OK, so we’ve covered the first skill you need to be effective in dealing with fear and anxiety – identifying where you have turned a problem into a crisis in your thinking. (We humans and our thinking thing!) The next essential element in this work is understanding that when we do that converting to crisis from problem behavior we scare ourselves.

And when we scare ourselves we activate Flight or Fight. (You can say that now in your sleep, right?) The moment we do that we bring online the amazing deal-with-danger mechanism that we possess.

That’s great news if we’re dealing with a charging elephant… but it isn’t so useful when we’re trying to think through how we’re going to deal with that noisy neighbor or pay the electric bill this summer.

Doctor, I Don’t Feel So Good

One of the issues that seems fairly common among us that have a history of wrestling with anxiety and worry is that we’re often not very comfortable or even familiar with our own bodies. In the book “Free From Fears” the authors discuss how disconnected many of us in this battle are baffled by our physical selves, and learn early to be afraid of any time that things don’t feel “normal” to us.

This takes WAY too many of us down a road of fear being amplified when we scare ourselves with our thinking. I have both read and heard way too many stories of people making multiple trips to hospitals and ER’s and doctor’s offices, all fueled by real fear that something horrible is happening because this or that physical issue has flared or jumped somebody “out of the blue.”

Here’s the bottom-line: all of us, every one of us, has very specific responses in our bodies when we activate Flight or Fight. We don’t have to even be conscious of the fact that we’ve had a scary thought – important to remember that. It can dance through our heads and before we know it we’re suddenly feeling agitated, or sweaty, or experiencing a racing heart, or dizzy, or fighting an upset stomach…

But then you already know the drill, don’t you? 🙂 Ugh! And it can go on and on and on… we do everything we can to deal with that SYMPTOM – take Tums, lie down, go to the doctor’s office, take Advil, you name it. The tedious part is the symptom is just one manifestation of Flight or Fight powering up in our bodies.

The key here is that every one of us who battles anxiety and fear develops our own fears around specific physical Flight or Fight responses. As I’ve said in this blog the bogeyman responses that could scare the CRAP out of me were dizziness and numbness in my hands/fingers. Those could literally send me running away from wherever I was, desperate to make them STOP.

After all, something bad HAD to be happening, right? It seemed to just come out of the blue, and way before I understood any of what I was dealing with I had learned to be very frightened of those responses in my body.

It Don’t Mean Nuthin’…

You want the craziest news of all? It doesn’t mean ANYTHING! Oh yeah, I get it – it FEELS scary as hell. It is so scary we’ll do almost anything to avoid those sensations – really, almost anything. We’ll avoid certain places, or certain people, or this or that kind of food, or… anything.

This is part of the problem that leads us with anxiety to start avoiding a lot of things. And the end of that road is agoraphobia – been there, did that.

We just don’t want to feel that way! It scares us so badly…

And that’s why this is the second skill we have to begin to develop in our road to freedom from our anxiety and fear: we have to come to understand, mentally and physically that, WHATEVER we are experiencing when we have those Flight or Fight physical responses, we don’t really have anything to fear from those responses.

It sounds easy. It isn’t, not for most of us. We have developed a powerful reflexive automatic response to those sensations, and we are running before we know it. But this is the skill we have to start acquiring: learning to talk ourselves down out of the tree we keep climbing every time we have a Flight or Fight Response that scares us.

More About Me

My fear of my physical responses started when I was in the 8th grade. As I’ve written elsewhere in this blog I got pretty ill with a flu bug one winter evening, and suddenly, while I was lying in bed feeling miserable, I begun suddenly feeling very, very dizzy. The room spun, I floated and fell (it felt like) and it scared the crap out of me. It was very frightening. Scratch that – it was terrifying.

By the time that first bout of anxiety was done – which took about 6 months – I had built an impressive Comfort Zone boundary against even the possibility of dizziness. It was just too scary. I was convinced it meant I was going crazy. Worse than that, I was deeply frightened it would start and never stop.

You don’t hear any “what if?” statements in there, do you? 🙂 When I think of how much things might have been different if I had JUST KNOWN that I was only and simply experiencing a Flight or Fight Response to my fearful thinking (of which I had plenty at the time, thank you very much), and that I had created a feedback loop in that thinking (I’m having this dizzy spell, it is terrible, what if it never stops…), well, it makes me a little sad.

And a little mad too! Because I didn’t have to give away that kind of lifespan or time to all that fear…

Enough About Me – What About YOU?

So what physical responses of the Flight or Fight Response are making you crazy? It may be pretty unnerving/punishing to even consider thinking about them. I know when I first gave this any thought it made my skin crawl…

on the other hand this is one of the few keys you need to get serious control over anxiety. Consider this: there is nothing, absolutely nothing, dangerous or bad in ANY physical sensation you have that is caused by Flight or Fight. It is merely/only your body powering up in the ancient way it knows how to deal with your fear. End of story.

It takes time for most of us to learn to patiently “lean into” the work of mastering our fear and anxiety. It is crucial that we BE patient with ourselves, that we expect some pushback from the Comfort Zone. Rome really wasn’t built in a day – and you probably won’t conquer your fears in a day either.

That’s OK. That’s why it’s called skill-building. Skill takes time, effort, patience and work – just like any problem. And that’s the whole point, right? We’re working to convert these crises we’ve created from problems we’re anticipating or dealing with BACK into problems…

Next post – the other scary thing that lunges at us (metaphorically) from our Flight or Fight Response – our emotions. These can be as nerve-wracking as our physical responses to Flight or Fight.

In the meantime – take your time with this work and remember that you are ONLY experiencing Flight or Fight Responses when your body scares you. It will take practice to get that into your thinking – but just this single weapon can be very, very helpful in helping you keep your cool as you unpack your fears.

It will be tiring, it will take energy, and it will be frustrating – I can guarantee all that! 🙂 But it will also be, with time and practice, effective…