First off, thank you to the new blog subscribers I’m seeing pop up in the last couple of weeks.  I’m glad you’re with us.  Please know that if you want to chat about anything in the blog or related topics you can find my email on the blog – always happy to have a conversation around this material.

Secondly, I’m happy to report that I’m going to be posting a video blog this week about this particular Fear Mastery Blog Post, sometime in the next several days.  This is a new direction and a bit of a stretch for me, but I’m looking forward to it.   Please let me know what you think of that first effort – all feedback gratefully accepted.

Thirdly, I have had several conversations in the last two weeks that center around two specific issues in dealing with fear and anxiety.  The first is the physical sensations that accompany our Flight or Fight Response, and how those sensations can really frighten us, rattle our cages, and leave us feeling exhausted and even more afraid.  The second is what those sensations (as well as our emotional responses to Flight or Fight) can lead us to do – namely, stepping even further away from facing into our fears, trying to do what Flight or Fight evolved to have us do – run, rather than stand and face them down.

We learn to be afraid of our body’s physical sensations

Every one of us develops an individual set of “preferred” physical reactions to our Flight or Fight Response getting activated.  When I taught public speaking (one of the most frightening things imaginable for the majority of people) I would go around the room and poll the class about their top two or three responses (physical, emotional or psychological) when they were anxious or afraid.  The sheer variety was always interesting to hear.  Just the physical variation was impressive.  This student would blush/flush furiously and find themselves with an upset stomach.  That student would get the shakes as well as feel dizzy/fight vertigo.  Still another student wrestled with headaches, sweaty palms and a dry mouth. 

And of course none of these sensations by themselves have any meaning, except to let you know that you’re afraid, and that you’d better get away from the thing that is scaring you.  Every one of the physical sensations/responses to fear that we have in our bodies are the direct result of the adrenaline and cortisol pumping through our bodies when we activate Flight or Fight.  Those sensations are simply the body getting ready to run or fight.

We, however, come to associate our fear WITH those physical sensations, so those sensations in turn acquire the power to scare us as well.  We’re not just afraid of the scary thing – we’re also afraid of the physical sensations that being afraid of the scary thing generates as well.  It FEELS like something significant is happening – it FEELS frightening, or very frightening.  It takes some real work and practice to not let that fear take us over when all of our alert systems are telling us this is BAD, very scary, get out of here!

So, for example, I have a friend who is currently starting to work on a couple of things that have made him afraid for a long time.  One of those things is dealing directly with his finances.  Money in general makes him very uncomfortable.  When he has to do pretty much anything around his financial situation he finds himself getting restless and edgy.  If he can’t deal with it quickly and get away from it (his usual response in the past) then he starts getting an upset stomach.

He has learned to associate that with dealing with money in general, so an upset stomach makes him pretty anxious.  All he wants to do is ease the angry intestines, and get away from what is making his stomach unhappy in the first place.  Which, of course, means not dealing with the money challenges he wants to overcome.

All this makes us want to run…

And this in turn leads me to my second point in this post, our reflexive running away from the stuff that scares us.  One of the most difficult things about dealing with our fears and anxieties is our all-but-automatic twitching back from the stuff that makes us fearful in the first place.  A huge amount of the energy drain that we experience when we first start facing into our fears and knocking them down is simply standing our ground in the face of our fear.

It is one thing to bravely say “I’m going to face my fears now”, and something else to then stay put, crest through the physical and emotional responses to our fears, in order to unplug them.  Everything in our bodies says run, our physical responses and our feelings.  The best and most effective weapon against that fear is our thinking tools, and at the same time Flight or Fight tends to severely degrade/compromise our capacity for clear, lucid thinking.  This is why I push so hard on the concept of practicing “triad” work – making a deliberate plan to challenge a fear, facing into that fear and letting the Flight or Fight responses roll over you, and consciously addressing what you’re afraid of, unpacking what you’re afraid of, so you can think clearly about how to address your fears and move past them.

It is very much a conscious process – it is the opposite of the automatic responses of the Comfort Zone.  It is a skill set, and it takes practice and effort.  One of the toughest (but completely acheiveable) parts of this week is enduring those physical sensations you’ve learned to be afraid of, and staying put – not running away from the work OR the physical sensations that our anxieties and fears generate in our bodies. 

We have to teach ourselves that our physical responses to our fear don’t carry any messages, don’t have any meaning in themselves, however much they scare us or make us uncomfortable.  The only message they have for us is that something is scaring us, something in our thinking, and that we need to unpack that thinking, address whatever problem or problems we’ve afraid of, and deal with that issue.

Hard, but you can do it!

This can be very, very uncomfortable.  It is definitely draining, tedious work.  It is also tremendously fruitful, and is part of the work of shaking free of our fears and worries.  Let me be even more direct: to get free of our fears we have to reframe what our physical sensations are telling us, let go of our fear of them.  We have to endure, for a little while, those unnerving physical warning signals, and directly address the fear (or, more likely, fears) that are scaring us (and causing those sensations) in the first place.

You can do this.  Any of us can do this.  It just feels so (pardon my french) damn scary.  That upset stomach, those sweaty palms, that sense of vertigo – we can learn to be very afraid of any of them.  But they are only the result of our thinking – the result of us being afraid of some issue or problem, and the result of the Flight or Fight Response powering up in our bodies.

Next up – some discussion of the Comfort Zone as a Drama Queen in our lives…