Last week, we discussed the different categories our daily fears fit. To get the most out of this series on recognizing and transforming fear, I encourage you to go back to last week’s blog and write your list before moving onto this week’s blog and exercise.
Your fear list from last week should be comprehensive. Include big and small fears, daily and situational fears. Go through the fears on your list and place each in one of the five Basic Human Fears: Extinction, Mutilation, Loss of Autonomy, Separation, Ego-death. (Full descriptions of each category are listed in last week’s blog.)
For example, if fear of dying is a preoccupation for you that causes anxiety, write it under the Extinction category. If you avoid romantic relationships because you fear being controlled, write it under the Loss of Autonomy category. Even fears that might appear to be innocuous, for example a fear of being late, can be negatively affecting your ability to create the life experience you desire. Fear of being late most likely falls into the category of Ego-death or fear of humiliation.
As you take the time to clearly see your fears and put them in the category that feels right, you will also be deactivating some of the power the fear held to dictate your actions.
This exercise requires courageous honesty and a willingness to feel uncomfortable as you systematically transform your relationship to fear.
Our natural human response to fear is to avoid it. I am asking you to look straight at it, feel the feeling, and lean into it instead of away from it.
You have all experienced a physical reaction to a perceived threat. When your “fight or flight” response gets activated, your sympathetic nervous system becomes aroused, which narrows your focus of attention to avoiding the threat. Your hands start to sweat, and your breathing may become shallow and labored. For centuries, this survival response to fight (the predator) or flight (run from the predator) was adaptive and kept humans alive. Unless you live in a war zone or a very dangerous neighborhood where the possible threat of death is real and constant, a consistently activated fight or flight response is maladaptive and takes a toll on your mental and physical health. It also gets in the way of freely creating the life you desire.
Now that you have become better acquainted with your fear, you can start to implement some of these six steps to continue to normalize and neutralize its power over you so you can use it to inform decisions with a calm and clear mind.
6 Actions Steps to Live More and Exist Less
1. Deep Breathing, Relaxation, and Meditation
By deliberately relaxing your muscles, you begin to calm down so you can think clearly. If you practice this without a threat present, it can start to become automatic and will be easier to use in the moment when you feel fear. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system (your calm friend) to de-activate the sympathetic arousal (your very excitable friend).
Exposure is the most powerful technique for anxiety, and it involves facing what we fear and staying in the situation long enough for the fear to lessen, as it naturally does. As I stated above, fear makes us avoid or run away, so our minds and bodies never learn that much of what we fear is not truly dangerous.
3. Accept and Re-Direct
I encourage you to accept the inevitability of some fearful thoughts and feelings as being normal. You can acknowledge that you are projecting fearfully about something and then consciously re-direct your mental attention away from fear and back onto life tasks and valued goals. You can live a full, happy life despite the fear.
4. Become the Observer
When you can calmly observe your physical and mental reaction to fear, without panicking or feeling compelled to act, you are being informed by fear, not dominated by it. (This gets better with practice.)
5. Stop Catastrophizing
Even if something bad happens, you may still be able to handle it by using coping skills, problem-solving abilities, or by enlisting assistance from others. Most of the things you think you can’t handle, although they may be painful or unpleasant, you really can. Gain perspective on your fear fantasies with the realization that very few things are actually the end of the world.
6. Get Real
In the moment, fear convinces us that the threat is imminent, yet, most of the time, what we worry about never happens. Record your past worries in a log and then write how many came true. You will notice how much of the time you overestimated the probability of negative events.
I hope you found some of these techniques I use with my clients helpful. Remember, slow and steady wins the fear race. It took a lifetime to accumulate the fears you have; it will take more than two weeks to transform them, but you are on your way!
Love Love Love
Terri Cole, founder and CEO of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. A cornerstone of Terri’s practice, meditation, was the impetus for her recently released guided mediation CD Meditation Transformation. Terri can be found on Facebook and Twitter.