This morning I was being interviewed by a radio host, and he asked me a simple but critical question: What do you do to move through fear?
I am happy to say that first of all … I had an answer! Secondly, the trick I shared is something anyone can do. And it works.
But first … let’s talk about our fear. Cause we all have it, right?
I know I do.
Our fear is pretty much the shark that is always lurking just off shore. Once you wade through anger, anxiety, frustration, depression, confusion and dread, you find fear back there, driving all of it.
It’s our basic, go-to emotion when the going gets rough. My theory is that this is all about our flight or fight response. These days we are smart phone jockeys who spend our days tethered to a computer. But the problem is that we’re still wired to outrun (or outsmart) a lumbering T-Rex.
So when a stressful emergency strikes, we react as if our lives are in mortal danger. Before we know it, we are having a dinosaur-sized adrenal rush. Suddenly we are three again and in total survival mode. We feel a surge of panic and then all that other emotional intensity kicks in.
For me, fear has often driven my angry outbursts. Or my need to control and micromanage others. For years it drove a whole lot of nail-biting. Sometimes I just flaked out, put my fingers in my ears, and pretended some big scary grow up issue wasn’t happening all around me.
But then I learned a much better way to deal with it. An example …
A few years ago I got to live one of my dreams and hang out in Paris for two months. My entire adult life I’d wanted to do this. And yet, when I finally arrived after a 12-hour flight with numerous delays, I had a total lying-in- bed, sucking-my-thumb, weepy meltdown.
I could have made that retreat to infancy all about tough travel or my lost luggage (it eventually showed up) or the intense new stranger I found myself living with, courtesy of Air B’n’B.
But instead I remembered what to do in case of emergency: I checked in. I went into my bedroom, closed the door and lay down. Then I put my hand on my belly and my feet flat on the bed, and I allowed myself time to just breathe.
Pretty soon my feelings came rushing up: anger, sadness, real grief, anxiety … followed by cold, bald fear.
I realized I felt like a four-year-old who suddenly got lost at the mall. I wondered why I assumed my college French would get me around Paris — for two long months! Really? What the hell was I thinking??
The tears began and I breathed into them. And then the sheer shaking misery of the fear welled up. Oh, I was so uncomfortable! I had visions of myself getting permanently lost in Paris’s labyrinth of streets. I saw myself a stranger in a strange land, desperately lonely on a Saturday night.
The more my fear came up, the more my heart pounded. My palms began sweating and hot flash after hot flash descended. I began to feel terrified. But I remembered the advice of a therapist and I kept breathing through it.
Then suddenly, the fear began to lift. As quickly as it came upon me, my panic subsided.
And then …just like that … it was gone.
In fact, now I felt great! I got up, washed my face, put on my coat and went out to greet my new, incredible city. Five hours and a few café crèmes later, I was still at it – reborn, renewed, in bliss.
What we so seldom do in moments of crisis is relax and allow in the surge of emotions. Instead we focus on what’s happening and scramble to manage and control. Or we go hide and shame ourselves for needing to have a good cry. We do anything we can to resist that necessary upwelling of emotions.
Yet this is just the natural process the body and soul go through when an auto-correct is needed. When we do allow ourselves to honor our emotional flow and simply feel, we truly can be reborn. That, friends, really is the shortest route back to joy.
Take a moment and probe this question for yourself. How do you handle your fear? I highly recommend the ‘Stop, Drop and Feel’ approach the next time you find yourself melting down.
Try it! You might even like it …