Have you ever experienced that ‘rabbit in the headlights’ thing? You know, frozen in fear and confusion. Not quite clear why! Your body tense, adrenaline coursing through your veins, screaming for movement! Your brain frantically searching for what to do. And you just know. If you start to move, you’ll give an excellent impression of a headless chicken. So you stay. Frozen. Trying to fathom out what on earth is going on.
Sally has. Over an email! That started with the ‘Y’ word, capitalised, projecting out of the screen like a searchlight. “YOU have a BIG problem”.
That simple statement triggered a really strong reaction and over the next few days, Sally's thoughts seemed to spiral out of control. Her imagination ran wild as she consciously caught herself to dispel rising anxiety. By the end of the weekend, she was going to be fired for sure!
Many of us have experienced something similar at some point in our lives. We get triggered. Caught up in fear. Our response way out of proportion with the event. Clearly it wasn’t Sally's “BIG problem” that caused the stress. That was actually a ‘hiccup’ and was resolved very quickly.
In fact, something in the email, the tone or words, had triggered an emotional memory or flashback. So Sally was re-living a completely unrelated event that happened in the past and responding with the emotional maturity she had at that point in time. Not great if the event happened when we were three years old but it does explain why our responses can be so out of proportion.
When this happens it is our subconscious that is running the show. There are many layers to our fears. On the surface we might be concerned about what could happen or how well we are going to perform. Running underneath can be a deeper fear relating to our sense of self. Perhaps a childhood fear of not being approved of.
The ultimate fear
We are often unaware of these deeper, subconscious fears and yet they influence many aspects of our life, professional, social and family. Left unchecked, they can overwhelm, paralyse and at times drag us down into depression.
But the ultimate fear, at the root of everything is our fear of not being able to handle it. ‘I can’t handle losing my job’. ‘I can’t handle making a mistake’. ‘I can’t handle being rejected’. ‘I can’t handle not being approved of’.
‘I can’t handle it!’
Here’s the thing! We can’t fear something unless we believe that what we fear is greater than who we are. And we can’t know that we can’t handle something if we’ve never tried. Or indeed, if its not happened!
Cool your emotions
First and foremost, if we’re triggered we need to calm our emotions so that we can stop our mind from running the show. The following relaxation techniques can help:
Quieten your mind
- Create a relaxing ambience. Light some candles, play some music, take a bath. Or take a walk in your local park or forest. Nature has a wonderful way of helping us to ground, get connected and heal. Meditate. Sit quietly, in stillness, allow your thoughts to come and go, floating by like clouds in the sky. A regular meditation practice will help to keep you from being triggered by external events.
- Use deep breathing to help you relax. Focus on your breath. Notice how it moves into your body. Listen to the sound as you inhale and exhale. Begin deepening your breath. Breathing through your nose. Feel your stomach, rib cage and upper chest expand as you inhale, allow your shoulders to move gently up, back and down. Then exhale slowly, deeply and completely through pursed lips. Repeat this three times before coming back to a more natural rhythm, belly rising as you inhale and falling as you exhale.
Release the tension
- Focus on calming and relaxing your body. Yin yoga is a particularly powerful way to unlock the deepest sources of tension. Long deep holds allow your energy to flow, freeing your body, emotions and mind.
- Alternatively, try a nourishing, gentle Restorative Yoga practice to align your body and mind. Using bolsters, pillows and blankets and rejuvenating postures, Restorative Yoga provides deep and meditative support, both physically and emotionally.
Why not try: Now you. What's your go to strategy when fear strikes?
You might like: Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through The Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh