Why you can't think your way out of being afraid
I saw a post on Instagram the other day that stopped me in my tracks.
It read: “How do I teach my body that my fight-or-flight response is supposed to be for life-or-death situations, not answering an email?”
It's one of those funny-because-it's-true things. I felt exposed.
I used to live in constant fear in my old job. Like constant.
My fear would get so intense that on more occasions than I can count, I seriously considered wrecking my car when driving to the airport so that I could get out of the trip. As my hands gripped the steering wheel ever tighter, I'd have an all-out should-I-or-shouldn't-I debate about what to do. All I have to do is bump the car in front of me. Or I can just hit the median.
I was terrified, and I didn’t know what I was scared of exactly. All I knew in that moment was that I was desperate for relief.
The shame around my fear was telling me I was being irrational. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just get it together?
That's what we do when we don't understand what we're experiencing. We beat ourselves up because we don’t think our outer circumstances justify the way we are feeling inside. We look around at other people and can't fathom how they are unfazed by something that can drop us to our knees in terror.
And we conclude that there is something wrong with us.
Fear is about lacking a sense of safety. And safety is not a cognitive experience, it’s a biological nervous system response. It’s why you can’t talk yourself out of being afraid or rationalize your way to safety, you have to feel safe.
Here’s what you need to know – it’s rarely about what’s right in front of you. Your body responds in the moment, yes, but it’s doing so based on a compilation of your life experiences.
Therefore, it's important to acknowledge that there is a valid reason you feel unsafe, and your body is responding exactly as it’s supposed to.
But it's not a pleasant way to live, and a question I get from women frequently is: How do I stop being afraid all of the time?
The way to get free from fear is by learning to be present to what you’re feeling without trying to change it and getting curious with compassion so that you can better understand what's behind the feelings. With new understanding, you can choose how you want to move through it.
Next time you notice yourself feeling afraid, locate the feeling in your body. Then ask yourself questions like:
What is the story I’m telling myself about what’s happening right now?
How true is that?
What else might be true?
Getting to the root of our fear takes effort, but I can testify that doing the work to understand who I am and why I am who I am has been the most liberating work of my life. I no longer walk around gripped by fear and confusion. I’m empowered because I can recognize my emotions and move through them in healthy ways.
In coaching, we explore answers to questions like: What am I most afraid of? Where did I first learn to be afraid of that? What identities did I take on the face of that fear?
And we invite God into the conversation so that His Truth can be revealed in the reflection and processing.
Do you want to get free from your fear? I’m living proof that you can get to a place where fear no longer calls the shots. You can live in the freedom you long for.
When you're ready, I can help you get there. Click here to grab time to talk.