them alongside paradoxical fear? Well, they just don’t seem that big and bad. Paradoxical fear, if you’re not familiar with the term, is fear big enough or bad enough to trigger an enhanced sympathetic response — fight or flight. This one’s beyond our ability to control. Arguably emotions are beyond our ability to control, but we can usually find a way to reason our way through them. Paradoxical fear, however, is the fear that causes your bowels to let go, urine to creep down your leg. Let’s see if I can give a succinct example.

I’m driving in my car, and someone cuts over in front of me, nearly hitting me. My adrenaline kicks in, enhancing my reflexes so I can slam on the brakes after checking my rearview mirror to make sure no one behind me can plow in to me. Once I know I’m safe, I have to wait for the adrenaline to work itself through my system so I can get my heartrate back down, stop shaking, and stop cursing the other driver in my head.

That’s a sympathetic response, but it’s not quite paradoxical fear. Paradoxical fear occurs when the sympathic response has prepared our bodies for fight or flight; the adrenaline’s been released, our digestion process has taken a break, our breathing quickens, our heart rate increases … in other words, our bodies are physically readjusting themselves to assist in our need to either flee, or fight. But what happens when fleeing, or fighting, aren’t options; are, in fact, impossible? This is when you see paradoxical fear. Essentially, the body does all the above, but it also voids the bowels and/or bladder — and theories abound about why this happens. Google it, if you’re interested!

I make the distinction between “common” and “paradoxical” fear because many of us live with constant fear, and it comes to rule our lives. It can also be called anxiety. For those who live with this constant fear, with anxiety, hearing someone refer to them as “common” or “everyday” may seem insulting, and that is absolutely not my intent. I have lived with anxiety for many years, and to this date there are still nights I wake up and have to walk through my house, checking every closet, every shower, every little cubbyhole to make sure someone hasn’t snuck in my house and is waiting to cause harm to me or mine. Ridiculous, I know, but it’s difficult to argue with fear when it arises.

So what’s the point of this post, then?

I’d have to say that objective #1 is to point out how very debilitating living with fear can be, and objective #2 is to attempt to offer ways to overcome these fears. Most of these will be references, as obviously I’m still fighting with mine.

The American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) lists out some of the physiological effects of living with chronic fear. They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Endocrine system dysfunction
  • Autonomic nervous system alterations
  • Sleep/wake cycle disruption
  • Eating disorders
  • Alterations in hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis

What’s all that mean? Let’s take it from the top:

  • You get sick easier, and stay sick longer
  • Your body becomes unable to create and feed your system with the hormones needed for daily life, which can create cascading issues with your health
  • The autonomic nervous system is (roughly) the brain, spinal cord, and nerves; this system regulates the parasympathetic and sympathetic responses, meaning that disorders in this system can enhance the fight-or-flight response, or negatively curtail it
  • Can’t sleep well, can’t function well mentally or physically
  • Comfort eating? Starving ourselves? Anything in between? How can our bodies successfully function without adequate nutrition?
  • Since the HPA axis drives our central response system, if it ain’t workin’ right? We can over- or under-react to stimuli

In short, living in a constant state of fear/anxiety absolutely negatively impacts our physical bodies. However, it also creates a self-perpetuating cycle, as the systems in place to help us manage situations and appropriate responses have become degraded. Being constantly afraid helps perpetuate the state of fear, and it becomes a cycle that builds and becomes amazingly difficult to tame, suppress … change.

What none of the above addresses is the mental effects of living with constant fear. Social fear — what if I make a fool of myself? What if people don’t like me? What if they make fun of me? Fear of environment — what if I’m hit by lightning when I walk out the door? Or what if someone tries to kidnap me while I’m taking a walk? These examples I’ve offered up seem minor to those who don’t live with these fears; laughable even.

Don’t laugh, though. Seriously. For someone who lives with fear or anxiety as their constant, boon companion, these are some of the things that become overwhelming and cut us off from contact with those around us. These are the things that make us socially awkward, with improper responses. These are the things that keep us running for cover, for a hiding place. Honestly, anyone who lives with these seemingly irrational fears racing through their minds lives under a cloud that is damned near impossible to imagine will ever dissipate. In short, not only do sufferers live with their fears; they live with the belief that there can be no relief from these fears. Just really sink your teeth in to that concept for a moment. Can you even begin to imagine being this afraid, this terrified, every single day, and yet still trying to function in society? The ones who force themselves to go to the store, to go to school; wherever they force themselves to go, they do it constantly believing the worst thing that can happen to them will and, further, they believe they’re powerless to make it end.

I know this. I’ve lived it. Until you have, try to have a little patience, care, and compassion for those struggling with fear/anxiety — you might be the one person who gives them a reason to try to change their life. Gonna take a second here and point out that if you know someone who lives with anxiety, or constant fear, telling them to “Just get over it,” or “Just face it” isn’t helpful and in fact can be harmful. Fear/anxiety, much like depression, takes over and absolutely rules your life, until you find within yourself the ability to overcome it — even if only a little bit.

The first step to overcoming fear and anxiety is, actually, the most difficult. It requires you to step out on faith, trusting and hoping desperately that this won’t be one more screw-up in a long list of screw-ups. You see, there’s another factor here that’s ugly, but needs to be addressed, and that is simply “Change is frightening.” Any change. Why? Because change means the unknown, and the unknown is this big, scary thing waiting to happen, even though we don’t know what that thing will be. If you’re someone who’s already living under a constant cloud of fear, why on earth would you want to add to it? So, it may be intellectually “simple” for me to say “I’m tired of being afraid all the time,” and that’s an important recognition to make. But going from that admission of the problem to finding a solution is an ongoing process that can take years.

So let’s assume you’ve made that decision. You say, first, quietly and only to yourself, “I’m tired of being afraid all the time.” Eventually, that thought moves from inside your mind to escape out of your mouth, and you say out loud (still to yourself) “I’m tired of being afraid all the time.”

Whoa. You admitted it! Ok, so look around, and realize the world didn’t crash around your ears when you said this aloud. No one broke down your door to punish you for having the temerity to utter these words. Eventually, you find the courage to say this to someone else, but you have to be careful whom you say it to. Say it to the wrong person, and they respond with something like “Ok, so get over it then.” And then you feel like you’ve just been judged, and you tuck your tail between your legs and go curl up somewhere. However, if you say it to the right person, they listen. They may say “Ok, that’s important. How can I help?” Or they may say “Ok, good. How do you achieve this?”

It might not seem like much, but there’s a world of difference between the first response and the second & third. The first one belittles the courage it took to say those words to someone else, the other two offer support, and/or a sounding board.

Now, let’s talk about some of the options for overcoming fear/anxiety. I’m going to make a list that runs the gamut from currently-advocated Western Medical responses to anxiety, to not-so-advocated other options. The choice of which of these you wish to pursue must be your choice. I can tell you what’s helping me, but that doesn’t mean the same thing will help you.

  1. Therapy
    • Individual
    • Group
    • In-person
    • Texting/phone
      • For more on the therapeutic options available, and to try to find which might best help you, please click here
  2. Medications
    • Antidepressants
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Buspirone (Buspar)
    • Hydroxyzine
    • Beta-blockers
      • To pursue medication options, please find a psychiatrist or a therapist you can trust who works with a psychiatrist
      • Medications are intended to be temporary; they’re meant as a stop-gap to reduce your symptoms so that you can pursue the task of overcoming your fears
  3. Massage
    • Because massage can trigger a parasympathetic response (the opposite of fight or flight [click here for a brief explanation]) massage can be amazingly beneficial to people experiencing anxiety; not only the work itself is important, but knowing that someone else is willing to touch you in a caring manner can help bolster your sense of self-worth
  4. Reflexology
    • Reflexology is a system usually involving a degree of pressure in certain areas of the body that is used to relieve tension, stress, anxiety, and other ailments; similar to massage, another person is involved, and the knowledge that this other person wishes to work with you to help you overcome your fear/anxiety is an amazing boost to one’s self-worth
  5. Meditation
    • The practice of meditation allows one to learn how to listen to what’s going on in the mind, and then begin to redirect or change how we respond to “the voices” inside our heads
    • There are multiple forms of meditation; I recommend you do some research (Google is your friend!) and find a method that is compliant to your needs. And yes, there’s also moving meditation, which is the only kind I seem to be able to participate in!
  6. Reiki
    • Reiki is what’s considered energy work; in short, the “primary” chakras in our trunk (seven of them) are checked to see if they’re open & working correctly; then opened if necessary so that your body’s energy can flow without interruption to assist in achieving physical as well as mental healing and clarity
    • This is a therapy that also involves someone else (unless you’re a Reiki practitioner!), and again, having someone on your side throughout the process who genuinely cares about you is important!
  7. Float Therapy
    • This therapy is kinda the “new kid on the block” and can be enormously beneficial for helping relieve stress, anxiety, depression … so many things. For more information on float therapy for anxiety, read this. One caution, however! You don’t want to touch your face as the salts in the water are very irritating; for that reason, I have learned to take a rag into the pool with me, and lay it over my face (excluding my nose, another anxiety trigger for me), and press itchies and tickles on my face through the rag

There are several more alternative methods for assisting with anxiety; I strongly urge you to Google both “medical treatment for anxiety” and “non-medical treatment for anxiety.”

So, what’s worked for me? Keep in mind, again, that this whole “overcoming-anxiety” thing is still a newish process for me, so I’m not fully there yet. However! I’ve been having a lot of success with a couple of tricks & techniques. The first thing to understand is that I’ve spent pretty much most of my adulthood in and out of therapy, so I’ve been picking up tips & tricks all along the way. Further, it’s hella easier to write these things out than it has been to put them into practice. Again — large segments of my adult life have been spent in therapy! At 49 years old, you’re talking about close to 30 years of on-again/off-again therapy, so don’t expect that you’re gonna read this, then master it immediately. Maybe, though; maybe just commit to finding one thing on this list you think you might be able to commit to working toward, and go from there.

Before I begin this list, I’m going to make a point that is more important than just about anything else I can say.

Learn to give yourself small successes

I went through a major depressive episode that lasted about six years. Six years is a vast amount of time; during that time, I kept on trying to find a reason to get up, get out of bed, take a shower, take care of my kids … all the things that a good mom is supposed to do. But if you’ve experienced depression — the real thing, not a brief episode, but cold, hard depression — then you know that breaking out of it is nearly impossible.

I learned, though, to be proud of small things. I woke up in the morning, got outta bed? Yay, success! I got a shower? Hey, man, good job! I cooked dinner? Fantastic! Ok, so my response wasn’t that profound, but it was important to me that I gave myself credit for doing something I had absolutely no motivation to do. Over time, those small successes built up, so that I could dare strive for bigger ones … and then those built up, and here we are today. Once again, this isn’t something I’m saying is easy. It’s something you really have to decide for yourself you’re going to give to yourself. Or, another way of looking at it is that it’s something you’re willing to take for yourself.

On to the list. The biggest things that have helped me begin breaking the horrible cycle of fear and anxiety are:

  • Learning gratitude
    • Possibly the most important method for arming yourself against anxiety, fear, depression … so on and so forth. In short, I began seeking out those things I could be grateful for. Things like — it’s not raining today? Sweet! Thanks for the sunshine! My car started? Alright! I can go to work and not be afraid of getting fired today! Someone opened the door for me? Woohoo! Thanks, man!
    • The key behind this is the belief that you find what you seek, and when you begin to seek out things to be grateful for, your perspective of the world around you shifts. I actually started this journey by keeping a diary of things I’d ask for throughout the day — of the world, of people, of the universe … whatever it was. About once a week, I’d go back and check off the things that had been granted, and mindfully say a “Thank you” for each one. Eventually, it just became reality that I can find a bajillion things each day to be grateful for.
  • Learning to give myself space
    • Because I felt I constantly had to fight to prove I wasn’t crazy; I wasn’t lazy; I wasn’t stupid; I wasn’t incapable of managing myself … because of all these things, I was one of those people constantly going, doing, proving. Frankly, I was exhausted! On top of that, while most people didn’t see it, I was struggling constantly to overcome the fear that ate me alive. One day, I woke up and learned that I need to allow myself space to be alone, or to be afraid, or to be quiet, or whatever. Sometimes that space is in my bed propped on pillows and heating pads, sometimes it’s beside a stream. But it’s ok, and you have the right and the responsibility to take care of yourself! If you close your eyes and imagine yourself in the most calm, soothing place on earth (or off of it!), where would that be? Is it someplace you can get yourself to? Or is it someplace you can recreate in your home? Wherever it is, learn to allow yourself to enjoy Sanctuary.
  • Learning to trust myself
    • Most of my lifetime of fear and anxiety was the result of a horrible childhood, followed by two horrible marriages; both of which taught me that I’m crazy, and I need to do what others say because I can’t be trusted to do things my way, and be successful. I will say that learning to trust myself has meant absolutely rejecting all those hurtful things I believed, when other people said them; but to be able to absolutely reject these things, we first have to learn that we have the right to reject them. That’s the tricksy part!
  • Learning to argue with the negative voices
    • Simple as a statement, immeasurably more difficult in practice. I’ve basically had to teach myself to argue back when I have that voice in my head asking “Why are you doing this? You’re just going to fail,” or the one that says “Hey, you know, it’d be a lot easier to stay curled up in a ball than go out and face people.” Whatever it is those voices are whispering to you about your inability to deal with life? Start telling them to shut up. Honestly. It seems silly, but eventually you learn to do it without thinking about it. Another tactic is to list out why you can, or need to, do what it is you want to; list out the reasons in your head, or out loud, or on paper … whatever you have to do, learn to argue with those voices telling you you’re safer being afraid. Start small; but start, and keep doing it. Like the gratitude thing, it does get easier, and eventually you’ll find yourself able to do it without having to think about it.
    • Note: I still have those voices, telling me why I’ll fail. Why I should give up, why I should do any number of things that’ll keep me safe. I barely notice them, but am still aware of them. Probably why I still occasionally have to do my night-time house walkabout.
    • One of the key items in this topic, for me, has also been “Don’t tell me what you can’t do; show me what you can.” This was my personal challenge to myself to look beyond all the reasons that I allowed to limit me. What phrase, for you, might be your key?
  • Learning to see the world around me in a new way
    • Once upon a time, I knew that every man out there only wanted one thing from me, and every woman out there either wanted to be me, or wanted to claw my eyes out. I didn’t think this, I knew it, because it’s what I was taught. One day, I decided it was time to find out whether that was always true, so I started setting “traps” for people to fall in to. Not necessarily the best method, but for me, it allowed men to prove to me that they could be my friend, instead of my lover; they could be big brothers, little brothers, surrogate fathers, beloved uncles … and I also began to learn that there’s a sisterhood among women that is stronger than the petty jealousies we think are so prevalent. In short, I found that people are just people; some good, some bad, some in-between … and each one needed to be judged on their own merit, not on some pre-conceived notion that was the result of ill teaching. I can’t tell you what your method will, or should, be, but I can urge you to find it. Find some way to begin to prove to yourself that not all people you meet are inimical to you and that, in fact, there are some real gems out there.
  • Learning to be patient
    • Always the hardest, but I believe most important item on this list. Put bluntly, it absolutely amazed me when I sat down and realized that I could be unendingly patient — with anyone who wasn’t me. Now, again, putting this into practice requires constant dedication to putting it into practice! But I’m learning that, every time I get frustrated with myself, I can step back, take a nice deep breath or two or ten, and then talk to myself calmly. “Ok, that didn’t go so well, now did it? Hm. Where do I need to change something I’m doing … or better yet, should I just abandon this project?”
    • It seems counter-intuitive to abandon something we’ve been working toward, but sometimes the better part of life seems to be accepting when we’re not putting our energies into appropriate places. A quote I recently saw sums this up, quite well:

mistake

Now to close this beastly blog! Obviously, I had a lot to say on the topic of fear. If you watch the above video again, watch it to the end. I want you to see, again, the part where Will says “Forget security, live for experience.”

Your experience is your own; no one else resides in your mind, and no one else knows what you’re struggling with. You can change your experience. I know this, I’ve lived it. Changing this experience will put fear back to its proper place — as a protector, and a warning system. Find some way to take the power of fear away; it was never intended to rule our lives, but rather to assist us. As my husband has said when we’ve had this discussion:

“A life lived in fear is a life not lived.”

Wise man, that one. Maybe that’s why he married me? Anyway. Gonna close this mini-novella now and wish you well. Life ain’t always easy, but it is livable, and we can make it more livable.

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