Friday, April 5, 2013

learning to fight fear

Fear can come in many forms - worrying about the unknown, worrying about the known, anxiety about new situations, being scared of something, conjuring up false truths and realities about life and following through with situations in your head until you've spiraled into something crazy.  All of us have done (or do) at least one of those.

In reading my story, it's pretty obvious that my belief and trust in God is of the utmost importance.  But there are several tools that have come alongside this relationship that have helped me immensely in fighting fear.

There really is power in scripture.  Meditating on scripture and allowing it to fill my mind is refreshing and life-giving.

Counselors are wonderful people.  There are times when you know you need something more - a person that is qualified to sit, listen, and help.

We have the power to dismiss thoughts and control our thought life.  We have thousands and thousands of thoughts a day and when a thought enters our mind, it immediately searches for it's "mother belief."  (The bible study that our MOMS group is going through talks a lot about this.)  So if I have an anxious thought, even a small one that seems like it doesn't affect me, it begins to look for my fear-based beliefs.  After a series of the same kinds of thoughts, you develop beliefs that maybe you didn't even know were there.  And, sometimes, you're not even sure how they got there.  If we can dismiss them quickly, they don't leave as deep of an impact.

All of these things have been so helpful for me.  But recently, there's something else that has been equally helpful.

Staying in the moment.

And I don't mean "live in the moment" the way old ladies in the grocery store tell new moms to "soak it all up."  I mean pay attention to what you're doing right this second.  It's not that you need to meditate and think deep thoughts about your every current state.  You just need to be present.  If I'm making dinner, I'm thinking about making dinner.  I'm not going to worry about that thing that I have to do tomorrow or that other thing I'm really nervous about.  It sounds simple, but we live in a world that is constantly multitasking.  And I am even one that prides myself in my multitasking skills.  But I'm trying to slow down, do one thing at a time, and focus on exactly what I'm doing.

When you're doing one thing and another thought enters your mind, stop it and throw it out.  Obviously not all things need to be thrown out.  If it's a lovely thought about your wonderful husband or how yummy ice cream is then, by all means, think on those things.  (Unless you're trying to abstain from ice cream.  In that case, I can't help you.)

Not all thoughts that interrupt what we're doing are bad.  But I'm talking about the thoughts that are not helpful to your current situation.

Here's an example of how this has worked for me:

A couple months ago, Colt and I spent a weekend in Norman with some friends away from Duke.  We'd spent nights away from him before, so that wasn't the actual problem.   The problem was that when my panic attack happened last July, I was away from Duke.  So being away from him had become a trigger for my anxiety.  Not because I was truly anxious about being away from him, but because I was fearful of what might happen to me when I was away from him.

Since last July, every time that we've been away from him involves mental preparation on my part.  Norman was no different.  I remember visiting with my counselor the week before this little trip and telling her that I just wanted to be able to enjoy myself, enjoy our time as a couple, and enjoy the time I was getting to spend with some really sweet friends.  That's when this "stay in the moment" thing came into play.

While eating delicious meals at restaurants and having great conversation ... BAM - one of those thoughts that doesn't belong.  It was many things.  You don't deserve to be away from Duke enjoying yourself like this.  You should be home with him.  You don't know what could happen.  You won't be able to get to him fast enough.  Don't you remember what happened?  Something is going to go wrong.

Immediately, I had redirect myself.  It seemed so elementary, but I had to think about where I was, what I was doing, and who I was looking at.  My name is Claire and I'm in Norman and I'm eating these chips and this queso is so tasty and Ashley just said something really funny and ...

You can't think about two things at once, so if consciously thinking about putting a chip in my mouth was going to eliminate fearful thoughts, then that's what had to happen.

I'm telling you guys.  Fighting these thoughts in your mind doesn't just feel like a mental battle.  It's a physical one as well.  I'm exhausted after it's over.

I realize this may sound basic to some of you, but for me, it's brought about a big change.  I've noticed that since I've started doing this, the times I've had to do it have become less often.  It's like I'm retraining my brain.

If you are totally lost as to why anyone would need to focus like this, then count yourself blessed!  I wanted to share because I know there are people dealing with anxiety and fear and are feeling alone in the darkness of their mind.  If that's you, maybe this can help.  If you're overwhelmed by how far away you seem from healing, just start small.   For now, stay in the moment.


  1. I love this post! Having tangible things to do to fight fear is really important. When I was going through a really stressful time a couple of years ago (with work and Grad school), I would get super anxious and overwhelmed - to the point that my heart would race! My way to fight it was to pray, and then to actually think about what I was doing (like you said). "Yes, I have a paper to write, but right now I'm washing dishes. I'll focus on this and think about the next thing afterward." It really does help so much! Thanks for sharing!

    Oh and I probably said a lot of really funny things that weekend so I'm glad you mentioned that... :)


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