Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fear-ful Times

By Amy Phillips-Gary

There seems to me to be an overabundance of fear lately. Anxiety and even panic appear in the words, faces and demeanors of those around me, in the news and are even present in my own bearing.

It's as if the United States has become the land of the worriers and the home of the fearful.

And it's making us sick.

I'm no scientist, but I can't help but wonder if there is a link between all of this fear and worry about the economy and the recent outbreak of the “swine flu.”

You can follow the spread of swine flu on interactive maps updated on media websites. Even my favorite comic strip characters are struggling and distressed as they lose their life savings and try to make do with less.

If, like me, you don't often watch or read the news, you might still be caught up in the worrying and fear going on. You may not have to look too far to see that there are plenty of displeasing and unsettling things going on in the world-- perhaps in your own life.

This can certainly trigger a clenching of the gut and a tightening of the shoulders.

Fear-ful Effects
When I feel fear or worry, I know that I can't thrive the way I want to. Scientific studies have shown that stress causes chemical changes in the brain that, in turn, directly influence the state of a person's health. High blood pressure, heart attacks, immune diseases and other very physical effects of stress are well known.

Stress has been described as a “mild form of fear” which means it is even more important to address your worries and tension before they grow.

Even without a single scientific study, you may already know that fear and stress feel bad and can make you sick!

Notice and Pause in the Face of Fear
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.” I've heard this popular saying used to try to bolster another person's courage. While I appreciate the intention behind the phrase, I disagree with it.

Instead, I suggest that when you feel fear, notice it, pause and take the time to explore your feelings before you proceed.

Spiritual teacher Abraham explains that our feelings are indicators of how split off we are from who, what and where we really want to be. Our fears indicate that it's time to look within and possibly chart a different course.

Don't be frozen into inaction by fear; but, at the same time, don't blindly push ahead ignoring your wiser self's attempted communications.

The secret with fear is to open up to it when you feel it. Buddhist teachers advise students to “sit with” uncomfortable feelings. As you welcome how you feel-- even the scary stuff-- you can learn from the indicator and also take steps toward relief.

Try to stay focused on the feelings more than the story as you acknowledge your emotions. Experiment with different soothing strategies and figure out what works for you.

When I notice that I am feeling fearful, I re-direct my attention to my body. I inhale and exhale, feeling my feet on the ground or tuning in to my body being supported by the bed or chair upon which I'm resting.

What's Your New Story?
We've all got stories-- those “truths” we tell ourselves that may or may not be as solid and irrevocable as they seem to be in an intense moment. These stories that we tell ourselves are often the fuel for the fears that can dis-able us. In turn, it is our fears that can make us sick and hold us back from the lives we desire.

Setting aside your story and focusing in on your feelings is so powerful because that seemingly solid “truth,” can be limiting and stand in the way of your ability to find and receive relief.

At the same time, if you keep returning to the same story over and over again, you'll probably also continue to re-experience the stress, fear and worry.

When you are feeling relatively calm, take a look at your story. Perhaps your usual story is one you read about in a newspaper or heard from a friend. Don't make it your goal to “find out the real truth.”

Instead, create a new story for yourself.

If you take a wider view of reality, you'll see that there are many truths out there. There are people who are going through bankruptcy and there are others living abundantly in a “struggling” economy. Some are feeling sick much of the time while plenty of other people are walking around in healthy bodies living vibrantly.

The possibilities are truly endless-- but only if you believe them to be. Ask yourself what you want your new story to be and offer that your attention.

As you line up your attitude and emotions with your new story, you will probably feel less fear and more ease and eagerness for what's ahead-- and even for what's going on right now in your life. Be on the lookout for signs in “real life” that you are moving closer to your new story.

1 comment: