Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
--Litany Against Fear
Dune by Frank Herbert
So far I've talked about some great, simple and fun ideas for managing fear and anxiety and told some entertaining and useful stories. But now it's time to face the Monster head on. It's where the rubber meets the road.
Fear is a bully; it's the kid in the schoolyard who says, "Give me your lunch money and I'll leave you alone otherwise I'll kick your butt." So we give him our lunch money and guess what? The next day he's back.We have to stand up to the bully. Avoidance gives us temporary relief but actually reinforces the fear or anxiety and it keeps coming back. Now there are some things that may be best to avoid. I can go through my entire life and never pick up a snake and it doesn't make a bit of difference (unless my dog has one in his mouth). But there are other things we have to confront; otherwise our lives become very terrifying and limited.
A really interesting study was done at the University of Texas in 2010 in which a group of student volunteers being treated for claustrophobia (fear of being closed in or having no escape) agreed to be enclosed in a wooden box that was painted black and lined with foam. They were divided into three groups.
Group one was given a cell phone and told that they weren't expected to stay in the box for very long and when they wanted out, to use the cell phone and they'd be let out.
Group two was given a phone and told to stay in as long as they could and when they couldn't stand it any longer to use the phone and they'd be let out.
But Group three was given no phone and told they'd have to stay in the box until the researchers let them out. No escape, just tough it out. Then the researchers timed how long each group stayed in the box.
Then after an interval they repeated the exercise to see how long each group did staying in the box the second time. Now here's the interesting part. Which group do you think did the best staying in the box for as long as possible? Most people I ask this question to answer Group two as they knew they could get out at any time. But it's actually Group three.
The study found that there was no change in the length of time that groups one and two stayed in the box compared to the first time. In other words, they didn't improve. Group three actually stayed in the box longer the second time they were closed in.
What happens is that when we know we have a way out or a safety net we aren't forced to face our fear. While sometimes medications are necessary and helpful for fighting off anxiety or panic attacks, simply relying on them alone doesn't allow us to develop the tools necessary to manage our fears.Some people become afraid to leave home without them. They keep paying the bully.
I once had a client who was very anxious at work and kept a small flask of vodka in her car in case she needed it to calm herself. She made sure to park far away so it was inconvenient to get to and no one was likely to see her if she went to her car for a drink. She actually never did use it but she knew it was there just in case so she really wasn't facing her anxiety. And then one day she was running late for work and in her hurry dropped and broke the flask getting into her car in her garage. She had no choice but to go to work without it, worried about how she'd get through the day. The day was a little bit bumpy but she actually got through it okay and realized that she could manage her anxiety on her own. And she never went back to carrying the vodka again.
So facing down fear really means dropping the safety net and stepping out into the void. I know it can be pretty scary stuff but it gets a little better each time. Remember how to get to Carnegie Hall? ( Thought Shifting, Post 5/15/14)
"When you come to the edge of all that is known and step out into the void, know that one of two things will happen: There will be something under you or you will learn to fly."--Author unknown
Next Time: TOE TO TOE WITH THEFEARMONSTER