When I tell a new client or student that the best tactic for overcoming fear and anxiety is to turn toward them rather than away, they often look at me in utter disbelief. Nonetheless, it is true.
Fear is a universal human experience. We are all hard-wired for the fight, flight or freeze response which serves us well in times of actual danger. But in these stress-filled times, fear and anxiety seem to have become a part of our everyday lives, even when there is seemingly no immediate danger. This kind of fear causes us great physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. So what is the alternative to fighting it, fleeing from it, or letting it freeze us in place?
The first, and most important step is to stop and ask yourself, What is this I’m experiencing? Open to it. To begin to transform it, we need to learn to look into it with curiosity; letting ourselves be present with the direct experience of how it feels in our own bodies, even when we’d rather avoid it. When we open to this experience, we can begin to soften around it so that it begins to loosen its grip. Once it lightens up, we can add a number of ways to calm our over-loaded nervous system or overly-busy minds. I usually suggest tools from Yoga, Relaxation, breath awareness and Meditation. These practices help us stay present and give us a context through which we can experience fear and allow it to move through us. We know through research and experience that:
- Meditation helps us understand how we create fear-based stories in our minds and how to stay present with challenging emotions.
- Contemplative, relaxation-based practices such as restorative, Gentle Yoga or t’ai chi reduce anxiety by helping us breathe deeply, slow down and regain our balance.
Once you’ve tried these tools and determined which resonate most with you, engage with them often when you’re not fearful. Begin to build “peaceful strength.” With repeated practice, you create new, healthy patterns for dealing with the hard times when they do come along.
It’s important to know that no matter how dysfunctional our relationship with fear may be, we have the built-in capacity to transform it inside our own bodies by getting to know it for what it is – bodily sensations and thoughts, all of which are workable.
I have a CD for sale in my shop, “Deepening Into Peace and Quiet, Mindful Relaxation” – you might add it to your tool-box and let it help you learn to let go of tension and be more fully in the moment.