Happy Monday. (not really). Ok I shouldn’t really be so down on Monday. I mean what did it do to me? Nothing, except create the start of a brand new week. I should be thankful for that. Thankful that I am allowed to even see and experience a brand new week, or even a brand new day. Yeah, it kind of sucks having to go back to work and the hectic daily life routine, but maybe if our attitudes weren’t so negative, and instead we found a sense of thankfulness, we wouldn’t feel so unmotivated on Mondays.
So really. Let’s start over. HAPPY MONDAY!
Today I come to talk to you about my little pal called “fear.” Me and this guy (or gal – who knows?) have had quite the relationship for some time. I can’t really say that it’s been a very happy one, but it has been quite the task trying to make him (or her) go away and leave me alone. Because really, nobody likes fear. It makes you panic. It makes you feel uneasy. It makes you feel like you’re about to die sometimes. And it just plain sucks, kind of like Mondays, right?
Well, just like my Monday analogy, I’ve decided to turn my attitude around towards fear. Start to look at him or her as a friend, rather than a really toxic relationship. I was inspired by the idea that Elizabeth Gilbert has mentioned in her latest book, Big Magic, where she speaks about how she combats her own fear.
Elizabeth explains that she treats fear as a passenger in her “life” vehicle. She realizes that it will always be in the car with her, but it does not mean that she must listen to it when it tries to scare her into being afraid of things that might not necessarily be real danger and are actually harming her personal growth journey. One of my favorite things I’ve heard her say in a few different talks was that she allows fear to travel with her, but she makes sure she establishes some ground rules, and she definitely doesn’t let it choose the snacks or especially ever take control of the wheel. She says that she is the one that always remains in control, and when fear does decide to speak up, she takes into account whether it is warning her of real danger, and if so, she thanks it. She also, however, thanks it when it’s trying to get her attention otherwise too, telling fear that she appreciates it’s concern, but it’s not really necessary this time.
This was an interesting concept. Thanking fear sounds very strange to me, especially when it causes so much anxiety and misery sometimes. Have you ever felt a tremendous amount of fear whether real or perceived? It’s absolutely terrible. Why would you ever want to thank something for making you feel that way?
But then I thought about it. Fear was originally designed for survival – to warn us of real danger. Unfortunately, our brains aren’t very good at detecting whether something is a real threat or simply perceived by our own minds. This is where anxiety comes into play.
When I was dealing with anxiety and panic attacks on a daily basis, there were moments where my “fear alarms” were going off nonstop at almost anything – and I mean things that really were no danger at all. There were days where I was afraid to shower because I was afraid that the shampoo would never come out of my hair. It sounds extremely silly when I think back on it now, and some people may even laugh at it, but it’s a real thing and real mental illness that many people go through.
At the time, my brain truthfully could not distinguish between what was real and what was just something my mind was triggering as potential danger. It was so debilitating having to deal with this because when your fear response goes off, it becomes almost impossible to make yourself believe that you are not really in danger. Your body will immediately go into “flight or fight” response and it will prepare itself to survive.
The way I was able to combat this debilitating panic was to simply acknowledge it instead of being more afraid of it. Little did I know, I was practicing Elizabeth’s theory of “thanking fear.”
Every time my mind would decide that something was scary and threatening, instead of allowing myself to go from 0 to 60 and panic, I would acknowledge it. I would tell my fear that I was aware that I was afraid. I would remind myself that it was ok. That I really was not in any true danger. I then began to give myself permission to feel the uneasy feelings, to sit with the uncomfortable anxiety that was weighing down on my chest, and I would simply move through it.
Over time, the fear began to ease up. It began to listen when I told it that there was no real danger. And little by little, the things I was once afraid of, became not as scary. My brain rewired the patterns of fear that were originally being triggered, and I was able to heal.
I haven’t experienced panic like that in almost two years. It happens once in a while, but only when I really am afraid of something that could potentially be dangerous or makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. So I’ve been pretty lucky to be able to recover. However, there are always those moments when anxiety and fear do creep up, but I am learning this new concept of thanking it and treating it as a passenger in my car, rather than the driver that is leading me.
This past weekend, my boyfriend decided he wanted to take me to a local theme park so we could enjoy the experience of riding rollercoasters and acting like grown kids together. While it ended up being pretty amazing, I really wasn’t so apt to go at first.
Let me tell you. I don’t like rollercoasters. When I was a kid I loved them, but as I am now approaching my later 20s, my love for them has definitely ended. They make me incredibly uneasy and after reading so many horror stories of rollercoaster rides gone wrong, I am very wary of the safety of them.
But I went anyway. Because I love him. And because I wanted to experience something new together.
So he believes in that idea of jumping in the water with both feet in order to learn how to swim. I’m completely opposite. I like to test out the waters and get used to things. So he thought the best way to conquer my fear was by taking me on the fastest, scariest ride in the theme park. BAD IDEA. Especially for a recovering anxiety freak.
So we begin our trek to this rollercoaster and the panic starts to settle in. Fear is screaming it’s head off at me telling me to “TURN BACK” and “DO NOT GO ON THIS OR YOU WILL DIE.” I threw out all of my “acknowledging fear” wisdom and simply agreed. “Yup. You’re right fear. I definitely cannot do this. Let’s panic together.”
So we panicked. And I instantly broke out into sweat and tears and hyperventilating. My boyfriend was completely confused and couldn’t quite understand why I was so afraid because he didn’t think rollercoasters were that bad. He did his best to convince me that it would be ok and that the ride would be over quickly. But I wasn’t having it. As soon as it was our turn to get on the ride, I bolted. Literally. I jumped out of the seat and I told my boyfriend I couldn’t do it. Then I proceeded to go cry near the exit sign.
After my boyfriend came off the ride, I apologized profusely. I told him that I didn’t think it was a good idea for us to come and that we should just go home. I gave in to fear. I let fear win. HOW AWFUL.
My boyfriend told me I shouldn’t allow fear to rule me like this. That eventually, I would need to face it and I couldn’t just keep running from it and hiding away. It was only making it stronger.
I decided he was right. My better brain came back and also decided he was right. But I still thanked fear anyway, because maybe going on the biggest rollercoaster there was not a good idea for my first ride. So we decided we would start small and work our way up.
I’m proud to say that I did end up going on plenty of rides, mostly smaller, but I did go on one pretty crazy, fast, twisty, turny rollercoaster. It wasn’t the biggest one of them all. But it was definitely up there. And I’m pretty proud of myself for getting on it. And I must say, I did survive. (HAHA!) But thank you fear anyway for keeping me safe.
Will I ever go on another rollercoaster? Um…maybe, or maybe not just because I really don’t like them. But maybe I won’t let fear freak me out as much anymore with other things. Instead, I’m going to thank it more often because it really does a pretty good job at keeping me alive day after day. And that’s something worthy of gratitude.
What are some things you’re afraid of? Are they really dangerous or simply perceived? Can you work on acknowledging your fear and thanking it instead of running away from it?
Next time we feel afraid as we are driving along on our path of life, let’s ask ourselves whether it’s something real or not. And if it’s not, tell fear to quiet down back there and to stop being a backseat driver, because in reality, you are in control of the wheel so don’t let it take over and keep you from living a grand life!
The Self Love Daily Challenge:
Distinguish between your real and perceived fears. Then work on acknowledging and thanking your fear, rather than giving into it right away.
p.s. Don’t forget to follow my new and improved Instagram page – @The.Self.Love.Challenge!