This is a post I wrote a couple of years ago but it feels really relevant right now. With current events bringing up fear and feelings of helplessness, I wanted to bring it back to the forefront. The suggestions may seem small or even self serving, but remember that you can be of service to others so much better when you are in service to yourself first. May your worries fall away and may you find strength and peace within you.
All around me right now I see people living with fear and worry as their constant companions.
Fear of losing their jobs, their relationships, or their health. Worry about money, family, the state of politics and the world economy. It doesn’t matter if the fear and worry are about world issues or personal ones, the effect is the same.
Fight or flight is in your DNA. When stress enters your life, your body pumps adrenaline and other stress hormones into our bloodstream, and your blood pressure and heart rate go up, along with a whole host of other physical changes.
But then what? Since actual physical fight or flight is not necessary, all of that chemical soup has nowhere to go and nothing to do. Eventually, it will work its way out and you will calm down, but it can take hours for your body to metabolize it and get you feeling normal.
When heightened anxiety, fear, and worry happen so often that you don’t even realize it anymore, it can start to become your new normal. If this happens, you become susceptible to stress related illness, and you can become anxious and irritable.
You can mitigate some of the effects on your body with physical exercise, drinking water, and eating healthy to strengthen your body’s ability to process the chemicals.
But in mental and emotional realms, fear and worry breed like bunnies and build and build until suddenly your whole life feels like it’s falling apart. It’s a vicious cycle, the more you think about it, the deeper the pathways in your brain become, and the easier it becomes to think about it.
So what can you do to break out of the fear cycle, and stop fear and worry literally in their tracks?
Meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly in silence for a few minutes, or it can be something more involved like listening to a guided meditation on a cd. Meditation can calm the mind and relax the body, and done regularly (meaning when everything is “normal” and not just when you are in the middle of the fear cycle) it can help prevent the fear and worry from sticking to you in the first place.
If you are feeling like you are in the cycle right now, here is a simple meditation that can help after a stressful day.
Sit or lie quietly with eyes closed. Beginning at the top of your head imagine a light brush or feather duster sweeping down your body, brushing the anxiety and stress off of your body and down towards your feet. With each breath, the tension releases a little ore and falls away under the sweeping motion of the brush. When you reach your feet, see or feel all of the debris melting into the ground and away from you. If there were any spots in your sweep that held extra tension, go back to them with a little extra breath and attention. When you are finished take a deep breath from the soles of your feet to the tip of your head and on a quick exhale let everything that is left go.
Yes, I said Tetris! A 2009 study at Oxford showed that playing Tetris is helpful in preventing the flashbacks associated with PTSD especially within the first 6 hours after a traumatic incident. This is because it engages the visual and spatial part of the brain as you puzzle out the placement of the pieces. While the kind of fear and worry you are experiencing may not be PTSD, engaging this part of the brain can potentially shift the energy you may be feeling. While the study only used Tetris, other similar puzzle games may also have the same effect. I personally like to play BeJeweled when my mind is racing and it’s time for bed. After a few rounds it seems to shut of the thinky part of my brain so that I can sleep.
If repetitive thoughts create pathways in the brain, then why not replace the fear and worry with thoughts of joy and hope? Take a little bit of time in your day to read, watch, or listen to things that bring you positive thoughts. Put on some upbeat music and dance around your living room for a few minutes, watch YouTube videos of babies laughing or toddlers dancing, do whatever brings you joy.
Also, the bodies stress chemicals stick around a lot longer than the positive ones, so try adding a bunch of extra hope and happiness to your day.
Things to Ponder
How do you feel about your levels of fear and anxiety?
Are you letting fear and worry become your new normal?
Which of these techniques can you try this week to introduce peace, joy, and hope into your life, or to reduce stress?
If there is anything I can do to help you shift out of the fear and worry cycle, let me know!