As a Certified Empowerment Coach, I often see clients who are carrying around a lot of anxiety. It may even be the basis for a chronic health issue like insomnia, high blood pressure, depression, etc. The anxiety, or fear, can result from being faced with some big problems in their lives – like loss of a job and all the financial pressures and uncertainties it can cause, or a chronic illness that they’re dealing with, or divorce, death of a spouse, problems with kids or grandkids, or any number of issues. Yet, often times they have fear about nothing currently specific – more like the “what if’s” that might happen. There are some specific reasons for this kind of fear and I’d like to tell you about them and how you can let go of them and find peace in your life.
Is Fear Sapping Your Ability to Be Happy?
There’s an old saying, “once bitten, twice shy”. Once you’ve experienced a deep hurt, you retain the fear of experiencing that hurt again. Many people who have been through some major life stressors become prone to carrying around a lot of looking-over-their shoulder, “what if” kind of fear and anxiety, thinking “something” bad like that could happen again. It’s really a form of post-traumatic stress disorder on a lower-intensity level but is just as real and can really sap your desire for peace and happiness.
So what causes this fear? Well, an important cause can be holding onto the stress from bigger, past events. Those events are gone but the fear and anxiety has lingered and has spilled over into much smaller, everyday things. For example, I have one client whom I would characterize as a strong, resilient woman. A few years ago, she lost her husband to a sudden heart attack and the shock of it shook her up pretty badly. Even though she seemed to get through his death pretty well at the time, in the months and years that passed she found herself with low-level, chronic, everyday fear and anxiety for even the smallest things.
As a result, she developed a chronic case of poor sleep and a little higher than I would like blood pressure and blood sugar levels (that stress can aggravate). When I asked her if anything was bothering her in her life, she told me that when she woke up everyday, she immediately had a sense of doom about what the day might hold – even a relatively simple thing like taking her car into service caused her anxiety. If her kids didn’t call her for a few days her anxiety and fear grew even more intense wondering if something had happened to them. In short, she was always “primed” for the possible “what ifs” that might happen. As a result, her body and mind were constantly reacting to the stress of events which didn’t really take place. Psychologists and psychiatrists call this GAD – or generalized anxiety disorder. You, too, may unconsciously already be reacting to stress that your mind created for you rather than reality.
How to Let Go of Chronic, Baseless Fear
Of course, it’s easy for someone else to look at your anxiety and see what’s likely at the root of it. Not so easy, perhaps, for you, especially when it involves looking back to the larger, more devastating stressful events that likely created your “everyday” fear. Yet, there are some ways that you can help yourself lessen, or get rid of. Here’s how:
1. Accept the past/its painful events. Many people haven’t let go of the stress of past events because they didn’t truly accept them when they first happened. Like my patient whose husband died suddenly, she still has dreams that her husband is alive and he’s just away on business somewhere. Getting her to work on accepting his death has helped lessen her chronic anxiety.
2. Forgive yourself/others. Chronic, underlying fear and anxiety can also arise from guilt that you carry for something you may have done, or think you’ve done, or think you should have done. Making amends with others that you may have hurt can help you release a lot of guilt-based anxiety. You also may be harboring anger towards someone else for something they’ve done. My client who lost her husband was also angry at her husband for leaving suddenly without saying goodbye. She also logically knew how irrational that anger was and also felt guilty about being angry. But, there’s a little kid part of us who doesn’t “get” irrational or illogical – they just feel abandoned. This is why when her kids didn’t call for a few days she started to feel more anxious as it continued to stir up that feeling again. Once she understood this and forgave her husband for leaving suddenly, she started to seek new social outlets that she enjoyed. She began not to notice if the kids didn’t call her for a day or two. When your mind is occupied with positive action activities, those negative fears no longer have space to root.
3. Count Your Blessings. Everyday, make a special effort to take note of the good things that happen in your day, even it was some little thing that made you smile, or laugh, or feel inspired for a moment. Focusing on these happy, positive events that actually have happened can steer you away from negative “what if” fears of things that haven’t happened.
4. Revisit Your Accomplishments. Remind yourself of all the positive things you’ve done in your life – whatever they are. Maybe you raised kids, ran a business, and maintained successful friendships, or a marriage, for many years. Whatever it is, revisit those victories. Keep reinforcing to yourself that you can continue to do positive things in your life.
5. Face Your Fears. Ignoring what’s making you feel anxious or fearful only serves to empower it. Once you stop running from it, give it a name, and a cause, you gain the power. Talk to friends and your doctor, and seek specific counseling if you need to.
It may help to think of fear as a weed that will continue to crop up in your life unless you pull out the root. Determining the root of your chronic low-level fear and anxiety will allow you to take action against it and pave the way for peace and happiness to grow in your life.
Dale Brown, B.S., M.A., C.E.C.
Natural Health News
Face Fear and Live a Bold Life, http://tinybuddha.com/blog/9-essential-tips-to-face-fear-and-live-a-bold-life/
Are You Living with Chronic Worry and Fear? http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/get-hardy/201208/are-you-living-chronic-worry-and-fear