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How to work with fear in these times

Magical Tree

Please note: I don’t have a medical, psychological, or healing background to draw advice from on how to work with fear, but I can offer the tools I use, and reflections from my Facebook community.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I dealt with a lot of health issues last year, including PTSD from medical trauma. Since then, I’ve become more aware of how fear affects my body and my mind. As I watch the news, scroll through my Facebook feed, talk with friends, and observe myself, I’m aware that our collective fear level is very high.

The purpose of fear is to compel us to take action to survive: to fight, or to flee. According to the Psychology Today post, The Anatomy of Fear, when you feel fear, your body does this:

“[Y]our heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing gets quicker, and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released. The blood flows away from the heart and out towards the extremities, preparing the arms and legs for action.”

And your brain does this:

“[T]he brain basically shuts down as the body prepares for action. The cerebral cortex, the brain’s center for reasoning and judgment, is the area that becomes impaired when the amygdala senses fear. The ability to think and reason decreases as time goes on, so thinking about the next best move in a crisis can be a hard thing to do.”

The thing is, we aren’t supposed to feel fear 24/7. It’s not good for our bodies, or our minds. I’m concerned about our collective physical health (especially without access to affordable healthcare!), and our ability to make good decisions as we navigate this challenging time.

Sunset with beautiful clouds

Here are some of the practices that help me work with fear:

  • Exercise: I try to meet my weekly Fitbit goal of 10,000 steps, do my daily home yoga practice, and go to Zumba once a week.
  • Noticing beauty: Since the election, I’ve been trying to take more walks in nature and take a photo most days of the sunset.
  • Meditation: There are lots of Meditation Timer apps available for your phone.
  • Limiting caffeine, sugar and alcohol: None of these are innately “bad.” I’ve just found that consuming less of them creates less highs and lows throughout the day.
  • Journaling: I find it helpful to write down what I’m grateful for, what I fear, and what my best possible future could look like before I go to sleep at night.
  • Spending time with people I love: No explanation needed ( :
  • Reading cheerful, uplifting, or inspiring things: I’m still on a “cozy mystery” tear.
  • HeartMath: The app is free, but you have to purchase the sensor.
  • Getting support: What’s going on right now can feel pretty overwhelming. Talking with a friend, or a professional (e.g. coach, therapist) about how you’re feeling can help. If you don’t have a friend to talk with, and professional help is too expensive, research if: 1. You can join a group, which is usually less expensive than seeing someone one-on-one, 2. Your local religious/spiritual community has support services, 3. The professional you’d like to see has a sliding scale, 4. There is a free support group you can join (e.g. a 12-step group), or 5. There is a therapist training program in your area with reduced priced counseling (e.g. JFK University Counseling Centers).
  • Body/alternative healing work: I’ve found acupuncture and acucraniatsu massage to be very calming, but it can be expensive. If bodywork isn’t in your budget, see if: 1. The bodyworker you’d like to see has a sliding scale, or is open to a skills trade, 2. There is a healing training program near you that needs people for their students to practice on for a reduced fee (e.g. National Holistic Institute Student Massage Clinic), or 3. There is an affordable healing clinic near your (e.g. Oakland Acupuncture Project, Deep Roots Urban Refuge).


I also asked my Facebook community to share their thoughts, ideas, and resources for how to work with fear:

• Transformational leadership coach, Julie Daley, writes in her post, Developing a Foundation for a Creative Life, “You are not afraid. You are feeling fear. There is a big difference. One slaps the identity of fear on you, that you are a fearful being. When we do this, we begin to believe that we are afraid. But, when we realize fear has nothing to do with our identity, that it is something we feel just like any other feeling, we shift into an entirely different relationship with it. It no longer is us. Instead, we can keep moving, feeling whatever comes.”

• Doula, Zoe Krylova, asks the pregnant women she works with who are having a lot of fear around childbirth to make a list of their fears and then a counter list of best outcomes. Each time a fear comes up, she asks them to counter the fear with a positive possibility (e.g. “I am too old and out of shape to have the strength to push out my baby,” becomes, “My baby will descend with ease and my body will work with me to push the baby out with success.”). You can use this technique in any situation when you fear the worst outcome: a medical procedure, a series of tests or challenges, travel, or civic and environmental concerns.

• In her e-book, 30 Days of Courage, Marianne Elliott, author of Zen Under Fire: A Story of Love and Work in Afghanistan, writes, “In my experience, the bravest thing I could do when I was in free-fall was to sit still and breathe and pay attention.  .  .  . Every morning for 10 minutes, I sat on a cushion with a timer and paid attention to my breath. Every few seconds I would notice that my attention had wandered off with a thought or a plan or a worry or a distraction (and they are all just distractions really) so I would gently nudge my attention back to my  breath and keep sitting. . . . I was training my mind, and like a puppy it needs gentleness and incredible patience.” Marianne has generously made 30 Days of Courage available to download for free.

• Expressive arts instructor, Chris Zydel, says, “Paint. Make art. Use the creative process to channel and engage with your fear in a way that can access your courage.”

Life Artist and Transformational Consultant, Gabriela Masala, writes, “Throughout history, fear has been used as a way to control people and keep them disempowered in survival chemistry (which can not exist at the same time as the chemistry of creation/creativity). For me, working with fear during these challenging times means staying empowered, creative, and connected to creation. It includes flooding my nervous system with the vibrations of nature, beauty, gratitude, affection, touch, love and engaging in a life of embodied soul expression.”

• Ann Dyer, Director at Mountain Yoga, says, “From an energetic point of view, fear is ungrounding. We can work with the body to become more grounded and more rooted in our power. Lots of strong, dynamic leg work and hip opening are recommended!”

• Coach, Lianne Raymond, says she returns again and again to the work of mythologist Martin Shaw. She shared a link to his post, A Counsel of Resistance and Delight in the Face of Fear, where he writes, “Become a prayer-maker. Why? Because what you face in your life is bigger than you can handle. It is. Go to a place with shadows and privacy, and just start talking. There is some ancient Friend that wants to hear from you. No more dogma than that. Use your simple, holy, words. Then sit. Listen. Go for a walk. Let in.”

• Nancy L. Seibel, founder of Keys to Change, LLC and life coach for service-oriented professionals, shared some of her self-care practices in her post, In for the Long Haul: writing, creating visual images, noticing signs of beauty and kindness, finding ways to deeply relax, respecting messages from your body, giving and receiving support, and having fun.

Sharon Price, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Rockwood Leadership Institute wrote, “I was on a call yesterday with teacher, Norma Wong, who shared that in times of maximum fear, our obligation is to create hope. I view this as resistance. Double-down on your own practice of spaciousness and take care of yourself. To start, at least 7+ hours of sleep and clean food. For me, it means my focus and presence in each moment. And I will prioritize self-care, my relationship with my partner, and my work with Rockwood. The discipline of these three. And more love.”

I hope that somewhere among these lists and links there is at least one idea, resource, or tool that will help you during these challenging times.

Please share how you are working with fear so that we can all learn from each other.

All photos by me.

5 Steps to Start Your Own Big Vision Circle

Big Vision 2017 Worksheet
Worksheet to record 1-3 of your Big Visions for the year, the season and the lunar month.

For ten years, I gathered a group of six women each month for a couple hours to talk about our Big Visions for our work in the world. We celebrated our successes and offered support through our challenges. At the end of each meeting, we committed to the actions we’d take until the next month. The result: new jobs, clients, businesses, products, publications, and performances.

Whether your medium New Year’s resolution is about work, money, love, health, friends, family, home, creativity, your spiritual life, or activism, you’re much more likely to make progress on it if you’re part of a small group that is working on related resolutions.

Six or seven years ago, I offered a teleseminar, “How to Start Your Own Big Vision Circle.” As I’ve noticed an increasing number of people say that they want to create a small group to help them navigate the uncertain times ahead, it seems like a good moment to share how to start your own Big Vision Circle:

1. Determine your Circle’s purpose.

Why do you want to create a Circle? What are you all coming together to do? The women in my group were all creative in some way whether they were writers, teachers, healers, artists, performers, craftswomen, or businesswomen. They came together to clarify their Big Visions and get support while they wove together a life made up of their creative longings, financial needs, and relationships with partners, spouses, friends, family, children, and themselves.

2. Decide if you want your Circle to be virtual, or face-to face.

Having a face-to-face group can connect you to local resources and people, grow your knowledge and connection to your local community, and may spark friendships that can be a part of your everyday life outside of the Circle. They can also be difficult to schedule, and to find a meeting space for that is affordable, accessible and can accommodate a group for 1.5-2 hours.

Virtual groups are easier to schedule, pose no space concerns, and can potentially connect you with a broader range of people and resources, but you’ll need to schedule around time zone differences, won’t grow your local community connections, and can’t turn to its members for support in your everyday life (e.g. dropping off a casserole to someone who is sick).

3. Invite people to be a part of your Big Vision Circle.

You can invite friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, and/or colleagues by letter (I know, so old fashioned), email, phone call, text and/or social media. If you want to reach a broader audience, you could post an invite in Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, listservs and other social networks (e.g. Nextdoor) that include people in your area and/or are related to the topic of your group. You could also use a platform like or Eventbrite to advertise your group to the general public.

I think it’s easier to create traction when there is some kind of existing social tie, even if it is a weak one, between the lead organizer and the rest of the Circle. A friend of a friend of a friend, or the cousin of a co-worker, is probably more likely to show up each month than a complete stranger.

Worksheet to record (in the petals) 10 ways you will make time for happiness this month.

4. Choose a place and time to meet.

If you’re organizing an in-person group, you’ll need to pick a place that is easily accessible by car (include ease of parking into the equation) and public transport (if that is an option where you live). The space needs to be big enough to seat your group and if you’re at a restaurant, where they don’t mind if you stay for 1.5-2 hours. The pros of meeting at a cafe or affordable restaurant are that no one has to host, and everyone can be focused on the purpose of the meeting. The cons are the cost, and sometimes the noise level.

The pros of meeting at someone’s home are the quiet, comfort level, and cost. The cons are that the host will always be somewhat distracted and people may feel obliged to stay longer to socialize, or help clean up, so the time commitment becomes longer. If you are inviting people you don’t know to your Circle, please use good safety sense and start out meeting in a public place rather than at your home.

If you’re organizing a virtual group, World Time Server and Doodle can help you find a time that works for everyone, and there are a multitude of options now for group video and phone calls (e.g. Skype, Google Hangout, Zoom,

You could also do a mix of in-person and virtual meetings with email check-ins in between. Or in-person meetings where some people participate by speakerphone, or video. A GorillaPod works well to “seat” a phone at a table so everyone can see it.

Worksheet to record dreams you want to grow and let go.

5. Create a meeting structure.

You’ll want to create a meeting structure that is flexible enough to meet the needs of your Circle, but that can be used regularly so that the focus of your meeting isn’t about what’s going to happen next.

Here’s how I facilitated our Big Vision Circle:

  • Socializing and ordering of food for 15 minutes, or so.
  • Calculate how much time each person has to speak based on the length of the meeting and number of people (usually about 15-20 minutes each).
  • Check in to see if anyone has to leave early. If so, they should share first.
  • Each person shares if/how they completed the actions they committed to last month.
  • The group offers suggestions, resources, reflections, ideas, encouragement and/or congratulations. We all knew each other well enough that we didn’t need feedback guidelines, but you might want to create some (e.g. Only offer feedback if the person asks for it).
  • The person sharing says what actions she will take towards her Big Vision before the next group and the facilitator notes her commitment, so that it can be referred to next time.
  • Sometimes we would use worksheets to record our goals, like the three included in this post, that my husband illustrated for us. If you want a PDF of any of them, shoot me an email, and I’ll send you a copy.
  • Choose the date for your next meeting.

According to the article, “Social Support and Resilience to Stress,” social support is “exceptionally important for maintaining good physical and mental health.” Creating a Big Vision Circle is not only good for your goals, it’s good for your well-being, so why not start one this year?

What tips do you have for how to start and maintain a Circle?

Cultivating Calm Strength for the Long Haul

One of the things that has been a touchpoint for me during this tumultuous post-election time has been a 23-minute video CNN contributor and founder of Dream Corps and Rebuild The Dream, Van Jones, posted on Facebook on November 10th.

When I feel overwhelmed, I hear him saying:

“Please don’t forget we have 70 days . . . and 70 days is a very long time for us to plan and to get ready.”

As the time between now and January 20, 2017 passes, I keep thinking, “How do I need to get ready?”

Two words come to mind, calm strength. I need to cultivate calm strength.

calm strength sunset
One of the things I’ve learned on my healing journey, is how important it is to be able to calm myself, and how much clearer, stronger, smarter, more effective, and more loving I am when I am calm.

One of the things that has given me calm strength each day since the election has been to go for a walk, take photos, and watch the sunset. The walking burns off nervous energy and taking photos helps me notice the beauty around me. Being outside during the sunset reflects how I am feeling inside: we are entering a time of darkness, but at some point, someday, the light will return.


I’ve been sharing photos from my sunset walks on Instagram, if you would like to connect there.

What helps you cultivate calm strength?

All photos by me.

Tech Wellness for the Happy Healthy Nonprofit Professional: There’s An App for That!

Happy Healthy NonprofitI’m so thrilled to share a guest post today by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman, the authors of, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout. As someone who has worked for nonprofits for a large part of my professional life, I know firsthand how essential this book is for the sector. Most of us who work for nonprofits do so because we are passionate about an issue, which is wonderful, but it can also cause us to overwork and put being of service over our own self-care.

In this post, Beth and Aliza share seven apps that can contribute to, rather than take away from, our personal wellness while we work for a better world. Enjoy!

Tech Wellness for the Happy Healthy Nonprofit Professional: There’s An App for That!
by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman

As nonprofit professionals, our “always on” digital lifestyle challenges our ability to find solitude or contemplate quietly. We have all become such experts at being hyper-connected, always in touch and informed, that we have forgotten how to embrace time away from digital devices, screens, and electronic communications. This lack of stillness time can accelerate the symptoms of burnout.

Happy Healthy NonprofitIn our book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, we talk about both our individual need to practice self-care around how we use technology and the need for organizations, from boards to executive directors to staff, to be more mindful of the way they use – or abuse – technology. We provide many tips in our book to help develop what we call Tech Wellness skills.

With the myriad of ways our tech use impacts our bodies and brains, it stands to reason that incorporating Tech Wellness will alleviate the stress and damage tech overuse is causing to our health and well-being, and even to our relationships. Tech Wellness starts with awareness of how we relate to our tech and how it affects us on a daily basis.

We all need to move from endless, unconscious use of our smartphones and mobile devices to being more in control and mindful. Despite the need to take breaks and unplug from our devices, we can also use technology as instruments of well-being. We advocate using tech gadgets and apps such as fitness motivators like Fitbit, nutrition trackers, mindfulness reminders, and even relaxation devices.

For example, reflective practice – taking time to sit quietly and reflect on a meeting, encounter with a co-worker, or other occurrence during our day – gives us the time to process a situation and helps keep stress at bay. Some meditative apps that offer guided audio meditations and are great for beginners include Headspace and Calm.

While it might seem counterintuitive, sometimes a certain type of noise can be relaxing or help us focus. The wrong kind of noise or too many distracting sounds, particularly around the office, can cause a release of excess cortisol, negatively affecting brain function. But experimenting with specific kinds of ambient sound can help you identify the background noise that helps you concentrate better. Apps like Noisli, with atmospheric nature sounds like rain, and Coffitivity, that plays sounds you might hear if you were working from a café, could help you relax, even at the office. Who would have thought noise could be relaxing?

Taking stretch breaks instead of sitting for long periods of time at your desk can help you avoid what Jacqui Burge, founder of Desk Yogi, calls “numb butt.”

“When I sat for more than four hours a day, I would actually lose feeling in my butt and down my legs,” explains Burge. “That’s why I invested in a standing desk, but then my legs hurt because I still needed to move my body.”

Burge created Desk Yogi, an app for your computer that reminds you to pause and stretch, and guides you through easy yoga moves, breathing exercises, and stretches right at your desk. Any movement tied to breath is beneficial, Burge explains.

Feeling and expressing gratitude can be another powerful stress buster.

“Writing in a gratitude journal is a good personal exercise. It has been transformative for me,” says Amber Hacker, Alumni Relations Manager at Interfaith Youth Core. “Every day, I write down three things I’m thankful for. I’ve started noticing more things to be thankful for.” Studies show that some of the benefits of gratitude include better sleep, higher self-esteem, increased empathy, and more resilience. Even the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, advocates happiness as one way to prevent disease and live a longer, healthier life. Some experts recommend spending five minutes a day on identifying the things you are grateful for and feeling gratitude.

The app Happier lets you post about things you’re grateful for and share them with friends on the app or more widely through Facebook and Twitter. As you send positive ripples throughout your social networks you’ll reap the benefits as well.

Colorfy by Beth Kanter
Colorfy image painted by Beth Kanter

We are both fans of coloring books, and are also obsessed with pens and markers. Coloring and drawing brings us back to our childhood love of making art, something Aliza describes in the introduction of our book. This kind of association can be comforting while also stimulating creativity. An app like Colorfy can be both meditative and relaxing.

We want to reiterate that we love technology and do not see technology as a barrier to our quest for less stress. Tech wellness is about intentional use of technology – whether to work or destress. While taking technology breaks or “digital detoxes” is an essential part of tech wellness, you can use technology itself – like the apps we’ve described – to help you destress and avoid burnout.

Beth KanterBeth Kanter @kanter was named one of the most influential women in Aliza Shermantechnology by Fast Company and is the award-winning author of The Networked Nonprofit books. She is an internationally acclaimed master trainer and speaker.

Aliza Sherman @alizasherman is a web and social media pioneer; founder of Cybergrrl, Inc., the first women-owned, full-service internet company; and Webgrrls International, the first internet networking organization for women. She is a motivational keynote speaker and the author of eleven books, including Social Media Engagement for Dummies.