On the first day of school, in my first-grade year, we were arranging the alphabet backwards with blocks. It was right after lunch and I started to feel an overwhelming fear. I had night terrors and panic attacks before this, but nothing that happened in a public setting. My heart started pounding, my mind began to race, I literally started shaking. I distinctly remember staring at the door and wondering if I could get to it before the teacher could stop me.
Well, the teacher didn’t even see me. I made it to the door, opened it, and I started running. I ran a little over a mile towards my house. In fact, I made it a few houses down from mine. By that time the school had notified my mom who was waiting outside for me. I burst in to tears as my mind caught up with what my body had done.
In the summer of my seventh-grade year a similar event happened. This time I walked home two miles in the dark. Somehow, being at a birthday party with thirty other pre-teens was scarier than walking across town alone.
Fast forward ten years, a decade filled with panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. I am in my twenties and at a party that I tried to avoid in the first place. Things were going ok, listening to music, joking with friends, and then I started to experience the same old fear. I had matured enough to not simply burst out the door and run home. I politely excused myself, and told the woman I was with that we needed to leave. We went for a long drive until the fear passed.
I did things like that so often in my early adult life that a few of my friends thought I must have a secret life. One asked if I had a child at home, because I was always leaving early or disappearing. Another wondered if I “worked for the FBI or something like that.” I never had a problem fitting in or making friends, but I had a very difficult time building deep relationships.
Fear controlled all my decisions even if it wasn’t present at the time.
I was the master of avoidance.
Fear is a natural response to a dangerous situation. When the brain senses danger it floods the body with adrenaline. The heart rate increases, breathing becomes rapid, and pupils will begin to dilate. Blood starts flowing into large muscles in the extremities, preparing the person to take action. All of this can happen in a matter of a seconds. This is an amazing gift. It empowers us to fight for our lives, or run for safety.
There are different reasons for high anxiety and panic attacks. The reasons, be they stress, loss of a loved one, chemical imbalances, or other medicals conditions all trigger the same reaction that an actual threatening situation would bring about. Your personality type, your diet, your overall health, and more variables can all play a part in the frequency and intensity of anxious episodes. There are many causes for irrational anxiety, that is why there are many beneficial treatments. As I said in week two, the goal is for you to find what works for you. But I do believe the methods shared in this series can help anyone and for many will lead to conquering irrational fear.
Here are things we should acknowledge, actions we should take (both from last week), along with some attitudes we should adopt.
Acknowledge these ideas when fear shows up.
- Allow the temporary emotion and physical results of fear.
- Accept that they can’t hurt you.
- Don’t blame yourself or feel guilty.
- Realize millions of people have felt like this.
- Most people who struggle with fear are highly intelligent and incredibly creative.
Actions to take when fear shows up:
- Set your attitude to “fear is present, I accept it.”
- Call fear’s bluff, say to yourself “I won’t fear the fear.”
- Use the energy, burn the extra fuel, take a walk or a similar activity.
- Pick one small thing to accomplish, then find another.
- Engage in what is around you, co-workers, friends, read or study.
Attitudes to adopt:
- Be patient, you will have a set-back.
- Know that small accomplishments snowball over time.
- Understand change can be good.
- Problems are opportunities to grow.
- Let “What If” thinking work for you.
To elaborate on these attitudes.
Be patient with yourself, when you begin to let fear be present and you push through it, you will have success, and a couple times you will have a set-back. Show grace to yourself. This is the time to re-double your resolve to conquer the fear.
Know that small accomplishments snowball over time. Little victories over fear add up quickly. Celebrate and remind yourself of the ways you are winning. Soon you will be able to look at a pile of victories and your confidence will grow.
Understand change can be good. Many of us have a negative view on change in general. We need to see change for what it is, it can be good or bad. But more important, we need to react to any change in the most positive way possible.
Problems are opportunities to grow. I still need to work on this one. I want to get to the point where problems energize me to find solutions. Too often, my progress slows when I see or even imagine problems that could happen. I need to think of them as speedbumps not roadblocks.
Let “what if” thinking work for you. You are likely creative and intelligent, your mind is powerful. For some people this works against them. You can “what if” yourself into a paralyzing state of mind. But the same brain that works in this way is also capable of creating the positive “what ifs”. What if this turns out better than you think? What if you conquer fear? What if you are free to reach your potential? It is an empowering way to think.
I hope you continue to follow along in this series. I pray you are finding answers and encouragement. I want you to know that victory over fear is not only possible, but within reach. You were designed the way you were for a reason. You have potential for greatness in whatever way you want to define greatness.
Keep pushing forward, be confident, and find the courage to overcome fear.
Next week we will look at ways to Arrange your life so that victory over fear is more likely.