5th August 2020
Fear and anxiety are very strong emotions, albeit not necessarily the ones we like to experience, because we all know the feeling of them in one way or another. Fear of loss, whether it is a job or much worse, a loved one. Fear of failure, fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of public speaking, fear of heights, fear of falling, fear of being ill, fear of getting old, fear of not being able to sleep in the night – again; fear of spiders, snakes, dogs, etc. We all know the feeling and we don’t like it. We want it to go away. However, when we try to push them aside, to ignore them, or to suppress them, they will come back – and stronger.
Whether we like those emotions or not, we need them, because they take care that we are safe and stay alive. Actually, they are pretty cool, and it would be great if you could choose to get to know them better, be able to accept them and find out, what they want to tell you because every single emotion has a signal character.
Fear and anxiety are usually the sign for danger. Anxiety wants to tell you, “Be careful what you do, it might be dangerous.”, while fear is more urgent, warning you, “Watch out, you are in danger, you are not safe here!”.
In common speech we mostly use fear and anxiety interchangeably, and we use fear for both emotions – as I did in the first paragraph. But science differentiates between fear and anxiety:
What is fear?
Fear is an emotional response to a real, definite and immediate danger. A real life-threatening event that is happening to you a right now in this very moment, e.g. you are standing in the middle of a road and a car comes speeding directly at you.
What is anxiety?
In my opinion the most important fact about anxiety to know is that we create anxiety with our thoughts - consciously and
subconsciously. You think this is even more scary? I think it's great, because if we can create anxiety with our thoughts, we can also create peace and calm with our thoughts. We will get there
in a minute, let's have a quick look at the anxiety we create and how we do it.
Mostly, we experience anxiety, because we are not in the present with our thoughts, they wander off into the past or the future, e.g.
This is what our mind, our ego does, it is catastrophising, dramatising, and creating worst case scenarios and by doing so, we overwhelm ourselves and create anxiety. Our brain is wired to recognise the negative in order to keep us safe. When our ancestors walked out into the woods and there was a cute little rabbit and a sabre-toothed tiger, they had to see the tiger in order to survive.
When you realise that fear and anxiety only want to keep you alive and kicking, you can start to get to know them better and accept them. You can give them your attention and listen to their message.
Fear really does make sense; it is a very healthy part of us. You want to see the car racing at you and be able to jump out of its way in time. You want to recognise the saber-toothed tiger and start running, climbing a tree, hiding, or worst case fighting it.
Anxiety, although we create it with our thoughts and it wants to warn us of possible danger and keep us safe as well, there’s the rub:
Unfortunately, our brain cannot differentiate between a real or an imagined danger, and reacts exactly in the same way, with the fight, flight, or freeze response.
Stress hormones, e.g. cortisol, epinephrine, adrenalin and noradrenalin are pumped into our body systems to prepare us to fight as strong as we can, to take flight as fast as possible, or in rare cases to freeze, to hide.
Our body reacts immediately with e.g. increased pulse and blood pressure, accelerated and shallow breathing, our metabolism is shut down, our immune system weakened, muscle tensions, etc. This is only part of our physical reaction to the stress hormones released into our body systems which can have devastating effects for our health.
Ones the stress hormones are unleashed, our reptilian brain, our primitive part of the brain, overrides our logical brain and takes over command to do anything and everything possible in order to keep us alive and safe. We react instinctively – there is not a chance for any logical, rational thought whatsoever; and no chance to tap into our intuition.
When we constantly worry about the future, relive frightening events from the past again and again, create worst case scenarios for everything and anything, our brain permanently releases stress hormones into our body. This chronic stress is exhausting, sucks your energy, is debilitating and can affect all areas of your life. You can easily feel disempowered and out of control.
It is tough, if not impossible to be anxious, fearful and stressed, and at the same time creative, open-minded, productive or even open-hearted and loving. You are far away from being our best self.
How can you find your true self again?
Note: From here on I will use fear and anxiety synonymous to not make it too complicated and not to wrack my brain.
Become aware of your emotions is the first and most important part. I always say once you are aware you are halfway there.
Your body is wired to feel every emotion. It will tell you when something is off. Do a little body scan and notice what you feel.
Maybe you have e.g. a knot in your stomach, a squeezy feeling in your tummy, a tight feeling in your chest, a lump in your throat, your shoulders pulled up around your ears, or any other muscle tensions etc. Just listen into your body and be curious what’s coming up.
Ask yourself what emotion this body sensation could stand for. Could it be fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, or another emotion? Whatever pops up into your head at first is right.
Allow the emotion to be there, accept it, you have created it.
Don’t worry if you do not get an answer. Just go and shift your breathing.
Being in the fight, flight or freeze mode we breathe fast, shallow and into our chest. Breathing this way our energy cannot flow freely. Furthermore, it sends yet another stress signal to our brain, releasing even more of the stress hormones into our body.
Using deep belly breathing is our natural stress buster. It sends a calming signal to our brain, moves a lot of energy and stimulates the relaxation response.
Do the following breathing technique at least three times a day, and every time you feel uncomfortable, anxious, frightened or stressed.
Deep belly breathing
Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose into your belly, as long and as much as you can.
Then start breathing out slowly through your mouth, as much as you can.
Do three, better nine breaths in a row (1 breath is inhaling and exhaling).
This breathing will help you to come back into your body, this very moment, where usually all is well. It allows you to calm down and give yourself space so you can take a step back and take a closer look.
You could also hug yourself a little and move your hands along your arms. It is like someone else is touching you
As we know now that we create anxiety with our thoughts – even though we often do so subconsciously – we can start to become more and more aware of them and take back control.
After you have taken three deep breaths, pause for a moment and ask yourself, “What was I thinking just before I started having these uncomfortable emotions and/or body sensations?”. Maybe you had thoughts like:
Once you have an idea which thought or thoughts are behind your anxiety, write it down.
Read the thought you have noted and then read it out loud to yourself. This way you disempower your thought.
In case you had noted more than one thought, deal with one after the other.
Answer the following questions for each and every one of your toughts:
Do I really believe this?
Is this really true?
Is this my own thought or have I taken it on from someone else?
e.g. family, friends, authority figures, or society in general?
Is this thought going to kill me?
Was I able to endure similar thoughts and the attached emotions in the past?
Answering those questions will help you to put your thoughts into perspective, to take back control and this process releases anxiety and stress.
Always keep in mind, a thought is ONLY a thought YOU have created. The thought does not represent who you are. You are not your thought.
Also, remember, when you can create limiting emotions like fear and anxiety with your thoughts, you can create supporting and empowering emotions with them as well.
It is your life, rewrite your story.
Take your thought that you have written down and questioned; and try to find a positive opposite, a positive affirmation. Make sure you choose a thought your brain can accept and work with.
Your anxiety creating thought might have been the following:
“I never achieved anything in the past, and nothing is going to change this in the future?”
A positive opposite thought which your brain can accept and work with, could be the following:
“I have already achieved many things in my life, and I will be able to achieve many more in the future.”
Boom, now your brain goes looking for positive and empowering proof. Best to write them down as soon as they cross your mind. What have you achieved already? What could you achieve in the future?
Choose how you want to feel and transform your vocabulary more and more; and use empowering words to tell your new stories.
Following some ideas to start with:
“Whether you think you can,
or you think you can’t,
you are right.”
Start rewriting your story, start writing it anew, and start being your best you again because you have it all inside of you, already.
Whenever you feel any form of uneasiness …
Doing those 5 steps over and over again, you will calibrate your brain to a more positive approach of life. You will be able to take a calmer, more curious, playful, open-minded and courageous approach to life. You will become your true and best self, again.
I personally am sure you are wonderful the way you are.
Be well, you deserve it.
inner works for you
sibylle chaudhuri | coaching & training
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