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  • Writer's pictureShana Gietl

The 4 Letter F Word

Updated: Jun 11, 2018

Fear.  The thing that makes us toss and turn at night, our hearts pound, our minds race, and our palms sweat.  The thing we dread, avoid, run from, and hate.  The thing that shrinks our world, dampens our dreams, and kidnaps our hopes.

It is normal to have fears and worries, healthy even.  Fear is meant to keep us safe. For example, imagine there is a beautiful frozen pond next to your house and you’re itching to try out your new pair of skates, but you decide to hold off because the calendar doesn’t even say December yet.  You decide to wait because you fear the ice is not thick enough yet to hold your weight.  This is a healthy fear.

Fear becomes problematic when it is not realistic and when it begins to cause us great distress and disruption in our life.  For example, imagine your office was on the 24th floor of a historic building in downtown Providence and you were afraid of elevators. Perhaps your fear is so great that you cannot go in an elevator, forcing you to use the stairs.  I suppose if you canceled your gym membership and had a shower installed in your office, this may actually be a productive use of your time, but in reality, this would be very disruptive.  Fears usually stem from worries, sometimes we ruminate in our worries, and begin to think catastrophically about situations, such as, what if all the cable wires in the elevator happened to give out at the same time and it dropped down all 24 floors and I plunged to my death?!?!

Most of us are bombarded on a daily basis by worries and concerns, here are just a few…

  • Worrying about how to pay the bills

  • Not having reliable child-care and having to miss work or school

  • Receiving a memo about potential lay-offs

  • Finding a lump on the back of your neck

  • Another rise in health insurance premiums

  • Your significant other is working later and later

  • You smell marijuana on your teenager’s clothes

  • Your parents are elderly and not able to care for themselves anymore

For some, these worries run in the background and are like white noise, but for others, their worries turn into plunging elevators.  It’s not white noise for them, but a death metal jam fest with amped up bass vibrating through their veins, threatening to deafen them.  The interesting thing about the near deaf folks is that they try to block the noise out with ear plugs and headphones instead of just going to the source of the noise and turning it off.  Well that seems silly, right?  Maybe not.

Ever have that nightmare where someone is chasing you?  You’re running as fast as you can, but you can’t seem to lose them.  You’re breathless, panicked, and losing ground.  Ever think about turning around?  NO WAY.  It’s life or death, lady!  This is the same feeling for the folks up above.

Here’s some free advise.  Next time you’re running for your life in your dream, turn around and look your assailant (your fear) in the face, I guarantee, the nightmare will be over.

To get over our fears, we have to face them, just like in our dreams.  We have to stare them down, shrink them back to their original size, and for good measure, squish them with the bottom of our shoes.  If not, our minds will play dress up with our fears, it will pull from the ugly stuff in the back of our closets and walk out with worst case scenarios.  Our minds will convince us that our fear is bigger than a bread box, just enough to quicken our pulses and make us start to reach for those headphones.  If we avoid it still, it will convince us that our fear is bigger than a house, and not the white picket fence kind, but the dark haunted kind.  Our minds are creative, it will use clip art and add fangs for teeth and daggers for nails, it will pump it full of steroids and then send it knocking to our door.  At this point, answering the door seems like a suicide mission, so instead we grab a half a dozen 2x4s and reinforce the door, we grab another half a dozen and do the windows.  We’ve trapped ourselves in and closed the world out, but at least we’re safe.  Safe maybe… but lonely, scared, and starving for life.

“Catastrophic thoughts lead to fear, which leads to avoidance, which leads to more catastrophic thoughts,” says Dr. Dennis Greenberger, psychologist and professor of clinical psychology at the University of California at Irvine. “It’s a vicious cycle that exacerbates the fear over time.”

Facing our fears is uncomfortable at first, as some of us in the field like to say, we have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.  Our minds did such a great job of creating a monster that it takes some undoing.  We have to disassemble the fangs and the nails bit by bit, this can be time consuming and a lot of work, but once we get to the core, it won’t be elevators dropping anymore, but anxiety.

Once we face our fears, we’re able to see them for what they really are, something manageable and something tolerable, and definitely not something worth shrinking our world for.


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