I recently got back from a four day trip to Orlando with my sister for a little pre-wedding weekend away. The weeks leading up to the trip, my anxiety flared big time due to outside circumstances and not taking care of myself the way I should have. I was having panicky sensations and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could handle this vacation. I imagined every worst case scenario and wondered if I would be okay. I was scared.
But even though having flare ups is a totally normal and expected process, we can never un-learn all the tools we’ve already gathered. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned (and now teach) about how to work with the fear that keeps us trapped and small, it’s that we have to keep pushing forward. We have to keep doing the things that scare us until they don’t scare us anymore.
We can’t wait until we’re NOT scared in order to live our lives. We have to do it afraid. The only way out is through.
So I brought my fear along with me. It came with me on the plane, to crowded theme parks, on scary rides, sleeping in the hotel, in the security line. And guess what? Fear and I had a wonderful time.
If I had tried to get rid of fear before I ever went on the trip, I would have missed out on the most magical moments, like getting to meet Tinkerbell and Minnie Mouse. I wandered through the stunning Harry Potter worlds. I went dancing. I laughed and jumped and sang until I could barely breathe.
So how do we find this bravery to keep embracing our lives when fear is telling us to stay small?
The first thing I had to remind myself is that fear, panic, and anxiety feel AWFUL, but they’re not dangerous. They literally can’t do anything to me, even though they’re incredibly convincing. Finding out more about what panic is and how it manifests in our bodies can reassure us that we’re safe, even when we feel like we’re not.
Then, develop the coping skills that work for you. Find what helps you to regulate your own nervous system. Practice deep breathing, self-talk, affirmations, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, accepting and allowing.
And then, expect to be scared. When we go out and do the things that scare us, the point is not to feel completely calm and relaxed. That’d be great, but it’s not the point. The point is to feel the fear and work with the fear, while still doing what we need to do. So expect the sensations and the scary thoughts and then work with them.
On the flight back, I had a miserable cold. I read that flying while congested can be really dangerous as the ears can’t equalize the pressure changes, so you’re at risk for hearing loss and ear damage. So I was terrified about that. And then come to find out, when my sister booked our flight back, she didn’t get us assigned seats, so I was stuck at the back of the plane in between two random people, while she sat in a totally different row. This was my first time flying “alone” since panic, so that added an extra layer of nerves.
As we sat there waiting for the plane to take off, I had some old familiar thoughts creep back in. “What if I have a panic attack and I can’t get off? And my sister isn’t near me. And then what if I can’t bring it down? What if it gets so bad that the crew has to do something? What if I faint? What if my ears get damaged? What if there’s bad turbulence? What if the plane crashes?” Blah blah blah. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the “what if” game.
I felt my heart racing in response to my thoughts. My breath became shallow. I felt dizzy and like I wanted to run.
And then I remembered that I’m in control. I immediately dropped the “what if” lines and refocused my attention on something else. I slowed down my breathing, watching my heart rate slow in response. I changed my self-talk to become more positive, reassuring, and realistic. I sent myself compassion for being in a difficult situation. And then I enjoyed the flight, even talking to the man next to me for a while before watching a movie.
The situations where we can’t leave are actually our greatest teachers because they force us to stay and see our own strength. If I had been able to bolt off the plane, it just would have reinforced my false belief that the situation was dangerous and I couldn’t handle it.
Another situation on my trip where this happened was when my sister dragged me into the line for a thrilling theme park ride. We entered this darkened building and started to walk through dark caves that almost touched our shoulders on each side. We could barely see as we kept walking through these caves, menacing music on the speakers and people in front of and behind us in line. The air started to get thin and mummies jumped out and grabbed us every couple of minutes. This wasn’t even the “ride.” This was the line to the ride, and I had no idea what the “actual ride” entailed.
I started to FREAK OUT. This is what my nightmares are made of.
So I told my sister, “I’m having a panic attack. I need to go,” and started to head back, even though people were rushing forward against us. She grabbed my arm and said, “No, stay, it’s going to be okay!” and pulled me forward. I stayed. I breathed. I watched the sensations of panic rise and fall. I endured the horrific ride. Was it fun? Nope. Will I do it again? Never. But I got through it and I showed myself that nothing tragic was going to happen if I didn’t leave.
Every single day, I show myself my own strength. Every single day, I see just how incredibly brave and capable I really am.
We underestimate ourselves. We are so, so, so much stronger and braver and more capable than we give ourselves credit for. You CAN do what you’re afraid to do. Will it be easy the first few times? Probably not. It might be really hard. But you can get through it and over time, you’ll show yourself just how powerful you are.
I purposefully placed the “Overcoming Agoraphobia” section last in my online course because we need to learn the tools to be with and work with our fear before we can throw ourselves into scary situations. We need to learn to slow down the breath, change our self-talk, and practice self-care and compassion. We need to KNOW in our bones that we have the power to regulate our own nervous systems, and then we can go out and practice what we’ve learned.
If you’re ready to dive in and learn the tools that have been so monumental for me, I invite you to join our sweet little group in the overcoming panic attacks online course.
And remember, you are strong enough to handle whatever comes your way.
I’d love for you to share with me the times you’ve been brave lately. Let’s celebrate together!!