In my memoir, I wrote about an incident that frightened me so badly that I experienced a freeze reaction. It took place during the summer after I graduated from high school. Alone in the house, I lay on my bed reading a book that primed my mood to terror. In the waning light of the evening, my mood set to hypervigilance, the light illuminating the pages suddenly went dark. Gone with the light was any last fortitude my mind held onto.
My reaction was instant and uncontrollable. I hurled myself into the mattress and froze every muscle in my body. This automatic reaction lasted what seemed like an eternity. The reality was that it probably only lasted a minute or two before I was able to move my mind and body into action to investigate the situation.
Looking back on the incident, I can now laugh at the overexaggerated and outrageous response. But at the time, the panic was real.
We all experience fear in some form or another. Whether mild or life-threatening, fear plays a vital part in our survival. But when fear moves beyond helpful to nuisance or getting in the way, we need a plan to control it.
These are the steps I’ve found useful in keeping it under control:
Step One: Change Your Mindset
When we chastise ourselves for succumbing to fear’s aggressiveness, we give up our power. The first step you must take is to accept that you are doing the best you can at any given moment. Joseph Shrand, M.D., in his book The Fear Reflex, Five Ways to Overcome It and Trust Your Imperfect Self, calls this the I-M. When you are doing the best you can at this moment, in this situation, you are at your maximum. I-M stands for “I am at my maximum.”
After you have acknowledged this, you will find the will to find it easier to make changes. The I-M realization puts a practical perspective on your attitude. When you respect yourself, you regain your personal power.
Using that power combined with intention fuels your efforts.
Step Two: Massage the Biology
Fear is not only an emotional reaction, but also a physical reaction. It begins with emotional detection in the amygdala, activating stress hormones that trigger the fight-or-flight reaction in your body. Using calming techniques during normal times assists your body in lowering your stress reaction during intense anxiety and fright. Practice meditation, progressive relaxation, and/or deep breathing exercises daily. Be sure to get your exercise and physical activity in. Daily repetition reenforces the results.
Fears that arise from childhood issues or trauma situations may require the help of a trained therapist to help you confront or reframe certain fears.
Make it a goal to reduce fear, but not to eliminate it. Remember, fear serves a proper purpose in your life.
Step Three: Confront with Courage
Your final step is to face each fear with courage. Armed with your I-M mindset and daily fear reduction practices, you will begin to conquer those unnecessary fears that stand in the way of leading the life you deserve to lead.
Fear is a great tool for successfully navigating life’s ups and downs. But it is a tool that needs polish to be most effective. Use these steps to keep fear working efficiently for you.
For a deeper look at the fight-or-flight response in people who are emotionally responsive
Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson