“Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.”
The events of the past week have provided an opportunity for me, as well as several million other people, to face fear and to observe how we deal with it. Hurricane Sandy, combined with a low flowing jet stream, created what some dubbed a “Frankenstorm” of gigantic and devastating proportions.
I must confess to being somewhat of a cynic about weather reports that are full of drama. It seems that even something as usually mundane as the weather has to bring in advertising dollars. And on the local level, nothing very exciting has happened for months.
So when news of this threatening weather system began to build, I was not giving it much credence. It wasn’t until a friend suggested that I look at NOAA, the website for the National Weather Service, that I took notice.
After seeing that something certainly was brewing, and heading directly toward the mid-Atlantic, I turned on network news. As I watched, I noticed that I was becoming increasingly anxious and alarmed. Predictions of flooding and high winds brought back memories of hurricanes past, and some that really were devastating in terms of lives lost and property and environmental damage.
Talking with friends and family convinced me that I wasn’t the only one listening to the predictions, declarations of states of emergency, instructions for storm preparation, and making plans for coping with the worst. As I ran errands to buy supplies “just in case,” I found that many other people were on similar missions. Before the first drop of rain fell, shelves holding bread, water, batteries and flashlights looked like they had been raided by a proverbial horde of locusts.
When the wind and rain arrived, I was as prepared as I could be. And I was also feeling pretty anxious. As it turned out, the worst thing that happened here was that I was without power throughout the evening until mid-morning the next day. The house was very quiet. Talk about being unplugged! I read my library book by flashlight (batteries had been on my list) and the place looked much warmer than it felt by candlelight.
Although some parts of the coast were hard hit and have sustained serious damage, my neighbors and I dodged the bullet. There will be some cleaning up to do, and some areas are still without power. Our lives will soon return to normal.
In thinking about fear and the power that it sometimes has in our lives, it’s easier to identify it when forces outside of us are threatening. What I realized is that really it’s the thoughts that we have about those forces or circumstances that either build up the intensity of emotion, or dispel it. Thinking of all the “what-ifs” sounds the alarm! Imagining the worst causes stress hormones to course through your veins, even when the sun is shining and the birds are singing.
In facing fear, whether it is being evoked by weather reports or our own frequently visiting “inner demons” (usually habitual thoughts from the past), we need to face them squarely. Ask yourself if there are concrete steps to take in order to ensure the best care possible for you and those you love. If so, make a list and do them immediately. If not, then chances are you have a bad habit of negative thinking that has stirred up fear.
Give yourself what I call “Emotional First Aid” by taking 5 deep breaths and relaxing your muscles as you exhale. Repeat throughout the day, as many times as you can think of it. Do a reality check with someone you trust and try to reframe your thoughts, or see them in a different light. You can also use EFT, a proven, effective method for releasing stressful emotions.
What really matters most in facing the Lion of Fear is that you are not avoiding it. Taking action will build your strength and resolve as you move forward through the challenges of life.
Photo: “Hurricane” by Victor Habbick