“Fear is an emotion induced by a perceived threat which causes entities to quickly pull far away from it and usually hide. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger…It is worth noting that fear almost always relates to future events, such as worsening of a situation, or continuation of a situation that is unacceptable.” – Wikipedia
Fear comes into our lives in many forms. After horrific events such as Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon, we can understandably become very worried and afraid of the world we live in and the safety of our families. We also have many other worries and concerns that plague our minds such as the economy, finances, health and relationships.
We know the importance of not living in fear but it is not always that easy. Our minds wander and the “what ifs” kick in. I am not immune. I have found myself living in fear too, especially after horrific events.
After 9/11, I was so afraid to fly or go into public places that I would lose sleep anticipating events that I had to come in contact with. I wouldn’t admit this to my husband at the time but I even postponed planning far away trips because of concerns of terrorism on planes.
For the first few weeks after Sandy Hook, living only one town over, I couldn’t sleep at night and found myself constantly replaying the horror in my mind and imagining a similar event happening to my own children. I would catch my breath in the middle of the day and the reality of what happened would take over me and I’d almost collapse.
After Boston happened, I was worried about flying home from vacation with my family in case there were other attacks. When getting on the plane with my family, I found myself looking around me checking all of the individuals and their faces to see if they could potentially be someone who could hurt us. I even thought of the possibility of the bomber getting to JFK to escape or hurt others as we got off our plane.
While being afraid is a normal emotion it can wreck havoc on your health and quality of life. It is important to acknowledge our fears and work through them to ensure that they do not control us. As stated in the quote above, much of the time our fears are about something we worry may happen in the future. Unless under direct attack or in the midst of imminent and obvious danger, we are usually not living in the present moment when we are afraid but in some future story we are playing out in our minds of what might happen.
The truth is that what usually ends up happening is not what we had predicted in the first place. Yet, all of those moments spent worrying were lost and unnecessarily wasted. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to waste anymore precious moments of my time here on earth and I do not want to allow the actions of others to steal them away from me. So, how do we let go of fear and live in the present moment with joy and hope?
I am no expert. I do not have the answers but I think it begins with practicing directing all of our energy to the present moment. I think it begins with letting go of attachments and expectations of outcomes. We do not have to control the future. The only moment we truly know is the one that we are in. When we relieve ourselves of the burden of having to control life and having to have things work out a certain way, we free ourselves from the chains of fear.
This is not to say that we will not be afraid or worry. This is only to say that we need to focus on filling our minds with thoughts of the present moment so there is less and less space for fear. Because in the end, even if something bad was to happen, wouldn’t you want to have been living all of the moments you had in joy and peace?
For me, I couldn’t be in the present moment while I was constantly watching the news and scouring the Internet filling my mind with images of danger and sorrow. I needed to focus on the present moment of my life, my family and my home. We were safe and beautiful moments were happening all around me that I was missing while drenched in worry and fear. I lost those moments but I will not lose more.
The truth is that we never know what life holds for us. We could get in a car accident but we must still drive our cars to work each day. What kind of life would it be if each morning that we woke up we were filled with dread and panic about going to work because we could be in a car accident? What if we couldn’t laugh with our children or enjoy life’s simple moments because we were consumed with that fear?
The truth is that the chances of me getting in a car accident are much higher than most of the things I am spending time being afraid of. And I do not hesitate to get into my car. We must reclaim our lives and face our fears even after such horrific events. And it won’t be easy.
Don’t let anyone manipulate you with fear. This goes for the media, your local politicians, your parents -anyone. Fear is often used as a tactic, a way to keep you watching, make you vote a certain way or act like someone you are not. Remember that and refuse.
Remember that love wins, even in the horrific throws of Sandy Hook and Boston. Did you see the outpouring of love? Did you see all of the beautiful people running to care, help and heal? There is so much more good than bad in this world. Focus on that and look for the good.
When my youngest daughter Brianna was dealing with extreme anxiety going to school I would talk to her about how strong and brave she was. We somehow came up with this little mantra that she was “brave like a lion” and to this day, any time I see her dealing with anxiety I say those words to her, “You are “brave like a lion”, Brianna. You are strong.” After hearing and repeating those words, I will see her shoulders straighten out, her face change and her chest strong. She is acting the part to face her fears. This is what we must do too. We must act fearless and face that of which we are afraid. Because you, too, are brave and strong.
“I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.” – Dawna Markova
If you are a spiritual or religious person, lean on your faith and spiritual beliefs when you are afraid. I believe in the law of karma. I often remind myself that as long as I put out goodness, it will one day return to me. I also believe in the waves of life. This is some silly analogy I have made up in my own mind about how life is like surfing; there are waves that go up and that go down. When I am up, I never lose sight of the fact that there will be downs so I am never taken too much by surprise. This is my way of letting go of expectations of only having positive experiences. When I am down, I keep my faith in the fact that the world is in constant motion and if nothing else is promised, things always change and do not stay stagnant. I will not be down forever and all I have to do is ride out this wave as long as it may last.
Look to others who have survived difficult times and try not to over-personalize big events. It is easy to feel like the world is closing in on you when bad things happen. For me, Sandy Hook is only one town over. This was as real as it could feel. It was my community. Yet it wasn’t me. It wasn’t my children and although my heart was broken, I had to remind myself that I can move forward. Then something amazing happened, I watched as the grief-ridden parents of Sandy Hook slowly came out of their homes, spoke to reporters, sent their other children back to school and joined together to try to make change. I thought if THEY can move forward in some way, if THEY can send their other children back to school and try to move forth in this world with bravery, I surely can too. And so can you.
So what are you afraid of?
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Eileen Straiton is a work-at-home mother to four daughters. She writes and publishes Waldorf inspired ebooks and facilitates ecourses for parents, teachers and caregivers at Little Acorn Learning. Eileen applies her love of nature-based learning in her work as owner and lead teacher at Little Acorn Playgarden in Brookfield, Connecticut. Visit her blog, Eileen’s Place, or her Facebook page, for more great ideas and activities.