"Fear holds you still when you need to move, and moves you when you need to be still. Fear makes you silent when you need to be loud, and loud when you need silence...Fear closes your throat, makes it hard to breathe. Fear weakens your hand and blinds your eyes...Fear is a danger. Know your fear. Face your fear." (from Warlord by Elizabeth Vaughan...great book trilogy!)
I was just re-reading this trilogy, and this quote stuck in my mind. Fear is something we all struggle with, at some time or another. Fear effects us all differently, and even different fears can evoke different reactions in us. Physical danger makes my heart race, but it makes me dig my heels in and push through. Fear of things that I can't control (like fear of sickness) causes me extreme anxiety and can cripple me, no matter how hard my brain tries to logic it's way out of the fear.
We fear things that are happening, things that have already happened (both their repercussions as well as the fact that they might happen again), and things that might possibly happen. We fear things we know are serious risks as well as things we acknowledge aren't that big of a deal...but still they scare us.
Fear has it's roots in survival. Fear pumps us full of adrenaline so we can handle whatever is threatening us. But even though many of us don't face life or death situations every day, our bodies don't know this, and we experience the fear response for less deadly threats.
If you look at the words at the top of this post, you will see many of the words inside the letters...things that fear makes us feel. And sometimes we loose sight of the fact that these feelings are often illusions, they are created by our fear to make us avoid the thing that we perceive as a danger.
I think one of the most powerful things we can do is to name our fear. We may be temped to avoid even thinking about the things that cause fear in us, but in order to begin to work with our fear, we need to know what it is. Naming our fear gives us something to hold onto. It lets us define what scares us, and that in turn allows us to start to see where the roots of that fear go.
And this is important. The roots are what feed the fear! The fear itself might be big and strong and seem like we could never even begin to work through it. But if we follow the roots, they get smaller and smaller, and branch out, and we find one that is manageable. One root that we can work on, and by working on that one root, we weaken the whole fear. Root by root, we begin to change how we relate to the fear.
Sometimes it's not about removing the fear. Another quote I like says that courage isn't about not feeling fear, but rather feeling the fear and acting anyways. Much like an ominous noise coming out of the darkness, fear can sound huge and terrifying, but the more light we shed on it, the more manageable it feels. We may find, that by simply exploring our fear, by figuring out what it is and why it is triggering us, that we are no longer afraid of it.
But sometimes, no matter how much we uncover about our fear, no matter how much logic we apply to it, we are still gripped by it. Then, it becomes a journey of how to work within the confines of your fear. In some ways, I feel like this is a form of conditioning. Each time you face your fear, even if you find yourself paralyzed by it, you become a little more accustomed to it. Sort of like easing yourself into a cold lake. When you first dip your foot in, you pull back yelping. But each time you put your foot back in, it feels a little less frigid, and eventually you are in the water.
One of the tools for working with fear is to use your own body's responses. When we are afraid, our heart beats up and we breathe faster. By working in reverse, by focusing and breathing slowly and steadily, we can in turn lower our heart rate. This will create a calming effect in the body, and can help deal with some of the feelings that fear brings up in us.
I also find, that when I have worked through my thoughts on something that is causing fear in me, and I have come to the conclusion that it isn't a true threat, then I often go for diversion therapy. I turn to something that I can loose myself in, often a tv show or game. I deliberately try to distract myself, so that I can break that cycle of emotions that the fear is creating in me, so that I can free myself from the obsessive thoughts and foundless worries. And I find, that if I can break free from the hold that fear has on me, it will retreat, for the time being at least.
The great thing about fear is that sometimes you can use it for it's intended purpose: to pump you up when you need to face something difficult. This is one place where my stubbornness really gives me an edge! There are many fears I have, where I know that I am stronger than they are, and that all I have to do is run head long into them and I can break through them. Again, I don't do this with things that are truly dangerous, but it works great for things where fear is holding me back from acting, especially when it is fear of success (one of those really insidious fears that makes no logical sense...but plagues us anyways). Momentum is a great way to combat these kinds of fears, because once you get moving, you can focus on the movement and it will help you keep those fears at bay.
Fear is a tricky foe. It is overpowering, can be ever-changing, and is invisible. We sometimes can't even put our fears into words. And yet, if we pick at them, if we refuse to let them beat us down, if we keep getting back up, we can use them to propel us forward. We can become the master of our fears, instead of letting fear master us.