28 October 2012

Dealing with Fear: Just getting through it

Continuing the theme of coping with fear and anxiety, sometimes, even after you’ve talked yourself through the fear as much as you can and you’ve taken your medication (herbal or prescription), you still don’t feel okay.

Maybe you lie awake at night, your body all wound up for no good reason. Maybe your mind keeps going in circles, and you can’t get get yourself calmed down.

You need to find a way that you can 'stay out of the stories' your body is telling you. Understand first that fear happens - it's a feeling, that's okay, it happens. Then look to see if it is telling you something useful: we don't want to never feel fear, or we won't run away from the bear on the hiking path! But if the fear is not telling you anything useful about the present, then maybe it is an old feeling, as it is with my PTSD, or perhaps it is something else that wants your attention for it's own reasons.

If the fear isn’t giving you a useful message about the present (no bears, no clear and present dangers in the environment) then you get to just deal with the frustration of the stupid annoying bodily symptoms that are trying to scare you. Well, they aren't trying to scare you, they are trying to get your attention. So, give them what they need - like fussy toddlers, they may tug and tug and whine which isn't nice - but seriously, they just need to be embraced and held, like small scared kids. You can embrace your feelings, accept them and say "yep, fear, I see you, how are you today? anything we need to talk about? no? Well, I'm gonna do some breathing - into the belly and all that - and if you need something from me you let me know." Then after five minutes of listening, if you're not getting anything you need to do ... start your prayers, your meditations, your coping and relaxing strategies, whatever those may be.

Random feelings of fear for no reason are frustrating in that you can't really trace it back to anything in particular. It's just, well, sort of like tinnitus of the emotions. Sounds with no relevant cause. But emotions don't take well to being shoved down or ignored - they ramp up the volume. Acknowledge the fear, do a quick check of the environment to see if it is a relevant message, and if not, ask your feelings: "Something we need to discuss here?" Wait for an answer. No matter HOW stupid the 'worry' is that bubbles up, ANSWER IT. If you get "did I turn off the stove?" Go check. If you get "what if I am having a heart attack?" answer with "you have been checked, you know that isn't what is happening, and this is a false alarm." If that doesn't stop the worry, go the next level "Okay, so what if I do have a heart attack? then what? Well, if I really do have one I'm sure the pain will wake me up and I'll be screaming in agony, and then we'll call 911 and they'll do what they do or maybe I'll die, and either way, I've already prepared for all those things so we're good." Then you can tell the fear you've given it every chance to convince you there is something you needed to do, you've done all the things it's prompted you to take care of, and now you are going to go to sleep.

Then you have to do the breathing / centering thing and find ways to self-soothe.

Something I learned from my acupuncturist will sound very weird, but it worked when I tried it and I intend to do it more. Bear with the weirdness:

Take a deep breath and "breathe into your lower abdomen" (if you have done yoga, you'll be familiar with these terms). You want to focus your awareness on the centre of your lower belly - and just ... not disconnect from that. Then say to yourself "I am willing to embrace the fear with loving awareness" - basically, you acknowledge the feeling and say "yep, there it is, it is part of me, I am not going to chase it away".

The more you chase the fear, the more tired you get. This is what I'm finding, anyway.

There are some good audio programs that can help take your mind out of the unhelpful cycle of worrying about things you can’t control or rehashing things that can’t be changed, and with a CD player, iPod, MP3 player or computer near your bed, you can listen as you fall asleep. I highly recommend the audio tracks from Health Journeys: there are guided imagery CDs for dealing with any number of issues from trauma to heartbreak to health problems to plain old insomnia. There is even a kid’s sleep CD called The Sleep Fairy that really works!

Also, I find repetitive prayers to be far more helpful than I would have anticipated. The repetition isn't because God doesn't hear me the first time - it's because *I* don't hear me the first time! Using prayer beads is not part of the traditions I was raised with, so it took me awhile to find my way to this form of meditation and prayer. I discovered that the physical action of running prayer beads through your fingers helps to anchor you in the present: very important when you are worrying about the future or remembering the past. You need to remind yourself that this moment, right here, right now, is where you are, not back then and not at some time in the future, you are right here right now. Focusing on physical sensations is how you can help anchor yourself in the present, and the texture of the beads in your fingers, moving constantly from one to the next, works really well to keep you from falling into that fear vortex.

There are prayer beads for any number of religious traditions, not just the Catholic rosary or Buddhist mala beads, and you can create your own easily enough. Just find or write the prayers that speak to you, and create or buy a set of beads, or dig through the jewelry box to see what you have that might serve (I keep thinking that those Pandora bracelets look like prayer beads). If you are Catholic, you probably have a rosary in your house already and know how to use it, but those from Protestant traditions may want to check out the  information on Anglican prayer beads. For a wide range of information on prayer beads from different religious traditions as well as information on how to create your own prayers and beads, check out Karen’s Prayer Beads page.

Go to a safe place, get yourself comfortable, and breathe, deeply. Sit with your fear, breathing through the tumult of emotions. It will pass, if you let it pass over you and through. Don’t fight it, let it come. Then you can turn the inner eye and see fear’s path: where it has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

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