Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Coping with Fear

One of the unexpected effects of my last year was the decidedly unwelcome visitor of fear.  As in heart-pounding, mind-swirling panic.  As an adolescent, I had experienced panic attacks, and again, but I had, erroneously, assumed that they were part of the past. When the first one came, it was an old familiar and most unwanted guest.The only good part about it was that I knew what it was, so I didn't have the "second fear" that often accompanies the physical sensations.  I knew that it wasn't fatal, wasn't going to last forever and I even knew what steps to take to mitigate it.

However, fear still entered through the door, dropped its coat on my couch and sat down for a long visit.  In fact, it still pops up now and then, as if to remind me that it hasn't quite gone south for the winter.

I've researched fear and panic from psychological, physical, mental and spiritual perspectives and I still don't completely understand what causes it.  I understand the biological changes, the adrenalin surge and all that.  I comprehend the erroneous thinking patterns that create F(alse) E(evidence)A(pppearing)R(eal). And I get that fear is the antithesis of love. But I'm still not quite sure why it would surge back at this time in my life. Or, more precisely, why I would be allowing it to return.

The only thing I can figure out is that, in its presence, I am being forced to take a long, hard look at my life. Fear is like a scalpel, laying bare what was under the surface. It is making me examine what I was doing and face the fact that a lot of it wasn't working.  Oh, it appeared to be working and I had convinced myself and a lot of other people that it was working, but under the razor-edge of fear, I am having to face the fact that things have to change.

I have to change.

Now I'm still working on what those changes are and how to bring them into my life, but along the way I have figured out a few things about how to use fear and panic to facilitate change and not let them totally use me. I hope that perhaps my experience will help you, if you find these unwanted guests shoving their way into your life.

Keep Active
If you let fear and panic have their way, they will take over your entire life. Especially if you just sit around. When I feel them creeping up, I do something, even if it's just the dishes. A little activity goes a long way.

Don't Isolate
The more alone and isolate you are, the more fear and panic can grow. So force yourself to get out. Make a phone call. Visit a friend. Confide in someone you trust. If necessary, get professional help. Just don't let fear and panic be your only companions.

Find a Spiritual Practice that Works for You
For me, returning to some of the prayers and rituals of my Catholic childhood has provided a grounding.  I don't know what will work for you, but I do know that reaching out for help from God has been a life-saver.  Just believing that I am not alone in this, that there is a light on the other side and that I can find Divine guidance has given me the courage I need to get through the day.

Accept What Is
This is the toughest for me, but it is absolutely vital. Much of what creates my fear and panic is an unwillingness to accept the reality of the moment. I don't want my mother to be in hospice.  I don't want to be looking for work. I don't want to be struggling financially.  I don't want to be alone.  But right now, the reality is that my mother is in hospice.  I am looking for work.  I do have financial issues.  I am alone.  The reality of the moment doesn't mean that the situation is permanent, but if I am to make changes, I have to accept what is right now.  

Believe in Positive Change
I truly believe that we get what we believe in.  As long as I believe that things are bad and going to get worse, that's what will happen. So each day, sometimes many times a day, I remind myself that each little step I take toward a more positive future is helping create that future.  And with each positive change, a little bit of the fear gets replaced by a little bit of hope.

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