Oh, it’s you again. Hello, fear.
Whether you’re fearful of getting sick, you’re currently dealing with a health issue, or you’re scared and struggling in other areas of your life, I want you to know that you’re in good company. And I also want you to know that it’s possible to work with your fears and use them to your advantage. Because fear contains powerful messages. When we’re courageous enough to be with what scares us, we can awaken our intuition and create a new path for healing.
Don’t judge your fears, invite them to tea!
It’s common to belittle our fears and try to pre-maturely cleanse them away. But just because we’re afraid, doesn’t mean we’re toxic or failing or falling off the spiritual wagon. Fear is one of the many colors in our emotional palette, and it’s often there for a reason. There’s nothing weak or less evolved about being frightened. And like I said, you’re not alone. We’re all scared. No one is fearless.
Anyone who lives with cancer (myself included), will tell you that managing fear is an ever-evolving practice. Sometimes the shifts happen quite easily, other times our fears refuse to be rushed (and they really hate being trivialized). It took me over ten years to have a realistic perspective about my own health terrors. And let me be honest, I’m still working on it. Though I had the same information that I have now, time and experience have had a tremendous impact on how I work with my fears.
Fear is normal and, to a certain extent, it’s important. We can thank fear when it makes us get a lump checked or tells us not to walk alone down that dark alley. We can have gratitude for fear when it shakes us awake or jolts us from complacency. But while fear can play a very valuable role in igniting action, we can’t let it run our lives—especially if our fears are totally unfounded or irrational. Once we receive the message (the ah-ha!), we need to disable the fear alarm, turn it off, cool it down. Because no one can thrive in a constant state of panic, our bodies aren’t built for that (and neither are our spirits).
So, how do you get what you need from fear without letting it pull you under? Bring yourself back to the present moment. The here. The now. The pillow under your butt. The ground under your feet. The real reality. Unplug the movie in your mind and pet your dog. That’s real. That’s what’s truly happening.
Taking Fear for a Joy Ride: 7 Ways to Work With What Scares You
1. Open your heart: You know those fluttering feelings in your belly? Instead of getting hysterical, just sit with them. Breathe through them. Deeply. Slowly. Continually. Have the guts to stay there longer than you’d like. If sadness comes up, let it be there. If anger comes up, that’s OK too. Tears will probably follow. This is the ripest place. This is real and raw and wonderful. Congratulations! You’re licking through your own noise to get to the Tootsie Roll at the center of the spiritual lollipop!
2. Listen: Once you’ve made contact with what’s coming up for you, ask fear what it’s trying to say. Request that it communicate in a calm, coherent way. Don’t rush it. (Unless, of course, Freddy Krueger hops out from behind the next tree, in which case you should save the analysis for later and run very fast!) But if the monsters are only in your very colorful imagination, have some R.E.S.P.E.C.T., mind your manners and don’t interrupt. Let fear speak. Listen.
3. Do an intuition gut check: Make a determination about whether your fear is constructive or destructive. If you agree with the fear, begin to explore how you can make a healthy shift. If you don’t agree, you can simply decline the opportunity to react. Instead of indulging yourself and peeing in your new pants, soothe your thoughts like you would soothe a nervous 5 year old. Hint: If you’re having a hard time determining what’s constructive versus destructive, a good therapist can help you with this. Mine sure helps me!
4. Identify fear fantasies: Fantasy and imagination are our most powerful, creative resources. It might make you relax a bit to realize that fear is actually creative. What!? Think about it. What’s more creative than writing elaborate stories all day? The key, of course, is to transform your powerful imagination away from manufacturing irrational fears and toward positive vision.
5. Here’s a quick tour down one of my irrational rabbit holes: An impending doctor appointment. All I could think of was how my disease had progressed and that I’d like to invite you all to my funeral. What kind of food should be served? Should there be a DJ? No, that’s not serious enough. Who should get my good jewelry? My mom and my sister. Will Brian remember to feed Lola and Buddy? And Brian is so lonely. I love Brian, and I miss him. Maybe he should start dating again. But not someone younger than me. OH MY GOD, Brian is dating a hot 20 year old! I hate Brian.
If I can grab myself out of that loop, I’ll probably have a good ole laugh, acknowledge the underlying anxiety, head to Target for some trash mags or watch a great movie (while holding Brian’s hand). However, if I’m unable to see my fantasy for what it really is (stress), then the next time Brian asks where the almond butter is, I’ll tell him to ask his new lover!
Being afraid doesn’t make you inadequate. Many of us feel embarrassed and ashamed of our fears. We’ve been conditioned to believe that fear makes us weak. “Grow up. Man up. It’s not cool to be scared. Don’t be such a cry baby.” But stored up fears never make us stronger. Quite the opposite, in fact. Stored up fears break us (emotionally and physically). If you want to set a powerful example for yourself and others, give your fear a voice. Talk it out. Call a friend. Chat with the friend within. Book a session with that good therapist. Pray. Ask for help. It’s all around you.
6. Take Action: Another way to gain clarity is to get back into my body through movement. Activating our bodies changes our perspectives. A walk, a run, a bike ride or some inversions (they really help!)—whatever it takes to snap out of the fear feedback loop.
7. Let love rule: Love is greater than fear. And love is everywhere, always. Love is the glue that holds the infinite together. Fear is a tiny drop of water compared to the ocean that is love. If you’ve ever practiced EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), you know that love and acceptance are great tools for calming your nervous system. I’ve used this statement (affirmation) many times: “Even though I’m really scared, I love and accept myself anyway.” Boom. Stress-reduction.
Lastly, sometimes fear is much easier to understand than we think. It may not have anything to do with being useful or not. It may not even really be fear. Perhaps we’re just really uncomfortable with change. New things. New information. The unfamiliar and all that goes with it. Give yourself a break. You’re human. You have many valid emotions. The trick is to stop being so critical and start applying more compassion and kindness to all aspects of you. Now go put on some cute heels or a snappy fedora and dance with your dragon (I promise you won’t get burned).