Recently I sent out a survey to members of the churches in our local association. I asked them to name a top issue on their mind and on the minds of people they live and work with. Fear and anxiety were at the top of the list.
Wait! Aren’t Christian people supposed to not be fearful? Certainly, we should not live our lives in constant fear. But let’s face it, we are all human and we have gone through nearly two years of a pandemic. Let’s give ourselves some grace and admit that we are probably struggling more than we’d like to admit.
Fear gets to the best of us, whether it is fear of failure, fear of success or even fear of fear. All of us have experienced fear at some point in our lives and it can be a real stumbling block that holds us back from being truly successful.
Fear can’t hold you back forever if you don’t let it. There are several ways to combat fear. Below are several, some are mental/emotional, some are spiritual, and some are physical. After all, we are body, soul, and spirit. I’m not a licensed counselor, but I am a certified Mental Health coach and I’ve stayed a night or two in a Holiday Inn Express. With that disclaimer, here are my top 11:
1. SEPARATE REALITY FROM PERCEPTION
Ask yourself: “What is really going on?” Try your best to locate the facts and place them over your feelings. Perhaps the rise in fear is due more to something that happened to us in the past rather than is happening now. I was let go from a job that I loved and was good at due to the pandemic. I have a besetting fear that it will happen again. It may, but I shouldn’t let what happened in the past control my emotions today. I had to find out what was going on inside.
2. IDENTIFY THE TRIGGER
Figure out what it is in a situation that triggers you. Learning to identify it will help you learn to combat it. We all have triggers. If you are not aware of yours, I’d suggest finding a good enneagram coach to help you to discover them and to work on them. A good Enneagram coach can also help with defense mechanisms, blind spots, fixations, motivations and more. You cannot deal with what you don’t know. Identify what triggers you is the only way to work on it.
3. KNOW WHERE FEAR LIVES IN YOUR BODY
A lot of the time, fear takes over physically. It affects different people different ways. Identify if/how it affects your physical body and do the work to take care of your body. Ex: if you hold stress in your back, you can learn stretches, foam rolling, etc. to avoid the pain.
Personally, I tense my chest, arms, and legs. Working out does wonders for me when I’m carrying a lot of fear, worry or anxiety. 95% of the time I feel so much better after working out these areas. I know others who tense their jaw or have stomach issues. There are things you can do that will help these areas as well but identifying them comes first.
4. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
Every day, list one to three things you are thankful for. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, gratitude helps shift the mind into a positive light, which overtime, overcomes fear.
There is neurobiological proof that expressing gratitude releases positive chemicals in your brain and helps rewire your perceptions to be more positive and satisfying. It’s a drug-free feel good, and it’s good for you! But remember to write them down. It is the mental recognition and the tactile expression combined that helps.
5. LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE
Monitor your inner conversations. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Speak positively to yourself and remind yourself of your strengths. Dr. Daniel Amen calls this negative self-talk “ANTS: Automatic Negative Thinking.” If you do this, go back to the first suggestion of separating perception from reality. We are kinder to others than we are to ourselves in our self-talk. I’ll probably post something on this soon. In my coaching practice, I often ask clients about their “inner-critic” and what it is saying to them.
6. PRACTICE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
First, what are spiritual disciplines and why practice them? Spiritual disciplines are practices of the mind and body that we undertake to bring our personality and our total being into alignment with the Spirit of God to live the Kingdom of God life. The disciplines basically open us up to a greater work of God’s grace in our lives.
The best spiritual disciplines are those that involve systematic reading, meditating, memorizing, and practicing the Scriptures. It is placing God’s thoughts into our thoughts. Romans 12:2 calls this “renewal of the mind.”
Prayer is also a close second to the reading of Scripture. Let your prayers be informed by the Scripture reading. Prayer is talking to God, but it is also listening to him.
There are many more disciplines than these two, but these two should always be a part of your spiritual arsenal in combating fear.
7. CREATE A NEW ASSOCIATION
What I’m writing about is a new point of reference. Remind yourself that the feeling and the moment will pass. Life will move on. Focus on the positive outcome of the situation, rather than the scary in-between.
8. LOOK AT THE GLASS HALF FULL
Perception is a very powerful thing, and how you feel about your situation dictates how you respond. So, think positively and you’ll give yourself a much better chance of success. This won’t happen overnight; practice with just one thought. What is one recurring negative/fearful thought you have? Work on reversing this one thought. I’m not saying it will be easy but overtime, this will become a habit.
9. PRACTICE BREATHING EXERCISES
Breathing helps center your body; when you stop breathing, your heart stops beating. You can do a grounding exercise, or even just take 5 deep, long breaths at any point to calm and center yourself. It is best to start your day with this, but feel free to practice all day long.
I have a smartwatch that periodically asked me to stop what I’m doing and practice a breathing exercise. Most of the time I don’t, but sometimes I do, and I can say it has helped me to refocus and relax.
I was part of a spiritual direction group that practiced what is called a “breath prayer.” It is where we went for 10 minutes just focusing quietly on our breathing. It was a way of letting everything else go. It worked.
10. CREATE A SAFE SPACE
When you feel safe and secure, there is no room for fear. Find somewhere safe you can retreat to when ill feelings begin- whether this is a real place such as your bedroom, or a place in your mind such as the beach. This sense of comfort will soothe you and allow you to face your fear.
11. TALK TO A SAFE PERSON
Sometimes we just need someone to listen. Other times we need someone to talk to just to make sure we’re not losing it with reality. Then, there are times when we just don’t have any answers to our questions, and we need that person who can give good, compassionate but truthful advice. Therefore, you need a safe person. Perhaps you need more than one person for this.
Please keep in mind, these are just 11 strategies, not everything works for everyone. But this is a place to start. Start implementing these techniques into your life and don’t let fear hold you back from reaching your goals and your highest potential!
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