by Diana Proemm
Fear is the raw material from which courage is manufactured. Without it, we wouldn’t even know what it means to be brave. Martha Beck
I learned to turn my fears to focus a long time ago when I was a whitewater paddler. Read my story here… The river taught me many lessons and I would like to share those lessons with you. A whitewater river is a metaphor for life… we either go with the flow, we fight an upstream battle, or get pushed in many directions downstream. My goal is to help you slow down and get to river speed.
Even though not much scares me, I do have fears and develop anxiety on occasion. Walking into a crowded room makes me take a step back and take a few breaths before entering. As my skiing progresses, I get into steeper and steeper terrain, which always takes my breath away when I am standing on the edge looking down, I consider turning around. My work with clients who have low functioning autism and behavioral issues, scare me, as sometimes they lash out and I have to ground and prepare myself instantly to deflect a possible attack. The tools I would like to share with you will not solve all your stressors, as they are basic, and a good place to start figuring out how to ground yourself and turn your fears into focus.
Even though I use these tools frequently, I still get worked up, and when I do, I remember the basic tools to find my grounding. When I find I my stress rising, I listen to the signs that are showing outwardly and inwardly. I become restless, and irritable, and worry excessively. There was a time when I was going through something that was extremely stressful which resulted into long-term health issue because I did not take care to handle the pressure.
What happens when we don’t stop and take a step back from stress, anxiety and fear is we start to develop health issues, like I did. My body was in flight mode for a long time, and eventually gave out forcing me to find peace or risk more health issues.
Now, we are going to pretend we are about to journey in our kayaks on the river called life. The first tool I want to give you is this.
Step 1: Back Paddle and Bring it to River Speed
When you are in a whitewater river, the water is going to push you downstream into rocks, boulders, trees, etc., whether you paddle or not. Your natural instinct is to paddle faster downriver, but it’s actually counter intuitive to what you need to be doing. You need to stay in control and do not let the river (life) push you around. When you are feeling like you are out of control on the river, similar to when you have anxiety or stressors in your life, you need to bring it to river speed. On the river we do this by back paddling, in life we do this by BREATHING.
When you find yourself breathing hard, your anxiety is building, and you can’t seem to get control. Acknowledge it and don’t give it power. Start by taking a deep, breath accessing your diaphragm. Then another breath, and another until you have calmed yourself down enough to grasp the situation in front of you.
Accept that you are anxious. Acceptance will help move you forward and forgiveness yourself. Ask for help from the gods, goddesses, universes, whoever will listen! Whatever will calm you down in this situation is what we are after.
Now We Step back assess the situation.
Are you really in a dire situation or is your mind playing tricks on you? Maybe it’s not, so take the time to assess and look at the big picture around you and check in with your safety. Be kind to yourself when you are frightened, anxious, scared, whatever, forgive yourself, it’s going to be OK. Give gratitude to fear as it has or may safe your life someday.
We sometimes put ourselves into situations that challenge us, but it also means that it can trigger our anxieties and fears to rise, and quite possibly paralyze us into stopping action.
Step 2: Eddie Out – Rationalize your fears
Rivers have what are called “eddies,” and whitewater kayakers use them to rest and assess what’s waiting ahead for them. They are calm spots behind boulders and rocks deflecting the movement of the water. This is the time to rationalize your fears, finding a quiet space if possible, and rationalize and assess what is going on around you.
The goal is to not let the initial fear consume you so far that you can’t come back from it. Once you get the hang of this, you’ll be able to deflect those fears and anxieties to further develop.
Casey was on a retreat with me and one of our activities was zip lining. She suffers from PTSD, anxiety and depression. She has overcome and manages her anxiety and depression, but her PTSD sneaks up on her sometimes when she least expects it. On this trip, we were on track to zip line and she was ready. When it came to her getting on the platform to get hooked onto the line, she started having a panic attack. Immediately she was stricken with anxiety, and started crying uncontrollably. Everyone had gone, and she was the last one to go. I knew in her heart of hearts that she really wanted to go, and would be devastated if she didn’t do it. The zip guides were understanding and gave us some time. We sat down, and she cried a little, did some deep breathing and eventually got herself under control. In her military days she was put in situations that used mounds of adrenaline and hyperviligence, and associates adrenaline activities with negativity. She finally calmed herself enough and we talked through what she needed to do. After around ten minutes she stepped up to the platform and jumped and everyone cheered. After it was all said and done and we were back at the house, she was thankful we encouraged her not to give up. It ended up being her favorite activity of the trip.
“Humans are the only animals that can create an imagined future so real and frightening that suicide seems preferable to facing it, and this dubious ability comes directly from language. Without words to describe them, the regrets of the past and the terrors of an unknown future lose virtually all their power. Anything you hold onto as a “security blanket,” such as a job or relationship you keep out of fear, is actually an insecurity blanket. Let it go. “
Some people never experience what it’s like to have freedom from fear as they grip onto the past, memories of trauma and imagining the worst in our future that lead us down the path to becoming anxious, destructive and neurotic suffering from panic attacks and beyond.
If you don’t learn how to control your fears you will never be able to move on. Let’s review the first two steps, grasp them, and let them become habit in your life.
- Back paddle and bring it to river speed, or bring yourself to the present moment and breath.
- Eddie out, assess and rationalize
Step 3: Paddle down stream with Focus and Confidence
Focus on the right now and what you can control. This is your time to lean in, step up and don’t let the moving water/life/people push you around. Dedicate a routine that brings you back to river speed or the present because controlling your world means controlling your emotions.
In moments of anxiety, stress, or fear I typically run for the hills, literally. I go to the forest and start walking hiking, or biking. This is where I find my zen healing. I give my self a good work out and by the time I’m done, I am too tired to be worried about what was ailing me in the beginning, and the best part is that I work through my issues in my head and come out more focuses by the time I return to the trailhead.
Now as you paddlers move downstream knowing how to alleviate stressors, and anxiety, you will figure how to go with the flow, eddy out when needed, and then enjoy the rest of your paddle through life. And don’t worry if you need to stop, get out of your boat, take a break, and scout what’s ahead. Most people in life, business, need to take a break and focus on what’s next. It’s OK to take this time to reflect on where you want or need to go, it’s not OK to obsess about the things you may not be able to control in your future. Don’t get ahead of yourself, or the river of life will start pushing you wherever it wants you to go hence being out of control of your life and emotions. Stay river speed, focused on what’s ahead.
Here is fun task to do after reading this article. Simply take a marker and write down any fuzzy thoughts that are making you miserable on toilet paper. Make a list of any thoughts that are bothering you, such as, “I’m never good enough,” “I look fat,” “Nobody really loves me.”
Most of us have a few paralyzing or agonizing thoughts we think over and over, lies we believe without question. Write one or all of them down on some toilet paper. Reread your fuzzy thoughts and write their exact opposites or focused thoughts on a different sheet of paper and make it creative adding flowers, hearts, designs, etc. Write things like: “I’m a bad ass.” “I am beautiful.” “Everybody loves me!”
Now this will be the fun part. The first thing I want you to with all these are to take your focused thoughts and take them somewhere you will see them everyday at least once, such as your fridge, or your bathroom mirror. Then I want to you take your fuzzy thoughts and dump them into the toilet as it is crap talk anyway. When these fuzzy thoughts come into your brain, kindly remember what you did with them and think about your pretty focused thoughts in replacement, you very soon will start believing it if you don’t already.
Focus on paying attention to your surroundings as you wander through your day. Before you set out to do something, pause. Notice how your whole body reacts. Does it shut down, open or rejoice? Notice if how the people are around during your state of calm versus anxiety. Notice their responses to you. If the problem ahead of you looks difficult, relax and back paddle, pull into an eddy and assess what is ahead. Drop in, and trust that your fears will soon turn to focus, and you can paddle into life with a clear path.
“You’re weak” has become “You’re strong.” “You’re powerless” is now “You’re powerful.”
Being uncertain without fear is just delicious.” Martha Beck
Diana is a non-traditionalist who seeks adventures adventure in nature, traveling and exploring wildernesses and forests whenever and wherever she can.