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.
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.