I read an interesting acronym for the word fear a few years ago and I had an opportunity to use it today. The initials aptly stand for False Expectations Appearing Real. When facing fears in my life (and I have many) I try to remind myself of those words. They help me put my fear into perspective and give me a new place to start off.
Today, I faced a fear and conquered it. I feel proud and exhilarated. I went into this fear situation knowing that it could go either way. I had no expectations of succeeding given my history, but on the other hand, I wasn’t attached to that outcome. Whatever happened was fine with me.
For most of my life, I have been afraid of the woods. I know this fear comes from a childhood experience that went on to accumulate with another unpleasant experience while camping as a young adult. After that, the fear became set deep within me. I decided that it was easier to avoid the woods altogether than to feel the fear and panic that ensued each time I went in. I’d like to say at this point, that fear for me becomes more about the panic that rises than the actual object of my fear. Being aware of this doesn’t seem to help me in the least. Panic is a horrible feeling that seems to come out of nowhere and quickly takes over my entire body. It is a physical reaction that makes very little sense and I cannot rationalize my way out of it once it starts. I have to go through it like riding a roller coaster. There’s no stopping in the middle.
That being said, I’ve learned a few things about panic over the years.
- It is easier to stop a panic attack if you catch it before it starts.
- Breathing deep from your diaphragm and expanding your lower belly helps to calm the wave.
- It helps to be aware of your body’s reactions and notice when things are changing so you can get on top of it before it takes over.
- I have always survived an attack, they are not fatal.
I hitched the dogs to their leashes, put my boots on, and headed across the street to the field which leads down into the woods. The bright, open field is a complete contrast to the dark, enclosed path that leads into the woods and down to the lake. I walked onto the path and took one step at a time. I looked down at my feet the entire time so as not to trip over one of the tree roots, rocks, or other obstacles that were plentiful on the snow covered path. Falling was not an option for me while out in the woods alone.
When I arrived at the furthest point that I’ve ever made it to in the past, I checked in with myself. No sign of discomfort. I continued on to the next point, to the top of the big hill that leads down to the water. I looked down and waited for an inkling of fear to arrive, but it wasn’t there. I practiced walking with purpose, heel down first, to help me feel more confident and grounded. It felt good to connect with the ground and left me with a strong sense of security. As I walked into the clearing at the water’s edge, I noticed that something looked different.
The water was covered with snow. The entire lake which was usually a crisp blue or cold gray was white. My senses were disoriented and I felt a twinge of discomfort. I forced myself to stop and look at the lake. I took a few deep breaths. It was important for me to connect with the moment, after all, I’d made it this far. After just a few seconds, I turned and slowly headed back, one conscious step at a time, breathing from deep within my belly. I knew that running away would potentially trigger panic. I kept expecting the fear to take over. It was there, somewhere in the background. I made it up the steep hill. While breathing heavily I heard a thought, “I hope I don’t have a heart attack out here,” but no panic came. I kept walking.
Before I knew it, I was able to see the section of the road that led back up into the field. I knew I was out of the woods (pun intended). I would not panic at this point. This seemingly small walk became a huge accomplishment for me, one on which I would like to build to erase the past. I know this will take time and there may be some steps back along with the steps forward. It’s all okay. I just need to keep trying. Giving into the false expectations will never help me overcome the fear.
Think about your fears for a moment. Are you able to see them as false expectations that appear real? I’d love to hear of ways in which you have been able to conquer your F.E.A.R.s.
Always yours in transformation,