Do you live with anxiety, or know someone who does? An estimated 40 million U.S. adults suffer from anxiety, 30 percent in North America, and globally, the number for those suffering from anxiety and/or depression is about ten percent. That’s a huge fear factor! In this post, we’ll face fear head-on and discover how to conquer fear by slaying that fear monster once and for all.
This post originally ran a year ago, but it resonated with so many people (for which I’m honored), it’s back by popular demand. Next week is the first of a three-part installment on what I call the “green” oils. Hemp, CBD, Cannabis, THC…what’s the difference? Drop by next week and find out!
Even the words can cause anxious feelings to begin nibbling at the edges of our psyches.
The dictionary defines anxiety as uneasiness or apprehension — in other words, fear of something, often to the point of it being overwhelming and causing physical tension, rapid breathing and heart rate, and sweating.
Fear can be non-specific or can become a phobia when we are chronically focused on a certain thing, even to where it disrupts our lives. Fear can bring about panic attacks and a whole host of other things that we don’t have time to go into here.
Interestingly, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety and depression are often intertwined.
In this post, I’ll share my story of anxiety/fear, and how I conquered it. It cost me very little, required no prescription, and was perfectly safe.
How to Conquer Fear…all Fear?
Fear isn’t always bad. We put money in parking meters because we fear to get a ticket if we don’t. When we’re sick, we stay home from work without calling to let someone know we can’t make it in (most of us, anyway) because we fear to lose our jobs if we don’t.
These types of fears are healthy fears. We don’t dwell on them, and they don’t make us ill or interfere with our lives. But they do help keep us in line and out of trouble.
Being cautious is usually a good thing, provided we don’t take it too far and let it become a fear that would prevent us from doing things we need or want to do. It’s good to be cautious while driving or operating any machinery, crossing a busy street or even talking a walk.
When flying, many people take the precaution of keeping their seat belts buckled for the entire flight, unless they have to get up for a few minutes. I suppose it could be argued that caution and healthy fear are entangled together — we exercise caution while doing these things because we fear the consequences if we don’t.
The difference is when we go far beyond common sense and caution and refuse to do anything because we might get hurt.
I Wasn’t Always a Fraidy Cat
For most of my life, I was pretty fearless. I grew up on the back of a horse, so even at four, I thought nothing of being put on any horse. Even the nearly eighteen hand high (almost six feet) gentle giant horse that belonged to my sister’s friend.
They would lift me up and I’d ride bareback around the yard while they went off to play (don’t worry — Mom was watching from the house!).
By six I was riding my sister’s Welsh pony at breakneck speeds.
By thirteen I had learned to drive an automatic, and a stick shift soon after. I had absolutely no fear and was dying to get my license, which is why to this day, I fail to understand why so many teens don’t want to drive.
I also adored heights, thought scaling giant cliffs would be awesome, and couldn’t wait for my first airplane ride. When I was eight, my pilot uncle took my brother and me on our first plane ride along with our dad. I loved it. Other than being airsick.
As a teen, I often flew alone to California to visit my married sister, having found that I did not get airsick on the big jets. And later as a young adult, I laughed at all those “paranoid hicks” from my small town near Seattle who were afraid of driving in the crazy big city. It never fazed me at all.
But somewhere along the line, fears began to creep in. At some point in my childhood, I began to have recurring dreams of falling from extremely high places, usually cliffs, awakening terrified, a split second before my dream body hit the ground.
After quite a few of these dreams, I began to be afraid of heights, although not flying.
I had always loved the mountains, and this fear of heights didn’t transfer to being afraid of driving or hiking through the mountains. However, by my mid-twenties, I was beginning to experience this fear.
As for flying, I don’t know when I began to be afraid of flying, or why.
After that came certain fears of driving. I say “certain” because I wasn’t’ afraid of simply driving, period. It was a fear of driving more than about a half hour from home if I was driving alone, as well as driving the interstate or in any big city, even if I had someone with me.
I had become that small-town hick I used to laugh about.
I do know where those particular fears came from: being sick from what I now know to be Lyme disease, and the Lyme was possibly even aided by what I also now know to be a genetic mutation on the MTHFR gene (one of the many things this particular mutation can cause is anxiety/fear. But it can be overcome!).
I didn’t know I had Lyme disease then; all I knew was that mysteriously, my health was getting worse and worse no matter what I did to get better. I would be going along minding my own business and doing okay — although never great — when I’d suddenly start to get very tired. More tired than usual, as I was always tired.
Then my thinking would get even more muddled and confused than usual, and I was quickly a mental and physical mess, unable to function normally. This is classic when it comes to Lyme, but I didn’t know it then.
All I knew was that, although I might feel well enough to drive someplace over an hour away, I may well have been unable to drive myself home. I knew this because it had often happened when my husband and I went to another town. I may or may not have been fit to drive us there, but even if so, I was rarely if ever able to drive home.
Thus, a fear of driving out of town by myself developed. For someone as independent and fearless as I had always been, this was devastating. Even after the Lyme was diagnosed, treated, and I was feeling much better, it remained. I had no clue how to conquer fear.
No Rocky Mountain High for Me
The tipping point finally came two years ago when my husband and I took a trip to a wonderful old Western town in the mountains. There are a couple of different routes you can take to get there, and the drive out was pleasant if lacking somewhat in beauty.
But being less mountainous, it was faster and we were in a hurry to get there.
In planning our trip, we decided that on the way home we would take the stunningly beautiful North Cascades Highway through the dizzying heights of one of our two gorgeous mountain ranges.
I had last been that way as a teen and loved it, and was looking forward to experiencing the North Cascade beauty again. It made having to leave at the end of the weekend sting a bit less.
My husband had driven halfway there so I agreed to drive halfway home (he hates driving, which is why he is a former truck driver!). We both oohed and aahed over the beauty as we started up the pass.
But as we climbed higher and the road got curvier, giving us glimpses off of thousand-foot cliffs, without the State of Washington providing the courtesy of so much as a guardrail much of the time, I grew afraid.
We were too high. And look — no guardrail! Surely a curve as sharp and high as this one should have a six-foot-thick rock wall, let alone a guardrail! The brakes might fail. The steering might go (never mind the fact that we were driving a brand-new car).
Before we’d reached the summit, I was in an absolute frenzy, crying and nearly screaming in terror, frantically searching for a turnout so my husband could drive.
Once he was behind the wheel, I took many deep breaths and said I was fine. Now I could relax and enjoy the amazing scenery, as my husband is an excellent driver.
Yet, the trip down was almost as horrifying for me as the trip up. I tried closing my eyes so I didn’t have to see how perilously close to edges we were, but again, I was terrified of brake or steering failure. It was a miserable trip through the mountains for both of us.
Safely back home, I began to ruminate on my mountain terror. And my other fears as well. What had happened to me? What had I become? I was disgusted with myself.
Sick of living in fear, I resolved to do something about it.
Enter the 21 Day Brain Detox.
I wrote a little bit about Dr. Caroline Leaf’s 21 Day Brain Detox in this post, so if you haven’t yet read it, take a look. Dr. Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist who has developed the 21 Day Brain Detox, featured in her book, Switch On Your Brain.
Dr. Leaf says that fear alone is capable of causing over 1,400 chemical and physical responses in our bodies, which can also activate over 30 different hormones! In teaching how to use the program, Dr. Leaf points out that thoughts are not a bunch of wispy nothings.
They are real, tangible things that take up space in our brains, and we are the ones who build them.
As such, we get to decide what kind of thoughts we build — negative, toxic thoughts or positive, healthy thoughts. But this is so much more than merely attempting to “think positive,” as so many people always tell us to do.
Dr. Leaf uses a blackened, bare, dead-looking tree to represent a toxic thought and a full, leafy green plant or flowers to represent a healthy thought, explaining how thoughts are proteins that we use our minds to build.
They are either unhealthy proteins or healthy ones. As we think and make choices, we literally change our brains. We literally use our minds to create matter.
We can’t just let toxic thoughts stay there to torment us. We can’t simply shove them back down into our unconscious minds in the hope that they’ll go away. They don’t. They simply get more toxic.
And each time they pop back up into our conscious minds, they come back stronger and cause more damage. Literal brain damage. It takes about 5-10 minutes a day for 21 days to break down a toxic thought.
You can actually cause the proteins that make up the unhealthy thought to denature! How? By focusing on your new, healthy thought that you want to replace the unhealthy one with, the toxic thought is not getting the energy it needs to keep it alive. The energy is now diverted to the healthy replacement thought you’re building.
The toxic thought is literally melting away bit by bit. We design the wiring in our own brains, and as Dr. Leaf often says, if you’ve wired it in, you can wire it back out.
Time and again, I have found this to be true in my own life. The very first toxic thought I wired out of my brain was not the fear thought, but the entrenched belief that I was a complete idiot when it came to math. Learning anything beyond simple arithmetic was so difficult that I believed myself to have a learning disability.
But after reading Dr. Leaf’s books and watching a few of her videos explaining how our brains actually work, I began to realize that really there was nothing wrong with my brain, other than the garbage that I’d spent a lifetime wiring in.
And I saw how much sense it made when she said that if I wired it in, I could wire it back out.
A week or so into my first 21-day brain detox, I became such a fan of mathematics, I wanted to start learning quantum physics! I downloaded some books on quantum physics for beginners, plus bought a few paperbacks.
I was fascinated! I discuss my journey from math “idiot” to “Einstein” (joking about the Einstein part, of course) a bit more in-depth in this post here.
So, having learned from experience what detoxing my brain using Dr. Leaf’s method could do for me, I decided to detox my fear “tree.” Since thoughts in the brain really do resemble trees, fear was the trunk and the specific fears were the various branches.
The fear of driving out of town alone was a branch. The fear of driving in a large city was another. The fear of winding mountain roads was a third branch.
Although really, that fear was bad enough to easily be classified as a phobia — a fear so intense that the person will go to great lengths to avoid it, and when faced with it will have those unpleasant physical effects I mentioned earlier. And perhaps even screaming and sobbing, as I did!
But as if those weren’t enough, there was yet one more fear that was so bad, it had become a phobia.
The little tiny ones never bothered me much. Or the ones in the webs outdoors, provided the webs were up high and well away from my face. But the ones indoors, even the smaller ones…eeew (shudder).
The large ones would provoke a shriek of sheer terror, a major fight-or-flight reaction, racing heart, the works. If even a small one was discovered and escaped the fly swatter or vacuum cleaner, I would be afraid all day and unable to sleep at night, for fear it would crawl on me.
It was ridiculous.
The Results are In
I went to work on the “fear tree” in my mind, working each day to break down the toxic fear tree, while building up a healthy thought tree. By the end of the 21 days, I was no longer afraid of spiders. I was free! Sure, I still thought they were nasty, creepy creatures, but they no longer frightened me.
My driving fears were gone. And seven months later I had an opportunity to test the other two when I flew to Hawaii with a friend.
The flying never achieved phobia status, so it’s not like I couldn’t bring my self to board an airplane. Almost three years ago, long before I did my fear detox, I flew to Atlanta to meet my birth family for the first time.
But turbulence scared me, and invariably during a flight, I would get these mental pictures of a tiny jet with the strength of a sardine can, and we passengers (in coach, anyway) as a mass of hapless sardines squished into the jet-shaped can.
As the can hurtled headlong through our massive atmosphere at terrifying speeds, suddenly a giant gust of wind, like a huge rogue wave on the sea that can swallow ships, hits the tin can jet from the side, sending it flipping end-over-end several miles through space, before it finally falls to earth and breaks into thousands of pieces.
Not a pretty picture. And I would ask myself, What the hell was I thinking, getting on this thing? We humans don’t belong up here! If God wanted us to fly, He’d have given us wings! I knew that if I didn’t get a handle on my silly fear, my flying days would be over, and although it scared me, I’d never let it stop me before.
I was determined it wouldn’t stop me now.
The flight to Hawaii and back was exactly as it should be — boring, uneventful, and about as comfortable as if we really were sardines tightly packed in a can. On the flight home, we hit some turbulence. The old fear tried to rear its ugly head, but I simply reminded myself that that wasn’t who I was anymore — that was the old me. The old scared me was long gone.
And I was fine.
But the really huge victory was conquering a mountain.
My friend and I were staying on Kauai, and one of our day trips was a drive up to Waimea Canyon — which meant taking the rental car up miles of narrow, twisting, turning road with plenty of cliffs ones could easily sail off of if one weren’t extremely careful.
We made a lot of stops on the way up at scenic turnouts so we could take pictures. While waiting for my friend to return to the car at one of these stops, I suddenly remembered with a start that I used to be terrified of mountain roads such as this.
Then the huge significance of that hit me like a wrecking ball — used to be.
Not only had I forgotten that I used to be afraid, but even when I remembered it, I still wasn’t afraid. I was actually enjoying the ride! Once we got to the top, I leaned out over the railings, staring over 3000 feet down in awe. But no fear.
The only fear I experienced the entire trip was on the way down when my friend decided to take a couple of hairpin, 15 miles per hour curves at 40, but even then, all I did was grip my armrest, eyes wide, and calmly ask if that was really necessary.
Does this mean that I’m never, ever afraid of anything these days? Of course not. Only a robot would never have any fears whatsoever. When I’m driving and someone nearly hits me, I have that tiny, momentary near-panic. Then I take a few deep breaths and I’m fine.
And launching this blog? Now that was sheer terror, but I stubbornly decided that I wasn’t going to let the fear have its way and control me.
This also doesn’t mean that I perfectly work Dr. Leaf’s program day after day without interruption. I should be — after all, it’s not a one or two-time thing, it’s supposed to be a lifestyle. It’s not like we get rid of one or two, or 50 toxic thoughts and then we’re done, with no need for any more detox.
It would probably take a lifetime detoxing just the thoughts the average person has wired in by young adulthood — and then there are always new ones popping up. My failure isn’t that I don’t finish my 21 days. It’s that I tend to go too long between those 21-day cycles, choosing and working on destroying a new toxic thought every 21 days. But that is something I’m determined to get better at.
It’s been said that being fearless is not the same as being courageous. Courage is feeling the fear and doing it — whatever “it” is — anyway.
And sometimes, the initial courage we need is the courage to stand back and objectively look at our fears. The courage to admit that we have these fears, or whatever else it is that bothers us and gets in the way of living life to its fullest.
The very first fear to be tackled may well be fearing to take a good honest look at it. But it’s been done by millions, even me — and I know that if I can do it, you can too.
Now you know how to conquer fear! Go ahead. Take a deep breath. It’s okay — feel the fear of facing your fears, and of actually stepping out and doing something about it.
Then do it anyway.
Note: Dr. Leaf has a video series on YouTube, where she explains things much better than I can! To watch, go here to Introductory episode 1. And if you liked this article, please share!
Also please note: As with all my health-related posts, this is in no way intended as a means for self-diagnosis or medical advice. As always, if you or a loved one have a medical condition, please seek help from an experienced professional. Also, I am in no way affiliated with or receiving any compensation from Dr. Leaf, nor does she even know me. She is a medical professional with a method that I personally found to be insightful, helpful, and extremely effective, so I thought the information in this post might be of interest to some.