Fear has had a good hold on me for a very long time. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder after my children were born, but looking back it’s been there since high school, if not earlier.
During the last few years I spent a lot of time facing my fears head on through therapy. Rather than go into the myriad of fears I was feeling, I’d rather share what I learned about facing those fears and working slowly and sometimes painfully through them.
The next part of this blog works through some CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) strategies I’ve learned. Stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a therapist. I am only summarizing in my own words the process that helped me.
Fear has many names. The primary emotion is fear, but we call it many things. I learned that fear is broken into two secondary emotions: horror and nervousness.
The horror segment of fear can break into tertiary emotions that include alarm, hysteria, fear, mortification, fright, panic, horror, terror.
Nervousness can break into the tertiary emotions of anxiety, suspense, apprehension, uneasiness, distress, worry, and dread.
Sometimes half the battle was naming it. What am I afraid of? Am I horrified or nervous? Having an anxiety disorder, I tend to feel a lot of anxiety and panic. At one point I used them interchangeably. Separating the two can be difficult, but knowing one boils down to nervousness and one boils down to horror helped me distinguish between the two.
Second, there is the process of identifying how severe this fear is in the situation (on a scale of 0 to 100%, or 1-10). When you are caught in the midst of anxiety and panic all of these fears feel like 110%. One of the goals of CBT is to reduce that number to where it feels manageable… for me it often took a few times looking at the fear to fully reduce it to a manageable level. (I still regularly do this.)
Third, I was given a series of prompts. These prompts help identify the thought distortion I was having.
- What am I afraid will happen?
- What does this say about me?
- What does this mean the other person thinks or feels about me?
- What’s the worst that could happen?
There are more, but these tended to speak to me the most. It forced me to face the fear for a minute… what if the other person really thinks _____ about me? Am I a failure because I did _____?
It helped to set the emotion and the thought apart – am I anxious because someone did something? Or because someone perceived something about me? Or because I’m imagining the worst possible case?
Sometimes all of the above. But writing out in ink the worst possible case takes some of the power away from it. It’s there right in front of me. I can look at it and not be afraid of it boiling around in my head anymore.
The fourth step challenged me to find factual evidence about it. Not mind reading or predicting, but actual factual evidence. Often, this evidence wasn’t there at all. Often I was distorting the evidence in my head. Realizing this is key. And it’s hard.
For the fifth step I was asked to find evidence which does NOT support the thought … and there was always plenty of evidence against what I was worrying about. The prompts that got me thinking the most about this were
- If my best friend or someone I love had this thought, what would I tell them?
- If my best friend or someone I love knew I had this thought, what would they tell me?
- Have I been in this situation before? What happened? How did I handle it?
- What evidence is there that shows the opposite of the evidence from number 4?
Reframing the situation to be about someone else I loved was a game changer. I’d never talk to my loved one the way I was talking to myself. They’d never say those things to me. Why am I talking that way to myself and about myself? We are our own worst enemy.
The sixth step was to summarize the evidence in steps 4 & 5, combining the two. Something like: I thought _____ but there’s evidence that shows ______ instead.
Or, it had me ask what advice I would give to a loved one going through this thought process. Again, the things I’d tell myself were never the things I’d tell a loved one. I learned I needed to love myself more.
It also asked me what the best outcome could be, and what the most realistic outcome is, rather than focusing on the worst case.
Finally, rate the fear I was feeling using the same scale I used at the start. Often it would drop after going through this process. Doing this process over again for the same or similar feeling would drop it even more.
There is no shortcut through this process. There is no easy way, no skipping parts, no avoiding things.
Often my notes were long and felt scattered, but reading them again showed me many alternatives to the fear I was feeling.
There is no way to skip around the fear, no shortcut or easy way out. It takes courage and time to face the fear, to look at it head on. It also diminishes the power the fear has over you. It takes time and effort. It takes love and compassion and gentleness with yourself.
When was the last time you spoke positively to yourself about a situation? Do you give yourself the advice you’d give to a loved one instead of ruminating about the worst case?
Reframing our thoughts is not impossible, but it is damn hard and takes time and effort and practice. It can be done. Eventually you can do it in your head, without writing everything down. But writing it out helps take it out of my head and solidify the resolution.
I am grateful to the therapists who worked with me to first build trust, then tackle some small fears before jumping into the big ones. They gave me the ability to love myself, to become strong, capable, and resilient. I now control my anxiety instead of the anxiety controlling me. I no longer live in fear.
I’m a Métis wife, mother, daughter, friend, teacher, and advocate. I love coffee and squirrels. I married my high school sweetheart and don’t know where I’d be without him. I’m a mama bear to two amazing sons with autism who teach me things every day. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I find joy in the little things in life. I discovered my Métis heritage in my 20s and have been learning about Indigenous traditions and issues since. Life has taken me on many twists and turns I never saw coming. I try to walk the path with Bravery and look to Love.