What do you do when you feel afraid?

As humans we have been blessed with the capability to feel a vast array of feelings. Some feelings are joyful, comfortable and easy. Other times we experience grief, anger and fear. The positive feelings lift us up and bring a smile to our faces. The challenging feelings can drain our energy and bring us down.

People like to feel happy, there are many books on the subject, “The Happiness Project”, “Delivering Happiness’, “The Art of Happiness”, for starters. But what about being scared? Are there books on that too? It turns out there are a lot, “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, “The Fear Book, facing fear once and for all”, “The Places that Scare you: A guide to fearlessness in difficult times”.

One of the things I have found helpful when I feel afraid is to get more information. Sometimes we are afraid because we don’t understand the next logical step. Your kid has an infected bug bite, you go do the doctor. Tornadoes are surrounding your friends house, turn on the news. You’re afraid your bank account doesn’t have enough money for the check you just wrote, check your online balance.

These are examples of situation fears where there is a logical next step to take. Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed and not see what that next step is, but usually we can move through these kind of acute fears pretty easily.

Then there are more deeply rooted fears. Probably based on past experiences, some examples could be the the fear of commitment, spiders, abandonment, loss, the unknown. With these fears it can be helpful to get more information, but sometimes it can just build on the anxiety of that fear. So then what? How does someone move through these fears or accept where they are? There are the traditional methods, go see a counselor, talk with your friends and family, in our county, in my opinion, we prescribe medication at an alarming rate so that people can feel comfortable in their own skin, sometimes necessary, sometimes a band-aid.

To me, deep rooted fears expressing themselves begs a different question. Sure we should get information and talk with professionals. But ultimately my sense is that we all have the capability to heal and honor ourselves, we just don’t always know that. It’s uncomfortable to feel scared so we want to fix it. We want something “out there” to make it better or at least distract us from our discomfort.

One of my favorite quotes on moving through fear is, “If you want to transform your anxieties and negative emotions into positive living the key is being comfortable with vulnerability. Stop resisting and embrace who you are.” Pema Chodron

Comfortable with vulnerability? The first time I read that I thought, how in the world do you do that and why would you want to? I just want fear to go away. And that’s part of the issue, we want fear to go away when usually, it has a message of some kind for us. It can be a trigger that helps us to slow down and investigate the situation or…to speed up and avoid it. It’s always our choice, but as someone who has tried the avoidance tactic in the past, my experience is it doesn’t go away. It just comes up again and again and our tactics for avoidance need to get bigger and bigger to cover up our fear.

So, what do we do? I think we take a deep breath. Over and over. We calm our busy minds. We sooth ourselves and breathe into this moment. We recognize the fear is an experience. “Hello fear, I see that you are here right now”. We recognize that our experience is conditioned. We have experienced the same pattern repeatedly and now that we are aware of it, we have the possibility to choose a different response. We can let go of our judgement and disdain for fear and just be with it. Fear is an emotion is uncomfortable and so we label it as bad. Our judgment of that experience is what causes us the trouble in my experience. So what if we acknowledge fear as present, and work towards seeing it as neutral. “Yep, there’s fear again.” Just like we would witness a soccer ball in the yard or a sunset, it’s just there. We can attach judgement to it if we want or we can just observe. In my experience, from a place of observation we are a bit more removed and have access to more reason, wisdom and peace. I’m not suggesting it’s easy, or even comfortable to move through our fears. But I do believe that we all have the tools we need to move through our fears. Sometimes we don’t know it, or we have to dust off our tools, or have someone help us find them but they are there. And they start with breathing. That’s where I start.

What do you do when you feel afraid?

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