NOTE – Video blog at the end of this post.

There is a LOT of writing in the world these days about fear and anxiety. That is great news for those of us that do any wrestling with those issues. If you were to go back in time 50 or 60 years you’d find very little writing or information in comparison to now. There is an impressive array of techniques and tools for the work of unplugging and dismantling fear.

The problem (and the biggest reason I started working on Fear Mastery in the first place) is that most of the techniques and tools that are discussed in all that writing depend on each of us being able to think half-way clearly. And that’s exactly what fear, for the most part, tends to mess up (or even shut down all together.)

The whole idea of Fear Mastery is that we need to understand how fear works, including how it gets in the way of us using that brain of ours to get free of our fear in the first place.

Good Advice – If I Could Only Use It…

For instance, one solid recommendation is that we practice thinking about the likely outcomes of our fears, rather than our worst-case scenarios speculations. Good idea, when we’re relatively calm and in our skins. The problem is that when I’m charged up with the Flight or Fight Response my worst-case scenarios DO seem pretty stinkin’ likely. I’m not really thinking very clearly in those moments –

Or another good recommendation is that we distract ourselves from our fears and worries – disrupt our thinking, shake free of the rut we can fall into with anxious thinking. This is excellent advice – and another good tool in the fight against fear. The problem with it is WHEN to use it effectively.

When I’m in the middle of my panicky thinking, when Flight or Fight is running in my body, then distraction either proves to be temporary (after all, I’m about to get eaten by a tiger, at least in my thinking, so I’ll go right back to obsessing over my fears) or I learn to always distract myself – which can lead to not facing my fears at all (or worse, medicating my fears.)

Have you ever noticed that when someone comes to YOU with THEIR fears and worries you can usually offer some useful advice? I have mentioned this in previous blog posts. One of our friends or family brings their anxious concerns to us and we are FULL of lucid, rational suggestions.

Sure we are! OUR Flight or Fight Response isn’t currently engaged, so we have access to our brains. We CAN think clearly. We are not flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, those workhorses of Flight or Fight, so our brains are still in command.

When Brains Go Bad

Actually we face two distinct problems when we are dealing with fear and anxiety. The first is the Flight or Fight Response, as I just said. That brings a host of issues that get in the way of us thinking clearly.

We are physically preparing to run – releasing an energy burst to get those legs moving, driving our senses like sight and hearing to full power so we can track whatever danger is threatening us, and (most importantly for this conversation) shutting down non-essential functions (like higher thinking skills) , etc. All of that has the potential to make thinking a challenge (he said, understating the problem!)

But we also, when our fears are problems turned to crises, start down the energy-draining rabbit hole of the Chronic Anxiety Cycle. And this also makes it hard to think, because we become pre-occupied with our Worry Engine projections (What if this happens, what if that happens, etc.) and our fixating on one or two of those, what I’ve called the Indefinite Negative Future. (Look at my earlier posts on the Chronic Anxiety Cycle elements of the Worry Engine and the Indefinite Negative Future to get a more detailed discussion of these stages.)

In other words our thinking is both hampered by the automatic, physical responses of the Flight or Fight Response, AND our thinking is crippled by our obsessive thinking on how things could go WAY wrong. Yikes!

Missing a Crucial Step

It is both my belief and my experience that a remarkable number of people (way, way too many people) find themselves trying (sometimes desperately) to use the tools and techniques they find in the various fear and anxiety self-help books, only to wind up frustrated and dissatisfied with the results. They try, and they try hard, but they are missing a key in their fight against fear and anxiety.

For example: just today I realized that I am STILL nervous/doubtful about my ability to communicate well on the video blog posts I have started to do here on this blog. Without realizing it consciously I have begun avoiding doing those videos, just like I had been stalling on those this WHOLE YEAR until about 6 weeks ago. I would see the to-do note on my list – “do video blog for Fear Mastery” – and find myself getting scratchy about sitting down and actually doing it.

Then the next thing I know I’m finding reasons NOT to make the blog post. Then I’m questioning the point of blog posts at all (despite some very positive feedback I’ve received about those videos from you blog readers.) Before you know it I’ve packed the flipcam back in its bag and I’m only doing written blog posts again…

I finally took my own advice…

The Right Tools For the Right Part of the Job

Here’s the sequence that makes it possible to use the fear toolbox effectively:

1) Acknowledge the particular fear or fears that are messing with you

2) Allow yourself to have the physical and emotional reactions that Flight or Fight will generate in you

3) Practice staying cool/present for those, reminding yourself that they don’t have any meaning except to tell you that you’re afraid. This is HUGE. As we develop skill at this we can move MUCH more quickly through our fear responses and into the tools that help us think more clearly.

4) Once you’ve “ridden the wave” you’re much more capable of then unpacking your fears (what precisely am I afraid of, what are actually the likely outcomes of this problem, what can I do to start solving that problem, etc.)

ONCE we’ve identified that we’re afraid, AND we’ve faced into that fear (which means both understanding that Flight or Fight WILL fire up, to some extent, and that we WILL be uncomfortable/scratchy/edgy about those physical and emotional responses), AND have ridden that storm out (a minute, two minutes, ten minutes, whatever it is for us in that experience) THEN we can usually find ourselves able to access those remarkable brains we have.

And this is when all that good advice about facing fear can actually help us. This takes a little practice, like any skill. But even a little practice can go a long ways towards helping us be better, clearer, calmer thinkers – and more effective fear-busters.

Let me say it again: this takes some work and time. You won’t get brilliant at this overnight. But you will pretty quickly get some skill, and even a little can help start to help you unpack your fears and master them.

So – what fears/worries/anxieties, what problems-converted-to-crises in your thinking, are you wanting to unplug and get free from today?