I mentioned in my last blog post about a “triad” of tools that I believe are necessary to take on the fears and anxieties that we’ve walled off from ourselves behind our Comfort Zone.  The first element of that “triad” is remembering this question: is this a crisis (i.e., am I in immediate, physical danger?) or a problem (is this something that will take some thinking and time to solve, but that doesn’t immediately threaten me?)  It is useful to remember here that IF in fact this is really a crisis you’re already in motion – that’s what Flight or Fight is for – to get you out of danger NOW.  That you can ask this question at all pretty much tells you that you’re dealing with a problem, NOT a crisis – however unnerving or scary it feels.

The 2nd element is DIS-counting (i.e., correctly valuing) the emotions and physical sensations that come along with the activation of Flight or Fight, i.e., when we’re afraid.  It becomes a reflex for most of us to react in fear and worry when our bodies tell us we’re afraid, whatever our individual chief responses might be.  Those include all the emotions around fear (guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, etc.) and the physical sensations (tingling in the fingers and toes, upset stomach, sweat, dizziness, dry mouth, etc.)  JUST these feelings and sensations can ratchet up our fear and worry – something must be really wrong, right?  You wouldn’t feel this way if there really wasn’t any danger, right?  Well, no – actually, no.  Those feelings and sensations are completely natural, expected outcomes of activating Flight or Fight – and ALL they signal is that you’re afraid.  End of story. 

These two elements to face the fears of the Comfort Zone are by themselves very powerful, and will, with any effort and practice, give you space and relief from anxiety.  But to uproot the particular fear that is generating those responses in the first place a third element is also necessary.  That 3rd element involves unpacking the thinking that lead to that fear becoming a Comfort Zone issue in the first place – unpacking the assumptions/beliefs/ideas that frightened you into treating this issue as a crisis, rather than as a problem. 

I have put these elements in this order because it is usually necessary to ride over and through the initial responses of your Comfort Zone defenses (those feelings and sensations that warn you you’re getting close to something scary) before you can lucidly start to pull apart the thinking that frightened you in the first place.  I know I’ve often stumbled across my frightening thinking (talking to a friend, reading a book, somehow suddenly being reminded of this thing I’ve walled away) and my immediate, anxious response drove me rapidly back from thinking about that thing, let alone doing anything about it.  When I was going through the therapy course that gave me my first serious degree of freedom from panic attacks more than half the battle was enduring the initial (and, then, often-recurring) bursts of fear and frightening physical sensations long enough to do some addressing of what was scaring me.  What made that process SO long and tedious was the fact that I wasn’t unpacking the scary thinking in the first place.

What does unpacking look like?  It is taking the idea of problem vs. crisis from a general assessment to a specific examination of the issue – clarifying what about our thinking precisely that is scaring us.  It involves challenging the assumptions we’ve been making about the future (and the outcomes in that future that are making us fearful) and then making decisions about what we want to do about it, how we’re going to treat this as a problem to solve, rather than a crisis to run from.  As Susan Jeffers has pointed out in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, “pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.”  And that’s exactly what running from our Comfort Zone fears does to us – it leaves us feeling helpless, without a sense of power or agency over what is scaring us.

Make no mistake about this process – it is anywhere from unnerving to very frightening.  And we’ve (many, if not most of us) trained ourselves to NOT face fear, but instead to run from it.  But remember the triad!  Our feelings are only indicators of our thinking, NOT of some actual, real danger.  And it is completely doable.  Next up in this blog I’ll give some specific examples of how the triad elements can work, and some ideas about how to start this process for yourself.