You are home alone and are prepared to get a good night’s sleep. Just as you shut off the lights and are drifting off to sleep you hear a crash. In an instant, you bolt upright, wide awake. Your heart is pounding as you strain to hear any other sounds.
All is quiet. Questions flood your mind: Did I lock the doors? Did someone break in? Should I get up and check? Should I call 911? Did I imagine this? Was it the wind?
You decide to get up and check the house. As you grab your cell phone and cautiously make your way out of the bedroom, your hands are clammy and shaking. You feel chilled and your stomach is doing flip-flops. As you flick on the lights and move cautiously into the living room you yell out “Who’s there?” in hopes of scaring off any intruders.
Entering the living room, you notice the lamp has been knocked over. But before you can punch in 911 on your cell phone, you hear a “Meow” and see two repentant cats looking at you. Your two pets had been playing a game of nighttime tag in the living room.
As you put the cats outside, and check to see that nothing else has been disturbed and all the doors and windows are locked, you go back to bed and soon drift off to sleep.
Fear! In an instant you go from very relaxed to active survival mode. The body is flooded with hormones and chemicals that enable you to meet the danger. Every nerve in your body is on edge in a heightened sense of awareness.
Fear! It helps us survive by alerting us to danger. It prepares us to act. Fear can be a powerful motivator to put in place precautions and make preparations. Without fear we would not learn to be careful or prepare for the worst. We would not survive.
But when we remain in fear states for long periods of time, our bodies begin to wear down and become more susceptible to disease and health problems.
It is more and more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, we remain in a heightened state of alert, and are unable to relax and enjoy moments of pleasure and joy. We may notice that we are experiencing stomach upsets and intestinal problems and heart palpitations. And you find yourself reaching more and more for pain pills, antacids, and anti-depressants.
When we are living in fear our minds go over and over all the concerns related to our jobs, our marriages, our children, our finances, etc. Our energy is expended in worry and anxiety and we remain focused on our fears instead of looking for solutions.
So while fear can save our lives, if we continue to live in fear, it begins to do the opposite. When we allow ourselves to remain in a fearful mode, we no longer feel empowered or in control of our live.
But while there are many things we cannot change or have control over, we always have the ability to choose how we will respond to what is happening. With that we are empowered. With that we know we can reach out for assistance. With that we know we can put our hand in God’s and trust.
We can choose to remain in fear or we can choose to use fear to propel us toward different answers, different approaches, and creative solutions.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC