You instinctually avoid not only what causes fear, but also fear itself. It is only natural to not want to experience an unpleasant feeling.
When fear follows you
The cause of the fear can be gone, but the feeling can remain. When you still feel fear when there is no present danger-fear has you. Your body and mind are at the effect of the fear cycle.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is just that, the psycho-physical experience of trauma when there is no trauma occurring. How is it possible that the crisis can be gone and you are still in it, still feeling the fear?
You feel it later because you couldn’t fully feel it and release it when if first occurred. A soldier who is under constant attack or threat of it can’t relax because lives are at risk. By not allowing the body/mind to cycle through the complete experience of fear, the experience and its fear lingers.
To the extent you don’t experience a trauma, that experience leaves its charge. Literally, you don’t get to exhale fully-you are holding your breath. You are waiting to exhale. After a while, this holding becomes the norm, even when you’re not under stress. You have created a self-perpetuating behavior pattern around even the littlest fear.
So what do you do?
You breathe. By breathing and feeling what is happening as it happens, your body/mind releases the trauma and fear as it occurs. Yes, it may be more intense in the moment, scarier. You may even sweat, shake and feel frightened but you will live.
When the fear is subtle, let your body or your emotions clue you into that you are panicking, even subtly. Your sign could be when you catch yourself holding your breath or tightening your shoulders. Once you notice the fear-feel the fear. You’ll get a rush not much different than the rush of excitement. Let it happen, let it travel through your body. Don’t label it fear, feel it as a rush. Once it completes the process on its own terms, you’ll relax. In a small way, you’ll come down just as you did when you were really frightened but survived and then started shaking as your body went through its natural recovery phase.
What do you get?
Beyond the free rush, the fear you released is fear that will not be stored in your body. It is fear that will not continue to plague you. You are set free of that piece of fear.
By engaging in this act, you release a little of the old fear buried in your body/mind. You’re also training your body and your unconscious mind to move toward fear so you can experience and release it. For more than 30 years, I’ve trained thousands of clients and students to do this simple act. For some, it transformed their lives. Practicing this act of mindfulness with the acceptance of your fear heals your body/mind. It can release old trauma, which allows your body and emotions to relax and thereby heal.
Henrik Edberg’s blog post about moving towards fear leads with Nelson Mandela’s quote, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Both Edberg and Mandela are correct-power comes from moving into fear. I would add that beyond and sometimes instead of using, self-talk or rationalizations for full empowerment, you need to KNOW FEAR through experiencing it.
Allow fear to be your teacher. She will teach more than any set of books.