Written by Dr. Chelsea Sanders
Fear shows up in a lot of sneaky ways for some really important reasons, but if we aren’t aware of it, it can dictate our lives in ways that don’t actually serve us. How does fear show up for you? Think back over the last few weeks, has fear been driving your decisions? Have you been held back from doing something that seems important, challenging, or fun? Perhaps you were recently invited to try something new, and you immediately declined due to self-doubt, uncertainty, or a vague sense of unease. Is there something calling to you lately – pulling your body into action, but you find yourself frozen, unable to make a move? To quote the ever-dreamy Brandon Boyd et al. (i.e. major heartthrob of my generation), is it time to ask yourself how much you “let the fear take the wheel and steer”?
I invite you to join me in a brief exercise that can sometimes show us the power of the present moment, especially when uncomfortable emotions (like fear) are feeling like “too much” or seem to be getting in the way. If you feel up for it, I’ll instruct you through a series of suggestions and prompts for where to direct your attention – like a read-along, guided meditation or visualization exercise. I recognize that I may be asking a lot of you, to take this time to check in with yourself. If you could be brave, or patient, or curious, please take a few minutes to try it out.
First, take a moment to get comfortable in your seat, adjust your posture, allowing for realignment if that is necessary, and find a position to rest comfortably.
Now take a couple moments to close your eyes and turn your attention towards your breath. When you feel content with that, you may read on.
Now that you have connected with your breath, check in with your body. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you notice going on under the skin? Is there a sense of tension in your chest? A sense of suspended apprehension in your core? Perhaps a lump in your throat, a sense of dread or uncertainty… grief, sadness, helplessness, desperation. Or maybe you feel light; perhaps today is one of buoyancy in your heart, and it feels like light is permeating your being, filtering through your skin like sun rays piercing through the clouds. Your experience is yours… unique to you, your body, this moment in time. Whatever is there, notice that.
Breathe. Stay here as long as you like. When you feel ready, read on.
Once you’ve noticed what’s happening in your body, you could try to observe it, label it, and describe it. Where is it located in your body? What is its color and size? Does it have a temperature? What about its texture? Shape? Does it move or change? Go on. See if you can give yourself permission to explore what is there and describe its physical characteristics to yourself. See if you are able to connect with the invisible parts of yourself in this somewhat tangible way.
Breathe. Try to direct your breath to the part of your body that currently holds your awareness, where most of the observing and describing has taken place. Try to make space with your breath. When you feel ready, read on.
As you watch your experience, notice what it feels like to see it from this perspective. How can you hold space for your experience this way? If you feel an urge to turn away from it, notice that and describe that too. See how long you can sit with yourself this way.
When you feel ready to move on, turn your attention back to your breath. Notice yourself sitting, notice the space you occupy. Notice any sounds around you, and allow yourself to move on with your day.
What did we just do there? What was the point of that? Do you notice anything different? Was it easy? Was it uncomfortable? Has anything changed about the way that you are holding yourself right now?
Connecting with the present moment can be a powerful tool for facing our fears. Fear is an automatic response in our body to the presence of threat – it’s like a built-in alarm system, warning us of possible danger. It’s there to keep us safe, helping us learn what to avoid in order to survive. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, the sensors for our alarm systems become dysregulated and need recalibrating. Sometimes, the alarm continues to sound long after the threat is gone, or in response to a threat that isn’t actually there. An overactive alarm is responsible for things like PTSD, anxiety and panic disorders, OCD, and sometimes contributes to other challenges like substance use disorders and psychosis.
Perhaps you know exactly what I mean when I talk about an overactive alarm – sometimes it is really obvious – but fear can also be more subtle in the ways it runs in the background and informs our actions. It could be what is keeping you in a job that you can’t stand, making you feel “stuck” or “in a rut.” It could be keeping you from dating and making new friends, under the guise of being “too busy.” It might even be keeping you from doing day-to-day activities, a low level procrastination that has convinced you that you’re “lazy.”
Without present moment awareness, we may go on existing in this subconscious state, automatically reacting to our alarms, seemingly without choice in the matter. Present moment awareness takes work. It is a skill that we can develop and practice, so we can learn to recognize our patterns, sit with the discomfort of the alarm reverberating through our bodies, and choose a response that works for our goals and values.
Folks end up in dissatisfying situations for lots of different reasons. I hope that this post has been helpful for you today. If not, I hope you find something helpful soon. If you’d like to talk through your specific situation and see if we can identify what is steering the wheel of your life, please feel free to contact any of the Grounded therapists for an appointment.