Every woman I know has a story about fear. Many of us have more than one.
My battle with fear started as a learned behavior. I was a pastor’s daughter, and our home was right next door to the church. In the 1960s, we didn’t lock our doors, even at night, and pastors and judges were the working psychologists.
On a daily basis, people came to our door seeking help. Some of them were just down on their luck, some of them were abused, a few were downright dangerous, but all of them urgently needed help.
Our home was the battered women’s shelter, the drunk tank, the homeless shelter, the food pantry, and often the “guest” in our basement had endured a beating or was on the run.
My parents taught me to “size people up.” (Try as I might, I can’t stop doing it to this day.) This assessment of people as a possible threat soon became an ingrained behavior; the things we learn when we are very little often do.
After a visitor left, my parents often asked me to review their behavior and appearance. “What did their clothes look like? Was her dress ironed or dirty? See her face in your mind. Did she have bruises or cuts? Could you smell alcohol? Was he slurring his speech?”
For a while, it was how I survived life in the big city. I taught our son to do it too, when we resided in a historic neighborhood, bordered by a ghetto, in the bowels of the American South. But putting your amygdala in charge of your life sets you up for insecurity and unhappiness.
Fear doesn’t make you happy. In fact, it can make you sick. When you see everyone and everything as a threat, you keep your brain in an ancient fight or flight response. You’re trapped inside your own chemical and emotional reactions to life around you.
Chemists say we humans emit 2000 VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are chemical messengers of both wellness and danger. (Have you ever reacted to someone’s smell? Or suddenly felt attracted to that bald guy in the restaurant and wondered why? VOCs. That’s why!)
Like my childhood mind that was always assessing the threat behind the person ringing the doorbell, you may find yourself stressed out by isolation, becoming afraid of others for fear they carry the latest mutation of Covid-19.
Do you miss socializing with friends? Or would you love to be taking in a pint or a glass of wine at the pub? Do you find yourself glancing away from strangers because these encounters with other masked faces is so awkward?
Well, if so, you’re not alone.
Fear is always talking to you, and usually your responses are unconscious. But watch out! Fear will lock you away from encountering people and places that could bring you great joy!
It’s healthier to make an “appointment” with your fear.
I know that sounds silly but it’s really useful! When you set up a day and a time to work with your fear, you bring those unconscious, dark thoughts into the healing light of day.
I did this just last week, and it was enormously helpful. I’ll share a few items on my list: Being exposed to Covid (again), fear that my son wouldn’t get into graduate school, my sad finances, a needed car repair, and last but not least, my insane fears about growing old without a partner. (Widowhood and the single life is NOT for sissies!)
Here’s what I discovered when I looked at my list: The vaccine is now available. My son got into two graduate schools. Yes, I’m getting older but so are all the guys!
What day this week would be good for that appointment with your fear? Set an actual date and time and put it on your calendar. Then keep the appointment!
It’s so easy to avoid thinking about this. But it’s worth the time to have a confrontation with the fear because that is what keeps you from joy! As you make your list, you may find that it’s longer than you thought. (One worry often leads to another.)
But once your fears are out in the open, you can actively work with them. You can circle the things that really need your attention and make a decision about how to deal with them. (Maybe you really do need a more reliable car?)
And you’ll quickly see other fears melt away because they’re just not real. (Or, they’re not fixable! Like Covid.)
What fears are on your list? And how will you deal with the fears that are holding you back from enjoying a happy, healthy life even in the midst of a pandemic?