By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
From listening to politicians and the news media, and even your neighbors and family, it’s easy to conclude that these are scary times. This article will explain fear and anxiety, provide you anxiety/stress reducing tools, and offer a way of looking at the world in which we live from a metaphysical perspective.
Fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat” (Oxford Dictionaries). The amygdala, that part of the brain that determines safety, hasn’t evolved to distinguish the difference between a true imminent threat and an area of possible concern. It evaluates every input from one of your senses including what is seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, and emotionally felt. From a safety perspective this makes perfect sense. But the amygdala has not learned to differentiate between a bear on a forest path and a call to the boss’ office. Both result in the same physiologic fight, flight or freeze response. Additionally, the amygdala and its supportive systems rarely distinguish between a threat that is happening to you and a threat that is happening to someone else while it’s viewed on the news or in a movie, or is told to you by another. The mind/body/emotions respond as if the threat is happening to you, right now.
To make matters more complicated, if you happen to be one of the many highly sensitive individuals (not just those on the autistic spectrum), your amygdala is hyper-vigilant. And if you are a worrier, then every additional worry-thought after the original trigger keeps your amygdala continuously responding.
The amygdala’s response is designed to be temporary, not to keep the system on high alert 24/7. Since the amygdala response actually lasts only 90 seconds, anything longer is due to the amygdala being repeatedly triggered by either the continuation of the real danger or by the mind’s continued focus on the perceived danger (actually a worry-thought).
Here are some ways to keep your amygdala response to the more manageable 90 seconds:
Focusing on your breath provides mindfulness, and also acts as a reboot for your physiologic system. Watch the movement of your chest and abdomen: observe without controlling, or strive for longer, but not deeper, breaths.
Observe your body for tension and anxiety. Drop your shoulders away from your ears to open your lungs for a more complete breath. Practice progressive relaxation techniques.
Exercise is a great de-stress technique, but if it is unavailable change your position to move your body, and also to change the visual scene that has your attention.
Participate in sensory experiences, i.e.: sip hot tea, take a bath, listen to preferred (and preferably calming) music, or pet an animal. As you do these activities immerse yourself in all the sensations that are involved (temperature, flavor, sounds, textures, etc).
Practice “tapping”. Use your fingertips to gently tap your collarbone; or tap the side of your hand on your opposite palm.
Change from worrying to doing. Allow yourself only one assessment of something that happened in the past. Reliving it as a memory will not change it and will only recall the negative emotions and physiology. Also, allow yourself only one assessment of something that is to come in the future, thereby changing your worry to an action plan of what can be done to address the area of concern (start the project, enter a to-do list in your calendar, practice a conversation, etc).
Infuse yourself with laughter and humor: comedians, funny books, amusing movies, etc.
Practice energy modulation to reduce your empathic response: Focus on your inner space that absorbs others’ emotions and energy. Find a visual imagery (balloon, weave, etc) that lets you reduce its size when desired and needed.
Boundaries are important. Decide when and how long you’ll entertain the worry. Select a specific time to think about this issue and limit the amount of time you will address it. Ten to twenty minutes should be sufficient. If it doesn’t seem complete, then make another appointment time.
Question your beliefs. Are they real? Is it true? Is there a different perspective? Talk to a trusted friend or professional so that you can get the fear-thoughts outside yourself where they can be looked at objectively (from the shadow to the light).
Look for the “stories”. These are assumed truths that masquerade as reality. Remember that F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Find the stories in your thoughts and dispel them.
To minimize anxiety, align your outward actions with your inner beliefs and values. Make sure that when necessary you speak your truth respectfully, and act in alignment with your truest self.
Metaphysically we also understand that to bring in more light, the shadow must be seen. As the shadows come out of hiding, their visibility makes it easier to address. Fearing a shadow makes it heavier, denser, darker and more recalcitrant. By making it visible and turning to look, we bring it to the light with compassion and understanding. This is true for you personally, and also our society.
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield, MI. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties; work or school related anxiety; ADHD; Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders; and those who wish to Remember and Become ‘Who You Really Are’. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit www. SpiralWisdom.net for more information.
This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to replace medical care.