Please note: This post is talking about illusory fear, where you are afraid of things that do not exist or cannot hurt you where you are. If, however, you are afraid of a real threat, get the hell out of Dodge immediately.
We learn fear from experience, and some of these experiences are traumatizing. Sometimes, we hold over that echo of fear long past its usefulness, long past its validity.
Fear is useful when it protects us, warns us of danger, makes us cautious and wary so that we do not go blind and get hurt. Fear is valid when there is something present, both in your surroundings and in the current moment, to be afraid of.
Fear can be crippling when it outlives its causes. The same tactics that once ensured our survival can paralyze us or send us spiraling into paranoia. We may feel terror when we are in the safest place, with our most trusted people, simply because, once upon a time, some aspect of this situation may have signaled danger – such as hearing loud sounds outside your home.
Being accusatory and angry towards yourself only heightens your fear. Shouting “why am I afraid of this?! this is stupid!” in your own head solves nothing and only increases the tension in your body. Attacking yourself when you’re afraid only verifies the sense that there is something to fear.
Gentleness, then, is the best approach to fearfulness. Just as you would approach a panicked animal: move slowly and never suddenly, keep yourself non-threatening and low, and stop if the fear spikes. Use a soft voice; do not brandish weapons or fists or your frustration with yourself. Be as patient and compassionate as you can, and forgive yourself if you cannot.
Remember that hostility to your fear only worsens it, but staying calm in response to sudden fear will often drain it of its power and allow you to coax it away.
One of the benefits of all things being connected – you to me, humanity to the earth – is that we have mirrors set up all around us. These mirrors help us see ourselves more clearly, and in studying what we see in the mirror, we discover new facets of our own selves.
Take an animal as your mirror – a pet, a farm animal, or a wild animal. Notice how your instincts and reactions are similar. Do you greet your friends with a dog’s exuberance? Do you have the same skittishness around large, noisy crowds as a leopard would around a milling herd of wildebeest? Do you dive into new situations with the relentless adaptability of a coyote?
Or take an element of nature – fire, water, wood, shadow. Are you a firecracker that spends all your energy in one dazzling burst, then fizzles away? Do you flow like water, absorbing events like ink in a clear bowl, or do you wash the sediment out of your body and onto the banks? Are you a tree, steady and slow, digging towards richness and stretching towards sunlight?
How about a mythical archetype – Hero, Weaver, Magician? Do you strive to sweep in and save the day for those around you, whether or not they want or need the interference? Do you walk the web of possible realities and choose your path with the same care that you would choose the colors of a tapestry? Do you perform alchemy with your life and yourself, purifying gold from the dross?
You can even consider the weather as a mirror. Does the wind lash the trees like the force of your will whips against the circumstances of your life? Does the roiling storm overhead reflect your ire – or soothe it? Can you rest when the snow is falling in near-silence?
Find your mirrors; study them. Some of them will be parallels, reflecting your face back to you at a new angle, but others may be opposites, revealing truths about you via contrasts. Some of what you discover will be positive; some may not be, and that will help you see what you don’t want to embody.
Pay attention and learn. There is wisdom everywhere.
You’ve heard this before. It’s probably old hat. “Breathing is important,” yadda yadda. “Breathe deeply and count to ten,” et cetera. Breathing is a topic of discussion in everything from yoga to meditation to martial arts to anger management to singing to public speaking to… well, you get the picture.
Have you ever tried it?
“No.” Then do it. Time yourself for sixty seconds and breathe slowly into your gut. If your stomach isn’t moving when you breathe, go deeper. There’s a diaphragm down there that wants to be used.
“Yes, and it didn’t do a damn thing for me.” Try it again. Shelve your skepticism for one minute. Then take a second minute and do the above. If you keep disbelieving the potency of breath, your brain will find or simply create ways to support your negative opinion. (That goes for most everything, by the way.)
“Yes, and breath is vital to me.” Good on you! Keep breathing.
The next time the wind kicks up, instead of shielding yourself and muttering, raise your face to the world and inhale.
Sit down, or lie down, in whatever way is comfortable to you. You can be indoors or outdoors or ten stories up. If you can, plant your feet firmly on the ground.
Breathe. Slowly, deeply, softly. Breathe until you’re relaxed. Loosen your muscles. Let your thoughts run their course, then focus on how you feel inside your skin.
Go deep. Bring your awareness down your spine, down your legs, into your heels.
Push deeper. Grow root from your heels, tendrils from your toes. Wriggle them downwards, slowly. Keep going until you touch the earth.
Sink deeper. Drink in the earth’s solidity and fertility and moisture. Feel the texture of the soil, the rocks, the other roots from other plants.
Keep breathing. With each inhalation, draw the earth up through your roots, into your body. With each exhalation, push it upwards, into your head. Raise your arms if you want and push it through them.
Grow branches from your hair and fingers. Let leaves bud and unfurl, growing a little more with each breath.
Let your skin become bark, rugged and beautiful. Feel the air between your branches, the soil between your roots. Center yourself in your trunk and feel yourself as a tree.
When you feel done, slowly undo what you’ve done. Let your leaves turn autumn-colored and fall away. Retract your branches into your body. Withdraw your roots from the soil.
When you are human-shaped again, take a deep breath, smile, and get something to drink or eat to help remind your body that it’s still a mammal.
You’re okay. As you are, right now, in the middle of losing your shit, you are okay.
Let the intensity out. Sob until you stop shaking so much. Punch the living hell out of an inanimate object that won’t break your hand. Scream and shout. Say all the words in your head. Spit them, snarl them, wail them. Get them out of your head.
Good. Now. Slow your breathing. Just a little bit.
Stop clenching your muscles. Just a little bit.
Feel the anger or grief or fear or whatever you’re feeling. Find where it’s centered – your stomach, your fists, your throat, your heart. Let it go. If you can’t, then loosen your grasp. Just a little bit.
Listen to the thoughts in your head. Find the ones that are talking to you, the ones that tell you that you’re weak or stupid, the ones that demand that you get your shit together and stop melting down. Tell yourself, instead, that you are okay. You’re not over-reacting. You’re not weak. You’re not psychotic. You’re okay. That’s the only thing you need to tell yourself right now – you’re okay.
Take a deeper breath. Relax your muscles a little more. Let go of this powerful emotion you’re feeling.
Turn your attention to the space around you. If you don’t have much physical space, make mental space. Focus on the air next to your skin, then slowly expand outwards. Feel all the space in the room. It’s open. It’s safe. It’s yours. Close your eyes and make the space as big as you want it to be.
If there is something outside of your body that keeps bringing you back to your pain, like a phone or a picture or a locked door, imagine removing it from your space. Wrap it up, zap it out, cut all lines that link it to you.
Focus on your space. Breathe a little more slowly. Relax. Let go.
When you feel calm, or calmer, then turn your mind. Think of one single, simple, happy thing. Simplicity is important: don’t think of something complicated enough to have pros and cons. We only want pros right now. Just one, single, simple thing that brings you nothing but joy.
Keep breathing. If you start thinking of your pain again, gently refocus on your joy. Don’t yell at yourself for drifting; don’t feel guilty; don’t tense up. Just breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
Remind yourself that you’re okay. And keep breathing.