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I‘m sitting here in the early hours of the morning attempting to distract myself from the anxiety attack I’ve been suffering with for the last hour! Often anxiety presents itself before I even am aware I’m anxious about something; I have to spend time trying to uncover the root of my anxiety so I can better understand how to combat it. Doing so made me aware of just how infrequent these attacks are becoming which is a great encouragement and a frustration all at the same time – why am I still struggling with anxiety?!

I became aware of a function of fear, panic and anxiety the other day that I hadn’t dwelt on much since I finished my therapy – the function of protection! It made me begin to think that fear in itself isn’t actually the problem but more the attitude towards it. I began thinking this the other day as I was travelling home from the food shop with my youngest. She was happily chatting in the back and I found myself enjoying my time as I drove; which suddenly made me think ‘hang on a minute I’m enjoying something I used to fear’ – you could assume this would bring me much encouragement and joy but instead it unnerved me; I started to think about the reasons I used to get anxious and I became aware that the anxieties used to keep me ‘safe’. I felt vulnerable at that moment wondering whether I had become too relaxed in my new anxiety free life, too complacent about life, perhaps my fears and anxieties were a good thing….. I had to stop myself right there – my fears and anxieties were not a good thing; they were mostly irrational and usually surrounded me protecting myself. I had become comfortable with fear – which is a dangerous place to be. There are sometimes when our risk assessing brain is a helpful one – should i grab hold of that hot baking tray without oven gloves -no probably not; should I step out into the road whilst that car is driving fast towards me – again no I shouldn’t. The thing is I had confused my risk assessing brain – a totally necessary and important part of the brain – with fear.

My fears were what kept me safe, they were my bubble of protection and now I am stepping away from them,but a new fear arises – the fear of being outside my comfort zone. There is two ways I could respond to this fear; the first is to listen to it and decide that the fear is speaking truth and I should run and hide back in my comfortable bubble of fear and anxiety OR I could do the radical thing and choose to ignore it and go ahead anyway leaving my comfortable bubble far behind! This is the point I need to apply my risk assessing brain – the rational side of my thought process. I have to start thinking what makes my bubble of fear so comfortable.

My fear driven brain says ‘It keeps me safe from:
Emotional pain
Shame
Causing offense or hurt
Guilt
Physical pain
Embarassment
FAILURE’
My risk assessing brain says ‘that:
Emotional pain can’t always be avoided
Shame is felt by everyone at some point
Causing offense or hurt can be mended
Guilt is often a lie
Physical pain is something you can deal with
Embarassment doesn’t stop you being loved
FAILURE makes us stronger’

It all boils down to pride – the one thing I was trying to avoid this whole time!!! The very anxiety I am struggling with right now as I sit here is right there at the bottom – FAILURE!

I used to often annoy my brother with an inaccurate description of probability – which we all laugh about now – but it was an early demonstration of how my brain worked and the part it would play in this journey of anxiety. I use to say and at one point truly believe that the probability of everything was 50/50 – it either was or it wasn’t! That’s the exact way my brain works with a lot of my thinking – it’s my all or nothing brain at work. I’m either going to be perfect or utterly rubbish; I’m either going to survive this or I’m not; I’m either going to succeed or fail; in my way of thinking there is no grey matter it either is or it isn’t!!! So you can see my problem I give my self two options of outcome each time giving myself a hard risk assessment task! My challenge is to add some grey thinking – some new probability ratios because not everything is 50/50! For some risks the likelihood of a negative outcome is very low – perhaps it would be good to start with these risks I hear you say. Well another recent discovery of myself I have found is I actually love to jump in at the deep end – who’d have thought it!

I got to thinking about swimming and how easy it is to have a fear of the water – failure in swimming means drowning; that’s a big deal!! But is that true?? I had a lovely image before I sat down to type of a son visiting the swimming pool with his father.

They arrive at the pool and the son is enthusiastic about getting in the water – a new adventure and what a sense of achievement if he can actually manage to really swim today. The father helps him into the pool. The son decides that today is the day he’s going to swim, for real, with no help! He begins to remove his armbands and as he does so fear kicks in!! He panics; the water that was once secure is no longer safe – he’s vulnerable and he know’s it. Instinct kicks in – how do I stay afloat? – he begins to frantically kick his legs and wave his arms trying to stay above the water. The father is right by him and tells his son calmly and confidently ‘It’s ok son just place your feet on the floor and stand up.’ The boy, confused and unsure, listens to his dad and attempts to stand unsure how this would be possible. Amazingly his feet find the floor of the pool and he stands up straight to find the water only reaches his tummy!
The son forgot to engage his risk assessing brain;he had allowed fear to convince him that drowning and panicking were his only options; he hadn’t considered that actually he was well within his depth. This moment in the sons life could have been pivotal in his views towards water -does he allow the fear of that moment dictate that water is unsafe and therefore he should remain out of it or in it but with arm bands; or does he listen to his risk assessment brain which can tells him you’re ok; you were safe all along. It will take him brave steps to go towards the deeper end where his feet no longer touch the ground but if he allows fear to dictate he may never get there.

So should I be awake right now experiencing anxiety about failure; because it’s true I could fail at the things I am attempting and that failure could have a knock on affect on the way that people view me, treat me and how I view myself but there is also the chance I won’t fail; I could succeed and the amazing thing about success is that it doesn’t actually have to be with flying colours; it may simply be just doing alright – but that’s another post all together!

So if you think fear keeps you safe and comfortable well it may be partly true but its also keeping you from some amazing adventures! Don’t let fear become your comfort-zone; step out and leave that bubble behind whatever it may look like!!