Fear is useful only inasmuch as it tells us when to flee a situation or shore up our defensive mechanisms to protect ourselves. However, if the emotion of fear paralyzes us and does not lead to action, then it is useless. Admittedly, it is difficult to not feel fearful at times, especially when fear becomes a thought pattern we churn around and around in our minds.
I attended a class a few years ago conducted by a specialist in cognitive behavioral therapy. Her advice for overcoming the pattern of what she called “thinking errors” was simply this: Stop. Breathe. Reflect. Choose. She said when you find yourself feeling fearful stop and acknowledge it. “Yes, I am feeling afraid.” This is the first break in the pattern. Then take a breath– a deep, lung-filling breath of air. This simple physical act is another break in the thought pattern. Then begin reflecting on solutions to the problem, or a plan of action to mitigate it, or simply determine what support you can draw on to get you through if you cannot change the situation. Finally, choose to not to be fearful. Make it an act of the will. Each one of these acts chip away at the habit of being fearful.
Drawing on support systems nearly always works for me. When something happens, I usually contact close friends or family members to share the problem. Sharing makes a load lighter, I find. I also draw upon the wisdom of those who have gone before me. I read a lot to get through my bouts of fear. I mostly draw on the words of my faith tradition which tells me that fear cannot exist where loves resides and that the Spirit gives us power, more love and self-discipline when we realize that.
Does this break in the mental pattern make the problem go away? No. Will this mental exercise break the habit of fearful thinking? Perhaps not all at once. You may have to do it over and over. Sometimes it takes a while to break one mental habit and replace it with another one.
The thing to remember is this: if you renew your mind and change your thoughts, then everything changes.
ljg (c) 2016. Inspired by the Letter F.
Image: an detail from The Captives by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan