What to do when Fear is Winning

Fear is inevitable. It is a basic human emotions that we cannot avoid. Untested, fear often leads to shut down, defensiveness, anger and hate.

clown-fear-horror.jpgSuccumbing to fear, however, is a CHOICE. Thankfully, LOVE is also a choice.

Considering the many avenues for fear, inviting myself and others to grow in love is not always easy. But there is no other time to address this issue then NOW; we are at a critical precipice in our evolution. It is easy to see where aligning with fear leads; just look at a news headline or take a peak at our country’s leadership—we’re swimming in the manifestations of fear.

The fact remains that it is only through choosing love and trust that we will heal ourselves and our planet and it is not too late.

As a therapist I am often asked, “HOW DO I GET A HANDLE ON MY FEAR (anxiety, stress…)?” Here are some tips:

  • Step 1: Bring AWARENESS to the fact that you are in a state of anxiety, panic, stress or fear. When we are noticing our experience, there is a part of us (the one who is noticing) who is not all the way in there consumed by the whole thing.  
  • Practically Speaking: SLOW DOWN and get curious about what’s happening. Consider starting a conversation with yourself; “Woah, Val, you’ve been edgy all day.  What’s up?…Oh! You’ve totally convinced yourself that your son’s upcoming medical procedure is going to be horribly painful and have lasting consequences to his mental health…So that’s where those hives came from.”

  • Step 2: CONGRATULATE yourself!  No, really. We have to become AWARE of what is happening in order to make change. That makes the noticing a real victory.
  • Practically Speaking: “Nice work, sister. You just caught yourself being consumed by fear. Now we can address it (and where is that hydrocortisone)?”

  • Step 3: Offer yourself a moment/gesture of KINDNESS! When we are in pain, we are deserving of comfort. Be your own sweet friend.
  • Practically Speaking: A few loving words of encouragement, a hand pressed tenderly over the heart…check out Kristin Neff’s brilliant work on Self-Compassion

  • Step 4: HONOR your experience. Ask yourself “What does my distress need right now?” The outcome will likely involve some kind of expression (keep it healthy, folks) as well as some kind of self-care.
  • 150303-F-HA880-017Practically speaking: Talk to someone you trust, have an exasperated cry, write down everything that’s freaking you out and burn it to ashes, put together a collage that depicts your fear, nourish or tend to yourself, make hot tea, take a warm bath, shoot some hoops, wrap yourself like a mummy in a blanket, snuggle with a special someone, read a joke book, prepare a favorite snack, make a lavender foot rub…you get the idea.

  • Step 5: Create a BOUNDARY! You’ve addressed your fear, now draw a line. Do not give fear permission to control your life. It doesn’t get to be the leader in your parade or the director on your cruise ship. Sure, fear can be very compelling but you are a grown up and the grown ups call the shots.
  • Practically speaking: Pretend you are a parent to your fear. You might imagine saying, “Okay, fear, you’ve told me all about how doomed things are and I’ve kindly listened. But you aren’t helping me and we are done for now so take a seat.”

  • Step 6: “Can we focus on the LOVE?” (shout-out Selena Gomez). Find the evidence of love/trust in your life. Deliberately seeking the good doesn’t negate the ‘tough stuff’ of life. But it is evidence of what is also true: LOVE EXISTS in ABUNDANCE. Affirm, grow, connect with demonstrations of love in the world.
  •  Practically speaking: Are you physically safe in this moment? Have you eaten in the past 24 hours? Has a child ever drawn you a picture? Did you felt the sun on your face today? Did you have correct change? All of this is evidence!  Two of my favorite ‘sure thing’ reminders of inherent love are GRAVITY and BREATH.                      Here’s how it works:5091-FX-6-0-12-6-8-0
    • GRAVITY: Sit or lie down somewhere comfortable and notice the sensation of the weight of your body gently pressed against the floor or ground.  Translation: you are inherently held against the heart of the earth with the perfect amount of pressure. You are so precious that you are tenderly being cradled at all times by mother earth.
    • BREATH: Pause for a moment and notice yourself breathing in and out. Without you having to do a single thing, your body is literally breathing you at all times. Translation: The energy of the universe loves you so much that it is breathing vitality into your being. No matter how you are showing up, you are loved and worthy moment to moment.

Don’t overwhelm yourself, just start at Step 1. When you become more practiced at bringing awareness to your fear, then move on to congratulating yourself for noticing and so forth. No need to criticize yourself when fear takes the reigns, just forgive yourself for being human and recommit;

love or fear.

The choice is yours.

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The Patriotism Test

I wasn’t psychologically prepared for lunch.

Not that I wasn’t hungry; all I’d eaten for breakfast were two Hershey kisses from my colleague’s chocolate stash. But I definitely didn’t realize that meeting my husband for a mid-day meal was going to be a political experience.

As we sat down at our corner table in “Mission BBQ”, an intercom chirped above our heads, “Ladies and gentleman, please join us in honoring our country as we do every day at noon with the singing of our national anthem.”  My chest swiftly dropped and I muttered under my breath, “Are you f$#king kidding me?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love America.

I love this beautiful land. I love the diversity of its people and I definitely love apple pie. When my Russian Jewish ancestors arrived to Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay in the 1800’s, they were desperate to escape a series of deadly riots, “pogroms”, aimed to persecute and massacre them. I love that my Jewish ancestors found safe refuge here from the violence threatening to extinguish them. And I fiercely love my grandfathers, both war veterans, who fought alongside their American brothers in hopes of securing these freedoms.

The reality is that of the 55 Delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 49% of them were slaveholders. That is not meant to overshadow the many and heroic ways they worked to establish independence, freedom and liberty. It is just that, at the very same time they were opposing British rule, of the nine presidents who owned slaves, only one, George Washington, freed his.flag.jpg

In a recent visit to Colonial Williamsburg, I spoke to a young woman acting in the role of niece to Peyton Randolf, a colonist slave owner. She explained, “If you asked me who in a court of law would be better able to advocate for themselves in a dispute—the slave girl or this table, I would tell you there is no difference. They are both property.” I openly cried.

When we love someone, we want the absolute best for them. Those who truly love America want it to be and do better. When the announcement came through the speakers at Mission BBQ and the music began to play, I felt cornered. I didn’t know what to do…I stood up…then I sat down for a second…then I stood back up and put my hand over my heart…then I looked down at the floor…I looked around for people of color to see what they were doing…then I looked up at the flag and clasped my hands behind my back.

Once back in our seats, I looked around and really digested the military memorabilia covering the walls. I let out a loud “Ohhhh….Mission Barbecue! It’s a military thing.” My husband replied, “Yes Val, the mission is barbecue and I accept the mission.” He then dove back into his plate of miniature meat mountains.

I am embodied on this planet as a Warrior of Love. That is my mission. Those of us for whom this is true must be willing to allow our compassion and trust to be bigger and brighter and louder than fear and hostility. When we are not voicing opposition to that which is unjust, we are helping to maintain a status quo by default. And this status quo is flooded by inequality, oppression, and injustice. Our silence says that the ways humanity is being ruled by fear, anger and hate are acceptable. Silence is not an option for a love warrior.

My discomfort at Mission BBQ made me consider this; as long as we are in open dialogue with one another about how to be useful, supportive, and helpful in furthering the movement towards greater love, the “how” and “in what circumstances” we act is a personal decision based on tons of factors invisible to the naked eye.

A colleague recently showed me a Facebook post written by a Caucasian woman berating her “liberal hippie” friends for not taking action in the way she believed honorable. I found it curious and confusing. To judge each other on how we ultimately show up  still feels like part of the problem to me. Looking at each other and saying, “You should kneel, you should stand and salute, you should write letters, you should post, you should march…” feels counterproductive and short-sighted.

What I fear most is that it might also be hurting the mission.