What do you do when fear suddenly consumes your life?
- Bury your head under the covers and watch Disney movies on Netflix?
- Get to work constructing a Parallel Universe Machine so you can hop dimensions?
- Take to Facebook and proclaim your undying hatred for bigots and racists and misogynists (oh my!)?
So many choices, you don’t know what to do with yourself, right? Well, I took the liberty of exploring them all for you to save you some time, and have come up with a few tidbits of knowledge to share for the trouble. My first discovery? Two of the three above options are dead ends.
My second discovery is going to take a whole blog post to explain, so bear with me. The story, it goeth thusly:
It’s very easy to fall into negativity and fear when The Future suddenly doesn’t look as friendly and progressive as you’d pictured it was going to be. All of us who were hoping to go in a different direction this past election experienced a sudden, huge swell of fear and grief that Tuesday night, when we seemed to be forcibly pulled the other way. It’s important to deal with that fear and that grief first, before moving on, because otherwise you’ll be fighting both internal and external battles in the years to come… and that’s just counterproductive.
Okay sure, Becca, if you know it all then how do I stop being afraid? ask the three people who actually read this blog. (Hi, Mom!)
Why, thank you for asking, Anonymous Reader Created For My Convenience. Let me introduce you to my patented 3-Step Fear Removal Process. (Now with 50% Less Sugar!)
Disclaimer: this 3-Step Process is all based on my own personal experience with overcoming anxiety. This may or may not work for you, but I’m hoping I can at least help you start a conversation with yourself.
The voice of Fear is pretty sneaky. It’s favorite tools are gaslighting, isolation, and paralysis — like your friendly neighborhood abusive boyfriend. But Fear preaches from atop a pedestal of lies, and the easiest way to discredit its preachings is to remind yourself of the Universal Truths its attempting to deny. Do that, and a break-up is easy.
Step One: Fear says There’s No Hope
(Bogus. There’s Always Hope.)
As every famous person who’s ever confronted hardship has said: this too shall pass. Nothing lasts forever… and that includes everything from frightening societal upheavel to anxiety. I have a friend who’s taken to sharing inspiring quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. on her Facebook page, and whenever I read one, I find it helps me feel so much better. Those quotes remind me that the first step to breaking up with Fear is remembering it’s not the only fish in the sea.
Take a second to think for a moment. What inspires you? What makes you laugh? What gets you singing? Fear likes stagnant waters, and the more ripples you create, the more you’ll spook it into flying away.
This doesn’t mean distract yourself from what’s happening in the world. But do take the time to take care of yourself: watch something funny. Listen to beautiful music. Go for a walk and notice the life and the patterns in the nature around you. Read a book by someone who inspires you (MLK Jr, for example). Keep a journal, and write down five things you’re grateful for each day.
Most importantly: do something creative. Loosen Fear’s hold on your imagination by using it for something else. I find painting to be the most therapeutic, personally — painting starscapes or skies, or skintones, helps me order my mind a bit. You could use those adult coloring books for a similar effect. (I prefer painting on a blank canvas, because I think that helps me process my thoughts more than a coloring book. But that’s just me.)
Next: try to put your fears into perspective. I’ve found that anxiety likes to rationalize away my rationalizations, so it’ll come up with a ton of “but”s to amend my “this too shall pass”es, to try to convince me that this is situation is different: that, in this case, there really is no hope. But the mind only knows what it knows — and what it knows is everything that’s already happened, and what it definitely doesn’t know is what will happen in the future.
(After all, if you could predict the future, you’d be super rich by now, and also probably wouldn’t be having anxiety.)
What helps me put things in perspective is remembering everyone who’s come before me. Think of a time period you really resonate with (or a historical figure you admire, if you have one). I’m particularly drawn to Old Hollywood, and the culture wars of the 60s; I’ve been watching those CNN documentaries about The Sixties and The Seventies nonstop all year. I recently rewatched them this week, and ended up finding within them a surprising source of strength. Do you think people living through the Cold War thought they’d live to see the 90s? Do you think those marching for civil rights thought we’d ever have a black President? We’ve put ourselves through a lot as a species and yet, as a lovely Stephen Sondheim song goes: we’re still here. Remind yourself of some of it. Remember the people who overcame hardships, and let their strength bolster some of your own.
Step Two: Fear says You’re Alone In This
(Such Lies. You Are Never Alone.)
Think of someone right now who makes you feel completely safe. Who’s the person who gives you the most support? Who gets you to laugh? Who can you cry in front of? These can be different people, if you like.
Call them up. Get together with them. Being in the same physical space with someone helps so much in making you feel less alone, even if you feel isolated from them at first when you’re together. If you do feel isolated, take the time to really talk to them: don’t hide your fears or worries. If they truly support you, they won’t judge or attack you. Sometimes fear just needs an exit strategy, and leaving through the mouth is as good an exit as any.
Remind yourself of the many, many, many, many, many people who probably feel the same way you do right now. Watch videos of people who support what you’re going through, who speak up for you. Go into work and interact with your coworkers. Hang out at a cafe and people-watch.
And try not to think of the world as having “sides”, or otherify those who disagree with or frighten you. Humans are inherently empathetic — we’re biologically built for it, mirror neurons and all. It takes a long time to train someone to actually be able to kill someone else; one has to radically de-personify another human being in order to commit atrocities to them. Remind yourself, and others, of our collective humanity, and maybe the world won’t seem quite so frightening.
Step Three: Fear says There’s Nothing You Can Do
(“Doing” Is Exactly What You Can Do.)
Lastly, and this is the most important part: do something.
I know it’s hard to move sometimes when you’re dating Fear, and you get tired. But doing something is the quickest way to feel empowered; to convert that heavy energy into something galvanizing.
Fear is a reactionary element. It speeds up your thoughts, so it’s difficult to think rationally. It can paralyze you. The key to completely breaking it off with him when he becomes your Abusive Boyfriend is to create movement and space within yourself… so you can calm your thoughts down to a patient tempo, and make proactive decisions rather than passively reacting to the world around you.
Okay great, you’re thinking, but what do I do?
Really good question. For me, I started with identifying what I was most afraid of, and seeing where I could help.
I’m most afraid of decimating the environment. I’m afraid if we don’t do something now, we’ll have no clean water to drink, limited food sources, mass extinctions, and all that other lovely stuff you think of when you think of the words “climate catastrophe.” I’m afraid of a lot of other things, too, but ruining our environment beyond all replenishing is my biggest fear.
So I’ve identified that. And I’ve started to try to convert that into positive action, both in the way I live my day-to-day life (cutting down my use of plastics/disposables, bringing a thermos to coffee shops, bringing reusable bags to the super market, cutting down on beef, etc.), and in the way I act as a citizen of the world.
I subscribed to environmentalist groups, learned which representatives to call whenever I’m concerned about the latest fracking bill, donated to organizations I support. All of these things helped me feel like my actions mattered in the greater scheme of things, reminded me my presence here had worth.
(Fun fact: if you want to do something to mitigate the effects of global warming, call up your local energy company and ask them what options they have for sourcing Green Energy. In NYC, for an extra $5 ConEd will source your energy from wind and solar power instead of natural gas or oil. You can also start composting or bringing your compostable trash to a local compost plant, reducing your contribution to landfills.)
If you can’t identify your deepest fear, try to find something that gets you excited about the future. Envision a life where, five years down the line, you’re living happy and stress-free. What’s awesome about that future? What are you most excited about, when you think of that future? What are your habits in that future? Now go work to bring that to fruition.
How, you ask? Well… try to look for areas in your life where you can foster kindness. Find something that will motivate you in an additive way — not something you’re fighting against, but something you’re working for. Something you can create, envision, or nurture. I’m sure there’s plenty you want to prevent, but you’ll be more motivated when you have something you’re aiming for besides “not that.”
What really helped me was signing up to volunteer with a program like NYCares. When I signed up, they asked me what I wanted to focus my volunteering efforts on. I looked through the list of options they provided, and chose the options that excited me. (I apparently get excited thinking of cleaning up public parks and gardens, teaching art to kids, and helping community painting projects. Who knew?) I’m volunteering at a compost plant next month, because the idea of New York being entirely trash-free in 10 years gets me really excited about what the future could look like.
Actively choosing to make my city better helps me think the world really can be changed by the collective choices of individuals. And that was the key to breaking up with my abusive boyfriend Fear: remembering the inherent power of my choices.
And th-that’s all, folks. I hope this post will help you, too… or at least will help remind yourself of your own worth. You are more powerful than you think you are; your choices and how you live your life can make a positive difference to the world around you.
Light always gets where it’s going, no matter what gets in its way. Even Sciene knows that. 😉
And that’s the story, morning glory.