What Do You Do When You're Afraid

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You know, when you have to do something that frightens you in some way - mentally or physically. Any good tricks out there to stop the sweaty palms and butterfly stomach?

-- Catherine (catherine@cmjcom.com), October 12, 1999


Hey! Thanks! I found some very useful things in those responses - which were pretty helpful to me. Thanks a lot, guys :))

-- Catherine (catherine@cmjcom.com), October 14, 1999.

i breathe deeply, concentrating on exhaling completely.

-- emma (goddess@worldnet.fr), October 12, 1999.

Think of something worse that could be happening, think of what you're going to do afterwards to make the frightening thing part of a series of things, not the one thing.

-- Chris (chris@clatimer.freeserve.co.uk), October 12, 1999.

"Jay, honey?" "Yeah?" "Can you c'mere? Just for a sec."

There are a couple of breath tricks. They don't work as well, but they're more reliable in the sense that I don't need anyone's help to do them. 1) Breathe in as you count to 1. Breathe out for 2. Breathe in for 2. Breathe out for 4. Breathe in for 4. Breathe out for 8. Continue as far up the 2-powers as you can. I don't *like* this one. It doesn't *feel* like it's helping while I'm doing it. But it takes a fair amount of concentration and the physiological effects are quite good, and it almost always works. 2) Count breaths. Don't stop doing what you're doing. Don't try and breathe funny, or special. Just count. Up to ten. Then start over at one. If you lose count or go past ten by mistake, just start over at one. Don't think about it much. This is what I pull out to 'keep it together' when I'm teary, depressed-to-the-point-of-incoherency, and need to Go Out In Public. I'm terrified of physically demonstrating vulnerability around other than a select few, y'see (and nervous of it around them). And so I count breaths. And I do the things I am supposed to do. And I *don't* break down crying (howling, weeping, shaking, curling foetal) somewhere that I am terrified of doing so.

NB: the first one was learned at my dad's insistence. the second one was casually mentioned in one or the other of Ken Wilber's books, though I'm sure he learned it from someone who learned it from someone who... PS: Ken Wilber's books are VERY VERY good.


-- Marianne Aldrich (marseillaise@hotmail.com), October 12, 1999.

Funny how we are all talking about breathing, because I was going to mention that too.

The best thing for me is distraction and denial. Breathing is good for controlling those tense shivery feelings of the nerves, but I need pure unadulterated denial to get through scary waiting periods. I'm good at denial. Reading helps create denial. Writing helps create denial. Gardening is the best way for me to deal with fear because after a while the denial becomes true peace. Gardening helps me find that feeling of surfing the waves of life rather than wallowing in the water, nearly drowned with each new crest. That is "all" it takes.

I am with you in spirit, Catherine.

-- Jill (viv@rosamundi.com), October 12, 1999.

Add me to the breathing solution... in my case good ol' Lamaze. I read somewhere that panic attacks *can't* last longer than about a minute, because its a literal brain dump of chemicals and there is only so much chemical in reserve. When I saw the time, it reminded me of a labor contraction, so I figured it might work. Let me get over panic attacks enough to start driving again, and have worked in other panic situations too.

But that's for those short bursts of fear... the longer term stuff, when I'm not whining and moaning and declaring there's no WAY I can face this... is to break it down into tiny little steps, and tell my self I only *have* to do the next step. And reward myself for each one I do... and then keep on going with each little step until I either get some momentum going, or it's done.

-- Lynda B. (lyndacat@bigfoot.com), October 12, 1999.

Catherine - I do a visualisation thing. Visualise what *can* go wrong, and work my way through it to a happy ending. I do this with bad dreams too - if I wake up freaked out (skeletons, say!) I run through the bad bits and get myself coming out OK. Sometimes this is hard to do but it works for me.

As for general scariness: I have a photo which used to be in my office, of me on a horse jumping (for me) a HUGE immovable object. I used to look at that when I had something big at work, and think - if I can do that, I can do THIS!

re treatment - You've got someone thinking about you in this bit of the world, if that helps.


-- Anna (anna@lucidity.au.com), October 12, 1999.

Hi Catherine! I just woke up from a nap and a dream about you and your journal -- I've been worrying about the doctor and the treatments for/with you. Here's what I do when I get nervous and panicky: I look down at myself and I say something like -- boy! am I scared. I'm breathing really fast and shallow. lookit these palms. In other words, I sort of self-monitor, take my own racing pulse. Then I remember what I read in a meditation book once -- that when we panic, it's the side effects that terrorize us so: the beating heart, the sweaty palms. And these side effects can be controlled, via biofeedback. So half the battle is controllable. The other half -- the thing that we're thinking about -- probably hasn't happened yet, so remember you're only reacting to thought. You can also change the thought. You fear what *will* happen. It's still a mere thought.

Oh, and I always like to picture myself on the other side of the scary thing -- the doctor's visit or lecture is over and I'm driving home, full of new knowledge.

So, I picture reading about your absolute joy in selecting and experiencing the coolest drug cocktail on the planet. Then I feel better.

Much lo

-- Nancy Birnes (turret@mediaone.net), October 13, 1999.

If it's something I have time to prepare for, I get very prepared, overprepared. I read everything there is about it, and make myself as informed as I can. It's as if knowledge will somehow be my armour and protect me from the scary, bad thing.

If it's sudden, my first tendency is to panic. Then I immediately start talking to myself to talk myself down, and telling myself to get in control and then I almost become someone else observing me taking whatever appropriate action is necessary. I don't come out of this mode until danger is over and it's OK to feel again. Surprisingly, I am pretty good in a crisis.

-- Jo (jmerchant@interaccess.com), October 13, 1999.

knowledge -and- distraction. short term sudden deal-with-this-now fear: go outside, walk around the block, smoke three cigarettes in a row, count things (bike couriers, suited men wearing headphones, people wearing brown shoes) to focus on entirely unrelated things. then tell myself not to be a chicken, and go and deal with it. longer term, long slow burn up to a big scary thing: knowledge. overdose on information. and, to echo those before me, figure out all the worst possible scenarios, and break them down into little bits. ans say them aloud. it surprises me, again and again and again, how much less frightening things are when spoken aloud (instead of brainwhisper echoing around all night in a dark room). oh yeah, and i throw things around.

-- heyoka (katie@heyoka.com), October 13, 1999.

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