The Zen of anxiety part II: gently facing your fear

Fear

Written by Trish

Are you tried of feeling anxious?  Fed-up with the attacks?

How about people telling you that it’s a matter of having more willpower?  Or do they use the term “self-discipline”?  Or if they’re really good friends, they tell you to get over it and move on?

Yeah, thanks for the pep talk bud.

Does it seem the only way to minimize your anxiety is popping your meds, having a glass of wine, and staying at home?

Forever?

Your world is getting smaller.

By now I hope you have read The Zen of Anxiety Part I: Staying Centred During an Attack and found it useful.  It is the best friend to this post where I will share with you how I’ve gone from panic that seems to come from nowhere, to gently facing my fears every day with less and less anxiety.

The result is a world that is more accessible; I feel more capable having gained some experience on how to be myself in anxiety-provoking situations.

Let the sharing begin… NOW!

The teaser to the truth

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.~ Buddha

My biggest fear is passing out during an attack.  I look for the sensations and once the first one vibrates through my body, my flight response sends a bolt of lightning that strikes the jumper cables to my nervous system and I’m desperately seeking an exit.

But that’s just the teaser.

When I dig deep and question myself about the core of my fear, the truth reveals I am terrified of the feeling of losing control.

I say “the feeling” because it is hard for me to conceptualize not having control.  That’s how you know a diehard control freak.

However, the feeling of losing control is very real and something I would trade my first born to avoid (no need to call Children’s Aid… I don’t have any kids.  Probably a good thing because there was a time when I really would have traded!)

Now let’s talk about how you can identify your core fear.

5 steps to finding your core fear

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. ~ Buddha

Step 1: Give yourself permission to take some quiet time and explore your fears.  This can be done by going to a place you feel safe and sitting quietly without being interrupted.

Step 2: Replay your last attack in your mind.  What is it you feared when you were having the attack?  This is what I call the teaser.

Step 3: Let’s take a simple example and say you are afraid of collapsing.

Ask yourself: what is it I fear most about collapsing?

Perhaps you think you will be seen as weak and fragile.  You fear the feeling of disapproval from others.

It may be that you think you’re going to hit your head and be taken to the hospital.  You fear the feeling of being out of control of your health and your decisions.

You may think you’re not going to survive the fall and you fear the feeling of impending death.

Step 4: Keeping asking yourself this question until you have come up with an exhaustive list.

Step 5: Pick the one feeling that you fear the most right now as your core fear.

Now that you have recognized your core fear, I’d bet the farm is it one of the following:

Feeling like:

  • you’re out of control
  • you’ve lost approval
  • you’re unsafe
  • your life is on the line

These are the most common feelings to trigger core fear.  They pop up throughout our day and we subconsciously react with actions and decisions to mitigate our risk.  In the process, we trade in our true desires for fear of the chaos.

Chaos meets letting go (with lots of practice)

Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.~ Buddha

Facing my core fear has been an on-going experiment.  It is a matter of questioning a belief system that has been instilled in me since childhood (that’s a whole lotta years!)

Notice that nowhere in there did I say it was my truth.

My reality based on my belief: with laser focus and as if my life dependent on it, I try to feel in control of an uncontrollable situation.

My truth: My determination to resist my feeling of being out of control snuffs out who I truly am in that moment.

Evidently this belief is not something that resonates with my true self!

So I began by observing my reaction to the situations where I felt out of control.  I came up with a list of general circumstances:

  • When I felt I had too much to do in too little time
  • When my husband had 100% responsibility for something that effected both of us
  • When I felt someone was making me feel anxious, nervous, agitated, or frustrated
  • When I feel I have to go to the hospital and I am alone
  • When my mental or physical limits restrict me from doing something I had planned
  • When something throws-a-wrench into my schedule
  • When it feels like a hot poker has been inserted into the side of my brain

Once I was armed with my general list, I could stop and notice without judgment, how I was reacting when a similar situation came up.  Then I found it was a matter of choice: continue trying to control the situation or let go.

For example, now when I feel the need to remind my husband to do something, I stop, and then decide to let go and allow him to go about his own business.  Yeah, it was terrifying at first but now, what a relief (for both me and him!)

Guess what?

The last time I thought I was going to pass out during an attack, I felt less of an urge to try and gain control and instead, automatically told myself it was okay to pass out (then I remember thinking “say what?”)

My daily practice had paid off and I was starting to let go instinctively!  There I was in that moment; a chick having an anxiety attack triggered by someone’s perfume (it was really strong and I was already overstimulated) and feeling faint… well so be it.

The moment passed and the anxiety dissolved.

So let me sum this up so that you can give it a shot.

3 steps to gently face your core fear

Step 1: Recognize which situations trigger your core fear.  You may want to reflect on your day to find these situations or try to become more observant of your motives and behaviour as situations arise.

A helpful way to recognize a trigger is when you catch yourself having averted a situation.  Notice how you feel.  Do you feel you:

  • weren’t yourself?
  • were nagging or power-tripping on others?
  • always pick the boring option and would like a little more adventure?
  • overreacted?
  • sold-out?
  • didn’t give the situation enough consideration?

This is meant to be an exercise in reflection used to expand your self-awareness.  This is not to prove you suck.

Step 2: Begin to recognize similar situations whenever you can.  With practice you will become better at being able to stop yourself from reacting and instead, make a choice: do I continue mitigating my risk or do I chose to let things be as they are and feel my way through it.

It is okay to be anxious and continue—that’s who you are in that moment and that’s exactly right.

Choosing to let things be as they are exposes you to your core fear.  You begin to retrain your mind and body to feel the fear and still function in order to make the choice that is best for you.

Step 3: Have compassion.  There is no right or wrong way to do this.  Make it your own.  Practice.  Daily.

When you start to see results, express gratitude and keep practicing.  I think Buddha would agree it’s a lifelong practice to be at peace with oneself in the midst of all chaos.

Yep, you are going to want to throw in the towel before you start.  You think it’s not worth it.  I can’t do it.

You are worth it.

You can do this.

All you need is the enlightenment of a monk, the faith of a devout believer, the curiosity of an explorer and the courage of a warrior.

Sound like a description of your bizarre family tree?

Probably not.  But I bet it sounds impossible.

It is in our minds; we are not told we have inherited the crown that shimmers from the reflection of the precious gems of our humanity (Okay, I went a little poetic on you there but you’ll see where I’m going with this in a sec…)

I want to tell you that you have everything you need: patience, compassion, trust, diligence, and being open to what happens next.

Yeah, some of these virtues might need some polishing (they do in all of us!)  This is your opportunity to get out your non-toxic gem cleaner and work that bling.

Shine on!  Be who you are.  Expand your world.

Let me know how it goes.

How have you faced your fears?  Learned to manage your anxiety?  Please share your experiences in the comments below so we can all learn from them.

 

Cartoon credit: Trish Hurtubise

 

Trish HurtubiseHi. I’m Trish Hurtubise…the founder, curator and an editor for Mental Health Talk. I love serving those who are relegated to the shadows by society by giving them a platform to share their voice and be seen and heard… hence my passion for working with all the wonderful people who have shared their stories and wisdom on MHT.

You may view all posts by me here.

I have also written a romance novel (under the name Tricia Best) that is a story of two young adults struggling to come together and embrace their sexuality when faced with PTSD and addiction. I wanted the book to have meaning as well as entertain the reader in true new adult romance fashion.

Much love to you.


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Comments

  • AJLH

    Great post. I will give some of this a try.

    • Trish

      Thank you AJLH. Please keep my up-to-date on your progress and let me know if you have any questions. With love, Trish

  • Andrea

    Trish, that is awesome. I think we have all been forced to deal with situations which seemed impossible at the time. With the skills you describe, and segmenting the situation down into managable bits you can begin to work through anything. I loved your style of writing and found that you have been able to convey your own thoughts and present them in a way we can all learn from. Great work on the article and your own journey of discovery.

    • Trish

      Wow Andrea… thank you for such AWESOME feedback and stopping by to leave a comment. I am so glad that you found the post useful!

  • NB

    Good post , love your cartoons.

    • Trish

      Thank you NB for your comment. I’m happy that you like my cartoons–I work as hard on them as I do on the post! But I LOVE doing all of it.

      • Earla Dunbar

        I just noticed you did the cartoons – wow – what talent you have – I love them.

        • Trish

          Thanks Earla! It used to my be favourite part of doing a post… coming up with a cartoon. Drawing is my therapy.

  • David T

    Thanks Trish. I really appreciate both the sound advice and the lightness of your approach to communicating it.

    • Trish

      Thank you David. I try to infuse as much wisdom and personality as I can into my posts.

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