Breaking up with Fear. (and its anxious friend)

As I write this I am sitting in my home office. I have my patio doors open and I can hear my kids playing and laughing in the garden (well, mostly laughing) as we sit, along with the rest of South Africa, in Lockdown.

It is calm, it is a slower pace, there is lots of laughter in the air, and I am fully aware that for us, for me and my family, our lockdown is really quite a blessed one. We are incredibly fortunate. We are so fortunate that I can almost believe that this is a type of mini-sabbatical. I can almost forget that outside these walls there is a global health pandemic alive and kicking and it goes by the name of COVID-19.

Almost. Almost forget.

You see in this time there is so much uncertainty. So many “what ifs”, so many unknowns, so many changes, and at such a quick pace, that it can feel frightening and overwhelming. And these uncertainties are screaming and shouting and kicking our doors down in the form of 24-hour news programmes, constant and often unverified social media updates, and well intentioned but mostly unhelpful forwarded what’s apps causing our phones to constantly dance and sing, vying for our attention.

The barrage of information leaves me feeling afraid. I can feel fear creeping up behind me, like a shadow following my footsteps, sticking as close to me as possible. It brings anxiety with it and they cause me to question over and over, to play and re-play possible scenarios trying to figure out the best way to move forward and eliminate any discomfort or pain. The truth is though – things are so unknown that it is impossible to make any reliable plans for the future just yet.

So I just sit, with fear and its anxiety inducing friend, at my side; the most unfulfilling, dissatisfying, unloving partners you could imagine. And it feels terrible. And it feels overwhelming and despairing. And I am tired because of it, and I am tired of it.

And so, I have decided that I am going to end my partnership with fear.

It is over.

I am breaking up with fear.

I don’t like the lies and deceit that comes from its mouth; words intended to make me feel insecure, anxious and afraid. I do not want to share my thoughts, my feelings or any of my days with fear or anxiety.

I know it is the right thing to do. But as with any break up, you have your good days and your bad days, and sometimes, even though you know you broke up for all the right reasons – the other party can give some really persuasive reasons as to why you should take them back. It’s been an easy decision to make. I know however that it will not be quite so easy to enforce and so I am prepared to do the work.

In this moment, I’m not sure whether this blog is simply a matter of “overshare” and you are reading it with complete confusion about what on earth I am going on about. Or whether you are reading this and thinking “how did she get inside my head?!” If you are the former – feel free to move on, no hard feelings! If you are the latter, and you also are tired of your relationship with fear, I want to leave you with three pointers to help you to break up with fear too.

  • Embrace the Feeling

Fully understand and fully embrace the fact that you will still have moments of feeling fearful and anxious. This does not mean you are broken or failing; it just means your brain needs you to re-wire it and that takes time and practice. When you feel the fear; pause, acknowledge it, don’t be scared by it, take a deep breath and tell yourself (out loud if possible) that you are ok, and that this will be ok.

  • Find the Trigger

Pay attention to what has triggered those feelings of fear; was it a particular post on social media? A message arriving in your inbox? A comment made by a friend or colleague? A lack of comment or communication from people? Whatever it is, identify it and then start to think about ways that you can remove those triggers, or prepare yourself for when they do come. Perhaps coming off Social Media for a while or removing certain accounts that you follow. Maybe it’s getting in touch with someone each day and just chatting and catching up. Be proactive about keeping fear at arms length by being aware of the areas that you are most likely to feel it.

  • Realise What You Have

It is so tempting to try and make plans and put everything in an orderly fashion. Unfortunately though this almost always leads to more uncertainty as those plans don’t (or can’t) work out. Instead, focusing on what we do have and what we do know can bring a great amount of calm and comfort, it also gives space for gratitude to grow and this is one of the greatest ways to overcome fear and anxiety. Being thankful for the meal on our table today – draws our focus away from the worries of tomorrow. Being aware of the health that we have today causes us to be thankful for the strength and phenomenal intricacies of our bodies that we otherwise take for granted. Reaching out to friends and family that are in our lives reminds us that we are loved, that we are not alone and that those people need us too.

Be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself and remember that you are so much stronger than you know.