When push comes to shove, the human race are a pretty brave bunch. We face down tempestuous storms, tsunamis, marauding terrorists, natural and man-made disasters. We help each other up, dust ourselves down start out all over again.
Unfortunately many of us also live overly governed by fear of what might happen. Anxiety in extremis. Most of the time we can’t even name for our fears, we’re just marginally terrorized by a deep seated unease. It stops us doing things we want to do and it stops us fulfilling our potential. We become confined by the walls we create ourselves.
In ancient times when a hairy mammoth came after us, we scarpered or we fought it off, depending on how brave we were feeling and back we went to our daily grind. Fear switches on survival mode; danger over, fear switches off. Nowadays hyper-anxiety has become a modern phenomena, we are under constant stress, perpetual alert. Our ‘off’ button has malfunctioned and we are left in a permanent state of believing the hairy mammoth is right around the corner.
“Often we fear we are going to be hurt by something. Manifestations of fear are frequently relational. We have anxiety about being hurt by a loved one, judged by peers, speaking in public, performance feedback at work, and so forth. This fear draws our attention to the objects (psychological or physical) that could hurt us. We think the fear will protect us from being hurt. While it is important to be mindful of the potential to be hurt, the over focus on what you are afraid of can result in creating what is feared, emotional pain. If you are experiencing impairing anxiety and fear in your life… Keep your focus on where you want to go and the experience you want to have.” Mark Hansen, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist
Fear feeds on itself. It grows if we heed to it and bend to its cries of warning. We have to beat it back or our world starts to shrink. Fear piles on fear, thoughts whirling out of control on the back of imagination, horror movies and news footage. Our dreams turn to nightmares as our subconscious tries to process the daytime fears and our sleep becomes broken. Tiredness exacerbates the sense of lack of control over our environment. Niggling anxiety become full outright warfare of magnified fear and panic over reason.
Yes bad things do happen but usually not what you obsess over. It’s a waste of time and emotional energy. And when horrifying things have happened to us, we know that somehow we managed to reach deep inside ourselves and do what we needed to do to survive.
On December 21st 1988 I was living in Lockerbie when A Pan Am flight was blown up in the skies above us. It was horrific and traumatising, for those on the ground, for relatives of those who died, for the services who had to clear up the carnage. When you go through something like that, the trauma is re-awakened by many things for years to come. But you learn to talk yourself through the fears; the fear of flying, the fear of loud noises, the grinding anxiety of something happening again out of the blue. You keep going in spite of the fear.
Being brave means doing what you are afraid to do, and rising above the fear bubbling away underneath. We may feel afraid but we must act with courage. We have to trick our adrenals glands into thinking everything is absolutely fine. If we control our thoughts, then our body calms down. If it is hard to keep our thoughts in check, then deep long breaths have the same relaxing effect. Breathing is like an internal massage, soothing our bodies and primal instincts into ‘chill zone’.
The more we practice mindful breathing and mindset control, the better we become at it. We can stop panic attacks in their tracks, we can foresee potential situations that might set off the fear flares and we can put our anti-fear weapons in place. We can consciously head off the enemy within. My grandmother lived in London with small babies during the Second World War. I asked her once if she had lived in a perpetual state of terror and her reply was typical of those who lived through the Blitz… “You just got on with it”.
Our imaginations have a lot to answer for in the escalation of fear. We imagine in terrifying detail the worst outcomes. Before we know it we are experiencing the horror as if it were real, our heart pounding, our hands clammy. But what a powerful tool; to use our imaginations to help us overcome our anxieties. It is harder to do, but it is possible. We need to put our creative thinking skills to work.
When the fear footsteps echo down the corridor towards you, take a pen and paper and draw three columns. In the left column name the fear. In the middle column, write down the likelihood of it happening. In the third column write what other positive outcome could there be. Really vamp it up, use your imagination, relish in the best scenario possible, describe it in minute detail.
If on the other hand, what you fear comes to pass, again get your creative juices flowing. Brainstorm every which way possible how you could find ways to turn the situation around, what could help you to survive, learn and grow. How can you defeat what you have been through by channeling your pain into a force for good.
People do this all the time. They raise money for a cause, run for mental health, meet and forgive their enemy, work on developing a life enhancing treatment, investigate the perpetrator of a crime, go into schools to educate children to be more informed. People dig deep into their imaginations to find a way through, so that they may rise again and make life worth living.
We live with threats beyond our control. But in true human spirit, as it says on the T-Shirt we “Keep calm and Carry On”.
Illustrations by Lou Hamilton
Want to invest some time with a Creative Thinking Coach overcoming your fears, stress & anxieties? Email me to find out more Lou@createlab.co.uk
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