There’s a lot of “forced” positivity on the internet. This is not one of those articles. Being happy is the goal or the struggle of so many people. We read articles on how to eliminate our anxiety, how to overcome our fears. Fear and anxiety is the new “stress management” that was so popular in the 90s.
I’ve made a commitment to eliminate the negativity in my life. When I started this path, I was under the impression that I’d never feel fear or anxiety again. A lot of the self-help thought leaders promise that if we follow their plan, their solution, we’ll be blissfully happy every day.
I’ve come to learn that it’s NOT about being blissfully happy every day. It’s about feeling and allowing your feelings and being mindful about what they are telling you. For example, being anxious about an exam tends to make us study harder. It’s a good anxiety. Being anxious about school in general is also a good anxiety, you just have to determine what the anxiety is really around and start working with it.
Fear is the same way. Tara Brach, one of my favorite mindfulness teachers, talks about fear being similar to a physical attack. We have to let it tear us apart, cut us with it’s sharp edges and burn us in the most vulnerable of places. This is mindfulness, not pushing away our fears but allowing the feeling to be without attaching any additional energy to it.
When children are afraid of the monster in the closet or trying something new, we work with them to face their fears. We talk it through with them. We don’t tell them to grow up and put a smile on their faces. The trouble is, that as adults we feel shame about our fears. Being afraid to die alone, to be rejected by someone we love or to lose our jobs and homes and wind up homeless are usually similar to the monster in the closet. It’s as likely to happen as a boogeyman leaping out from under the bed. So we push it back, we drink that extra glass of wine, have more cake or create drama to distract ourselves from our fears.
An example that is near to me is going for medical testing. A few years ago an unidentifiable lump made itself known in my body. Anyone who has undergone tests for a possible cancer diagnosis understands how slowwwwwwly this process is. And it’s freaking scary, there’s no questions about it. The challenge and opportunity is to feel this fear and move through this fear without being consumed it. Life has to go on. Things need to get done. Yes there was a chance that I could have been diagnosed with cancer. And yes, it could have been terminal. But there are so many other factors to be taken into consideration. I was afraid, no doubt about it.
People who are successful, happy or seem lucky don’t feel any less fear or anxiety that the rest of us. They just tolerate the intensity of their feelings more effectively. When I’m feeling fearful, I allow the feeling to exist. I pay attention to where the feeling is manifesting in my body. I notice the shortness of breath. The knot in my stomach. I don’t try and cheer myself up or comfort myself. Most often, this feeling passes eventually, especially when it’s one of those unfounded fears. My mind can only sustain fear for a certain amount of time before something else grabs my attention.
You can practice feeling your uncomfortable feelings by hitting the weight room. Lifting weights is one of the best ways to experience and experiment with tolerating these more intense feelings. Weightlifting puts the body in the maximum amount of stress, tearing down muscles so that they can grow stronger. It’s a controlled method of putting yourself in the mindset (that won’t destroy your career or personal relationships!) It’s parallel to what happens to us emotionally, by letting fear and anxiety tear us down a little, we grow stronger and more resilient. Think about how hysterical teen-aged girls get over the slightest crisis. Those girls grow into women capable of enduring much stronger emotions and greater conflicts.
Just like children facing and working with their fears, we adults can as well.