What To Do When You’re Feeling Scared
“Do one thing everyday that scares you.”~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Last week my daughter, Danica, and I took a gorgeous afternoon to ourselves to visit Lake Katherine Botanical Gardens in Palos Heights for hiking and canoeing. After we hiked, took photographs, and visited with the wildlife I suggested canoeing in the lake filled with beautiful lily pads and ducks that she always admires. Initially excited, Danica, who’s 8, ran over to the canoes and waited patiently for her life vest. Once we were situated, I could see her getting worried and scared by her fidgeting and the look on her face. This was her first time actually getting into a canoe and paddling. She was very quiet and a man came over to help us into the water. He asked if we wanted any instructions on how to paddle and I looked over at Danica. She nodded her head, “Yes!” I watched her as she intently listened to the directions, soaking every word in. When the directions were finished, the man asked if we were ready. Danica standing very still, practiced her deep breathing and walked into the canoe ready to brave her fear.
When we are really scared of something we need to take some time to come out of the darkness where fear resides and bring light to it. Fear can be that monster hiding under our bed or in the closet, but once we turn the light on it disappears. So, what if we dig deep enough to ask ourselves that probing question: What is it that I’m really afraid of? What can I bring into the light?
And, then, what do we do when we’re feeling scared? When it rears its ugly head and we’re freaking out? When we have that choice to either run or make the jump?
Well, then, let’s turn on the light:
STEP 1: BREATHE!
We tend to hear people telling us to calm down and breathe when we are under stress or feeling anxious. This is true, but how do we do this when our brain is on high-alert?
Our hypothalamus is the part of our brain that goes “DANGER DANGER!” and then does a fight-flight-or-freeze response so the danger doesn’t get to us. The result of all this is that we stand ready for fight, flight, or freeze. One way of being ready is by regulating the breath. When we feel scared we take quick little shallow breaths from the top of our chest (wildgoddesslife.com). However, you aren’t breathing when you do this. You’re unable to relax and regain clarity.
So slow it down. Take a moment and breathe.
Place the hands on the belly. You can sit up or lie down. As you Inhale, press the belly out like a balloon filling up with air.
As you Exhale, press the belly in toward your spine like a balloon losing air. Deep, full, belly breaths…Do this as many times as you need to until you feel relaxed and grounded.
We can also incorporate breath into Progressive Muscle Relaxation which is a technique that involves tensing specific muscle groups and then relaxing them to create awareness of tension and relaxation. See my demonstration of this technique on YouTube.
STEP 2: POSITIVE SELF-TALK
So, when we get scared what are we saying to ourselves? Our mind is very powerful and hundreds of silent thoughts go through it daily. Let’s say you have a presentation to give and you’re afraid that your peers won’t find you interesting and the material boring. What are you saying to yourself about it? Are you saying that your career is ruined? That your colleagues/peers will view you as inept? Be aware of what you are saying to yourself. The more negative statements you say can sabotage your performance creating more of a stress response in the body.
To reduce the fear, try saying something positive to yourself like, “failing is no fun, but the world certainly won’t end,” or “my performance has nothing to do with my value as a person.”
STEP 3: BE AUTHENTIC, GET CREATIVE
Taming our fears takes time, patience, and practice. Giving ourselves permission to feel our emotions fully, being gentle with ourselves through this process and showing ourselves some kindness allows healing and learning to begin. We become vulnerable and when we take action, our fears no longer hold us prisoner…
Tapping into our creative resources allows us to share yourself, your story, and your process with others. It also allows you to feel powerful. When we do this, we find that what scared us in the first place wasn’t so scary after all. Storytelling, journaling, art, and music are some creative methods to express yourself and your story.
Putting our fears into check requires diligence. Remembering that this will not last forever, that you have the power to change your thoughts and make better choices puts us in the driver’s seat. We have the opportunity to make a better future for ourselves. And, the monsters hiding under our beds and in our closets do not need to hold us hostage anymore.
Let’s allow the light to shine…