Mindfully Relating to Fear

Hello fellow mindful travelers,
Happy April!  I hope you are enjoying some warmer weather this month, at least here in the Bay Area, California, things have been warming up.
Last month, I mentioned that Anxiety often boils down to Fear.  So this month I am going to look closely at Fear and how we tend to relate to our fear when it shows up.
Let’s start again by looking at the evolutionary advantages of fear.  The basic purpose of fear is to keep us safe, both physically and emotionally.  It might be obvious that fear keeps our bodies safe, but it also tries to keep us away from experiencing painful emotions.
For example, one of the biggest fears people have is public speaking.  You could say that this is a fear of feeling rejected.  In an evolutionary sense, this is a fear of being thrown out of the group.
When humans were still living in small groups, being rejected by the group meant you might die.  Those social bonds were a valuable resource.  So even though most people don’t live in small groups anymore, fear is still a powerful emotion that shows up to guide us away from any situation where we might be rejected.
It tries to keep us safe physically and emotionally.  However, when fear starts making all the decisions in our lives, it is often very difficult to live the fulfilling life that we want.
Have no Fear, Mindfulness is Here!
Well, sort of.  That title is actually making a point about how we are often told to relate to our fear by throwing it out, or telling ourselves that we should have no fear.  The problem is, we all have fear.  It is considered a universal emotion, and we can’t just kick it to the curb side, as much as we would like.
Ask yourself this question: When fear shows up, I ___________
Push through it?  Pretend it doesn’t exist?  Run from it?  Completely buy-into the fear?  Get angry and start arguing with it?  Tell myself I “shouldn’t” be afraid?
Those are all popular options and things many people do, myself included.
Here’s the next question: Do any of the above provide a long term solution to your fears?  Take a moment to think about each of them.
If look at each of those approaches closely, you’ll see that they might work for a short time (you might get temporary relief) but in the long term, the fear hasn’t gone away, and it may have just gotten larger.
Mindfully Looking at Fear
So what would be the mindful way?  The mindful way is to turn toward fear, look at it, check it out, and be curious about your experience.
If you’re willing, let’s try something.  Take a piece of paper and think of something that brings up fear for you.  It could be a situation, person, thought, etc.
Draw of picture of your fear on the paper.  It can look like whatever, but just have it on paper.  Add some details, color, shape.  Give it a name.  And when you’re done, take a look at it.
Now, ask your fear some questions:
-How long have I known you?
-What do you want me to do with my life?
-What advice are you giving me?
Now ask yourself some questions:
-How am I relating to this fear?  Am I struggling with it?
-How is this fear influencing me?
-Have I been buying-into its advice?
Be like a detective or researcher, investing yourself.
And be kind to yourself as you do this.  Go slowly and peacefully.  Take deep breaths.  The point is to just notice what is there and check it out.  That’s it.
Let go of any judgements.  Just see if you can be the observer of your perfectly normal human fear.
Remember, we are not trying to change the fear, just notice it and see it for what it is.
And that’s how to mindfully relate to fear.
Give yourself a self-five for being brave and mindfully looking at your fear.  It is very courageous to do this kind of self-investigation.  And be sure to go gently, kindly, and slowly.
With practice, perhaps you will find that you can relate to your fears with more peace and clear seeing.
I hope this was a helpful newsletter and as always feel free to send me an email and let me know what you thought.
Until next time,
Ellis Edmunds, Psy.D.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with anxiety and could use the support of a professional, it would be an honor to be of service.  I offer Individual Therapy and Mindfulness Groups in Oakland, California.
P.S. As promised, this month I’m giving away a copy of my game, The Mindful Bus.  And the winner is….Anne G!  Anne, please email me your info so I can send you a copy of my game!  I will continue to do more giveaways in the future so check back in the months to come.
P.P.S. I was recently interviewed on the Selling the Couch Podcast about the process of developing my board game.  You can check out the interview here.