Practice: welcoming fear.
Fear is not going to go away just because we want to, in fact, trying to push it away might be counterproductive. Fear can be very useful as it sometimes serves as a wake up call to get us into action. Here you can find some tips and tools to help you learn to understand fear, learn to accept it and not be controlled by it. As with any kind of training repetition is key, so don’t be discouraged if you struggle the first times; bear in mind that the brain is opening new neuronal pathways and that takes time!
- PAUSE, BREATHE, FEEL AND NAME. In order to make a change in any pattern or habit, the first thing to do is pause, to consciously interrupt the whirlwind of the mind and make space for the emotion to be there.
Sitting comfortably on a chair, making sure your back is upright, or laying on your back with your knees high, start by focusing on the breath, observing it and trying not to change it. Take the time needed to calm the mind and the body and once you feel settled, instead of redirecting your attention elsewhere trying to avoid that emotion (that might make things worse), you are going to try and reconnect with that fear, approaching it from a different place, with a different intention, and without being dragged under its influence. You do this by bringing back the very thoughts you have just stopped, creating the space for them to arrive, and focusing your attention on how the body feels when you do so. What physical sensations do they bring up (tightness, pressure, dizziness, numbness)? Noticing in what place or places in the body those sensations manifest -common areas for many are the throat, the chest or the belly- and once located, it helps naming the feelings and emotions: anxiety, worrying, restlessness, confusion, etc.
It is important not to judge yourself when doing the practice. There is no right or wrong in this. The practice is simply about connecting with the feelings that are present and accepting they are actually happening instead of wanting them to go away. Always remember that if you get too caught up in the thoughts and feelings and get overwhelmed, you always have the breathing to go back to.
It is common to get distracted at some point, so no matter how many times your mind wanders, that many times you will redirect your thoughts towards the breathing first, then back to the feelings and emotions aroused. Redirect your thoughts as many times as necessary. This is the practice, so you are not doing anything wrong when it happens.
- INVESTIGATING FEAR. Once the initial practice becomes more clear and you feel more familiar with those emotions and thoughts (depending on the issue and the person, times can vary immensely) you can invoke your wiser, caring and loving self to hold that fear. What that means is that you create an image of the more developed version or yourself, the one you aspire to, and use its energy, non-judging wisdom and understanding. Once you connect with your wiser future self, present your doubts or questions, share your experience and wait for an answer. What does this wiser version of yourself says to you? The more you listen, the clearer the answers will get, and that grip of fear will weaken, allowing you to act more freely, more courageously and more attuned to your own true nature. We often forget we have this inner, innate wisdom and we’re not used to taking the time to contact it. It’s good to remember that we have within ourselves the answers to our own questions.
Sometimes we become obsessed by irrational fears or things we can't do anything about. This practice of investigating can help us differentiate irrational fears from constructive fears.
- COMPASSION. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. If you’re doing this it’s because you’re having a difficult time and you deserve that self-care, understanding and compassion. Some people find it challenging to bring compassion to oneself, so if that is the case, it helps to bring the image of someone who loves (or have loved) you unconditionally, so you can feel that affection and comfort and spend some time with that soothing feeling.
- FIND A STRATEGY THAT WORKS FOR YOU. If you can identify any triggers that start the fear (e.g. a specific topic of conversation, a person, a specific situation, etc.), it can be useful to think in advance what you’re going to do so you’re ready for the situation. For example, you can decide to take a few breaths and say something soothing to yourself, maybe the words that your wiser self spoke when you practiced connecting with the fear, or invoking the presence of the person that you find comforting so you feel more safe and supported. Particularly with FOF (fear of failure), which is easily triggered by how we compare ourselves to others, you could try sentences like: I’m OK, I don’t need to compare myself to others, I make my own choices or This is his/her life and his/her priorities, mine are different.
- A THOUGHT IS JUST A THOUGHT. The things we think and tell ourselves are not real and we humans have a very powerful imagination. We tend to worry about stuff that might never, ever happen, getting stressed out about it and it can be useful to remember the fact that when we have a scary thought, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s real. We can acknowledge it and then choose to pass on it if we can see it's an irrational fear. Remember that fear is the brain overreacting. How much attention do you want to pay to it?
- YOU'RE NOT ALONE. Finally, it also helps to remember this: EVERYBODY experiences fear, it’s part of being human and it’s our survival instinct.
- BE THANKFUL FOR THE WARNING: We all have the power within ourselves to change our relationship with those fears, learn to differentiate between different types of fears, pay attention to them when they are useful and be thankful for the warning.
The practice of mindfulness can be extremely powerful and liberating, but it needs some time and guidance. If you don’t know where to start, drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be able to give you some more information and free resources to get you started.
(Disclaimer: Please note these practices are not given as a therapy for any specific cases, particularly not to treat situations where medical attendance or medication might be needed, if in doubt please ask your doctor or therapist.)
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