Calming Your Fears
Soothing the anxious heart.
Posted October 4, 2017
The world is a frightening place, particularly after an incident such as that in Las Vegas recently. When 59 people are killed and over 500 injured by a single man in less than 12 minutes, those who are already anxious begin to feel all the more out of control of their lives. Even those who do not have anxiety may feel a deep sense that life is somehow untrustworthy. And when the people who have the power to do something about this do nothing, we feel all the more afraid.
What can we do with such fear? Well, fear, like every other emotion, comes to give us a message about our lives. Generally, we think that our fears are telling us to avoid the things that frighten us. And on its face, fear does seem to be telling us this. However, in many cases, it is impossible to avoid what frightens us.
But when we listen to our fears we can learn far more. First, there are two kinds of fear. One is based absolutely in reality and is giving us information about that reality. The other is based on our upbringing, our life experiences, and may be giving us false information about our current reality. In the case of the latter, fear might, for example, be telling us that all men cheat, so our current husband must be cheating, because, well, all men cheat. When those kinds of fears come up, we might need to seek professional help to finish resolving old unresolved issues that we have been informed by fear. That is why those fears come up; to tell us that we have some unresolved issues that need resolution.
On the other hand, we may have some fears based in reality that seem to hang around and sit in the pit of our stomachs every day. They make us jumpy, irritable, and can even lead to depression. Many Americans have experienced this kind of fear relative to these mass murders that continue to happen, even as our politicians keep telling us not to talk about it. These fears are there to tell us something about life. But they are not there to tell us to build an impenetrable shelter to move into and begin to live an ascetic life. Rather, they are there to give us some direction about what we can do to protect our lives and our vision of life.
For example, one thing that we can do to protect our lives and our vision of life is to get busy contacting Senators and Representatives to ask for sensible gun control legislation. To speak to this issue again and again until something is done. To not give up until something is done; fear can give us such motivation.
But if fear refuses to let up even when we are addressing it in such a fashion, we can develop a list of self-soothing activities. One of the things fear wants to give us is a sense that we have some say-so about our lives. Learning self-soothing skills can give us that. I generally recommend that through experimentation, we find and set to regular practice a list of at least ten different self-soothing activities.
Experimentation means that we try something to see if it soothes us. When it does, we add it to the list and begin to put it into practice. The reason we need ten is that when one of them doesn’t work, we want another one to try. Very commonly, I ask people what calms them, what soothes them, and they either have no idea what I’m talking about, or they have only one go-to for self-soothing. They may know, for example, that exercising calms them down—but that’s the only thing that they can do. What this means is that when they can’t get to the gym, they just have to live with the anxiety. That’s why we need a list of ten.
The next thing is that we need to take responsibility for such anxiety. If you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that requires medication, take the medication as prescribed. And whether or not you are on meds, taking responsibility means being regularly involved with your anxiety by paying attention to when it starts, what triggers it, and what it is trying to tell you. That also means utilizing self-soothing skills on a regular basis to maintain a sense that you can manage your anxiety. Just knowing that we can manage it, makes it ease off considerably.
Fear and anxiety are not our enemies, they are meant to wake us up to personal responsibility for our lives. Sometimes fear can even save our lives by telling us of a real and imminent danger so that we react to protect our lives. Fear can be our friend; we need to embrace it and it will lead us to a more empowered life.