Healing Anxiety and Fear
How are you feeling right now? Looking back, how did you feel most of last week? What do you remember saying to your friends or partner, to yourself as you went through each day? Did you feel a sense of calm or were you anxious more often than you’d like? Were you irritable or at peace? Fear is obviously the root of anxiety and worry but it’s also almost always at the root of anger, reactivity, irritability and discontent.
If you notice you’re in fear how do you respond to it—what do you do to process it and shift? If you’ve committed to living a life of healing, your-way-through-fear probably has at least a few steps or practices. Recognizing you’re in fear isn’t quick or easy until we adopt a pattern or deep desire to be healthy and whole, to intentionally choose to really feel good. (1) Recognition or awareness, is an important first step. From there we can (2) acknowledge our pain, go deeper into it to find its root, identify where we feel the discomfort in our physical body (maybe it’s the neck, the shoulders, the face, the stomach, the back…maybe the arms feel weak and tired) When my marriage to my kids’ dad was ending my arms sometimes felt too exhausted and full of pain to hold the steering wheel as I drove. I’d use one hand to hold and support the opposite arm that was holding the wheel. It was where I was holding the weight of my broken-heartedness, deep grief, fear and sorrow.
Once we become aware, we can (3) zero in on where, in our body, we are experiencing the sensation of fear, Then (4) nurture ourself. Nurture, nurture, nurture. Several years ago I was sharing this with a client with whom I was facilitating inner child therapy. I gave the example of how I talk sweetly to myself during times of big fear; saying things like, “it’s okay sweetheart” or “it’s gonna be okay baby girl” or “you’ve got this, love.” Nurturing self talk instantly brings anxiety down. She nervously smiled and said, “really”, you actually talk to yourself?” Yes, I said…it may be the faintest whisper or even a silent meditation but it’s spoken with clear, mindful attention and a firm connection to self. When talking to military veterans in my day job, I often see this pattern play out. Those who feel most sad, angry, reactive and alone have the pattern of minimizing their feelings, denying they matter, speaking to themselves with a cold toughness that they seem to think will protect them from being vulnerable or looking weak, not wanting to make excuses for themselves. This withholding of self love, inner investigation or reflection perpetuates self judgement, judgement of others, and it deepens the patterns that keep the person stuck in a cycle of pain. It keeps the person feeling separated and exhausted which only enhances the belief that “nobody knows the trouble I know…” In this state of mind, you can’t see the great big wide world of options at your disposal, those neuropathways that bring us a sense of well being and empowerment remain blocked and inaccessible. Cut off from compassion, love, connection and the emotional medicine of healthy support, survival mode is the pattern. It becomes the unintentional way of life. It’s empty and hollow. It’s lonely. It’s a life that has little reason for laughter, spontaneity, creativity, adventure, joy, intimacy, hope or freedom. Once stuck in this pattern there’s a blindness to alternatives and it gives birth to victim mentality with increasing fear and diminished hope. Sometimes the first step away from this is the slightest gesture for help. The simple act of compassion from someone who has been there—who gets it—who knows that life of pain, giving time to the person who’s made this first simple step of reaching out for help brings connection. That step of reaching out to a therapist, a 12 step group or a friend who’s life attracts them to seek help, becomes the most important step on their healing journey. This helpee-helper connection might be overlooked but it alone is powerful. Connection for the one who’s been disconnected is powerful. When we share what it looks like, how it feels, to not run from our fear but rather courageously go inside toward it, we find and give light. Moving on, we explore our physical body for where fear is lurking inside us. Then we must talk to ourself wth the most loving, nurturing, kindest language we can craft. This is key toward how we heal. It’s how we open our mind and heart to experience the fullness life has to offer. It’s how we change and it’s how we change the world. By being this change others around us who need help for their own healing and changing get modeling. Life becomes an adventure, full of purpose, vitality and meaningful connection.
How Self Nurturing Heals
In 12 step groups they talk about terminal uniqueness. It’s a state of mind where the sufferer believes he’s different—that no one else’s pain or experience can help because “I’m different, you don’t understand.” In this cutoff, isolated and separated state of mind, the pain and suffering grows and therefore so does the dysfunctional pattern of living. Round and round it goes—the isolation and loneliness, the compulsive acting out (the overuse of booze, food, sex, religiosity, spending, gambling, controlling others, judging); the self doubt, hatred and shame… all deepening the disconnection. The reinforcement of that flawed “terminal uniqueness” belief system becomes more entrenched.
Our nurturing goes beyond our words. How do or did you care for your child or closest loved one when he or she was sick? Maybe you cuddled them in a soft, warm blanket, gave them homemade soup (food made with love to nourish them), put more attention and love on them than on anything else while they were down sick. If their pain was emotional, maybe you took them out for a bonding walk in nature or just sat nearby in the sun together letting them know they’re not alone, giving them the strength of your presence. The progression through healing support you give or gave another who needed nurturing might have other elements you can draw from. It’s good to imagine those as inspiration for what self-nurturing can look like.
Tara Brach said, “the Petri dish for fear beliefs is feeling separate, disconnected, isolated, and not belonging. To heal, to remember our intrinsic worth, we need to reconnect. We need to find our way back into a sense of belonging to ourselves, to each other, and to our earth. We need to reconnect in love. In the moments we feel inferior or superior we’ve lost touch with that sense of worth, of that sacredness. Our judgement of ourself of each other, it obscures the goodness.” Related to this insight, Tara shared this prayer intention:
“Deepen dedication to honoring our own intrinsic worth because that allows us to widen the circles so we can realize the sacredness of all life everywhere and this is absolutely needed for the healing of our world.”
I offer these thoughts and this prayer to anyone who is feeling uneasy today. Reach out for support. It works and you are absolutely worth it. 🙏