Click to play MP3 Podcast #1: Deer in the Head Lights
As I drove around the curve in the road there ahead of me, frozen in the headlights of my car, was a young female deer. As I slammed on the brakes swerving to miss her, the deer suddenly came to life and bounded across the road, missing the impact of collision by inches. Two young fawns came trotting out of the darkness to follow their mother into the woods on the opposite side of the road.
In the mille-seconds in which this drama occurred, my heart was pounding, my hands had become clammy, my stomach churned and my body shaking. My normally calm, uneventful drive home from work had just turned into a potential disastrous accident.
Life can be like that. We go along as usual when some unexpected tragedy, crisis, or threat appears and life slams on the brakes. Sometimes the threat is real – sometimes it isn’t. But in seconds, our body gears up to respond, setting in motion our ability to run, fight or find ways to survive.
Maybe you have experienced waking from a sound sleep at night. Your heart is racing; you bolt upright and strain to hear through the deadly silence. When you determine that it was your cat prowling around the house, your body relaxes and you go back to sleep. If, however, you continue to dwell on a potential threat, your body remains geared up.
Dangers we face
For each of us, danger presents itself in a different way. Sometimes it is real – sometimes it is our imagination playing tricks on us. What some see as a threat, others see as a challenge. Fear helps us survive; anxiety gives us pause to determine what changes or preventative measures, if any, need to be made.
However, when possible threats or disasters are continually blown out of proportion, we remain in the fear and anxiety mode and we begin to experience dis-stress.
Today’s threats are real
The potential threats of today are very real.
- Companies go out of business and with it our jobs. With so many people out of work and intense competition finding a job becomes increasingly difficult.
- Over qualification as well as under qualification can be a problem.
- Single parents work harder and worry more about being able to take care of their kids. Shrinking retirement packages determine when and if we can retire.
The concerns are real. And it is only normal and natural to worry. But remaining in a fear and anxiety state drains us of energy and our ability to think and find solutions.
Lower your fear and anxiety levels
So how do we lower our stress levels when the stakes are so high? While each situation is different requiring different strategies and options, here are some things all of us can do to reduce our worry and stress levels.
1. First, address your fear and anxiety. These feelings can become overwhelming and pervasive. Write down your greatest fears and challenge them. At the core of many fears is an underlying belief that we can’t survive because we are not good enough, smart enough, skilled enough, etc. We may focus on past failures and tell ourselves we will fail in the future.
Challenge negative thinking with affirmative statements. Here are some sample ones:
“I am capable to meet whatever challenges I am confronted with. I have what it takes to weather this storm. I am a good problem-solver. I can seek advice from others. I am creative and determined. I have an “I can do” attitude.”
Create your own. Make them positive “I” statements.
Repeat them over and over again as many times as it takes to balance your fear and anxiety.
Don’t worry if you don’t feel or think that way. You are putting in place alternative thinking that will release your energy and creative problem solving.
2. Make a list of all your “what if” statements along with their
For example, “What if I lose my job? Then I will
lose my home; end up on the streets, etc.”
Now challenge each one. We project the worst in our mind. What proof do you have that things are really going to turn out that bad. There is a 50% chance that it won’t.
3. Take the worst possible scenarios and brainstorm options.
“If I lose my job, I will look for part time work, drastically cut back on
spending, sell some of my stuff, find different living arrangements, etc.”
While these may not be ideal solutions, they allow us to explore creative
alternatives. Survival solutions do not mean you stay there forever.
4. Direct your energy away from fear to action of some kind. What
preventative measures can you put in place right now for a potential
Start budgeting. Include your children in this process. This is a great teaching moment. Stop all unnecessary spending.
We may think we have to have the latest technical gadget, but in reality
we don’t. Cut corners wherever you can, start saving and downsizing.
Analyze your work skills. How can they be transferred to something
different? Put your energy into becoming an indispensible and valuable
employee. Even if you lose your job, you will be better prepared, more
self-disciplined and able to transfer your skills to other settings.
5. When anxiety is triggered, take it to God and ask Him to replace it
with peace, strength, courage and confidence.
6. Challenge your fears.
We are never free from dangers. Every generation has had life threatening situations and each generation has been required to improvise and be willing to start over as many times as it takes.
We will experience fear and anxiety. But we can determine what we do with it. Challenge your fear thoughts. Are your dangers real or are they paper dragons?
Replace worry and fear with reliable and concrete information.
Affirm your ability to meet whatever challenges are thrown at you. Then focus on what you can do and work on problems when they are in the here and now.
Also in This Series
Part 1: The Stress in Our Lives
©2011 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC