Halloween is right around the corner and lately, when I take my dog, Luna on walks, we come across scenes like the ones posted in my gallery. Yesterday, it was a yard full of zombies that emitted a low growl and raised hackles for Luna. She was nervous enough that she came to a complete standstill. It took significant tugging of the leash and coaxing from me to encourage her to keep moving forward. The scenes of various monsters decorating yards all around my neighborhood brought to mind the impact fear can have. As an individual who has a diagnosis of anxiety, I get the fear factor more than most. In my experience, fear can have one of three negative impacts: it can lead to unnecessary detours; it can prevent one from staying fully present in the moment; it can be immobilizing.
Go back to the example of walking my dog. One habit of Luna’s that annoys and embarrasses me is what happens when she meets another dog. If I am not fully prepared to control her, Luna will swerve across my path to sniff the dog which is passing on the other side. It takes a concerted effort to pull her back as I mumble my apologies to the other person. Sometimes to avoid this, I cross a street or take a turn down another block. More than half the time I take this preventative measure, it turns out to be unnecessary. The dog and owner I think we will cross paths with turn in another direction or cross the street to go a route I had not anticipated. In other words, when I choose to avoid an embarrassing moment, I find myself taking an unnecessary detour.
The second impact fear can have is preventing me from living fully in a moment. If there is an upcoming situation that I am dreading, I may work to prevent a “disaster,” by planning all sorts of solutions. Many times, the situation either does not occur or it plays out in an entirely separate way making my “necessary” planning unnecessary.
Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.- Corie ten Boom
Years ago, when I found this quote from Corie ten Boom who along with her family helped an estimated eight hundred Jews escape Hitler’s “Final Solution,” I was intrigued by the idea of daily bread living. If Ms. ten Boom whose family lived under constant threat of discovery and imprisonment could practice the self-discipline of living by daily bread, how much more should I practice it? From then on, I sought to stay rooted in the present, rather than plan for future difficulties that may or may not occur.
A third unfortunate impact of fear is that of immobilization. Grocery shopping in my early twenties was an interesting excursion since this was the height of my struggles with anxiety. I found myself standing for ten to fifteen minutes in the frozen foods aisle pondering which brand of vegetables to buy. When I found myself stuck in those moments, I practiced making snap decisions, realizing that when faced with moments of uncertainty moving forward was more important the getting it ”exactly right.”
To summarize, if you do not rein fear in, it will create unhealthy patterns that adversely affect your mental health. Failure to manage your anxiety or fear will have you taking unnecessary detours, lead to the inability to live a fully present life, or immobilization – literally being frozen in fear. If anxiety is as powerful an adversary for you as it has been for me, this is my tip: try. Just try. Making healthy choices for your mental health is a process that takes years, not days or months, years. As always, the concerted effort is well worth the time and trouble. Take care. ‘Til next time.