I’ve got this thing, this response, this persistent, nerve-wracking, very conscious but uncontrollable reaction to events out of my comfort zone. My heart threatening to burst out of my chest through deafening pounds, sweat dewing on my palms and underarms causing me to itch, shortness of breath and other unrecognizable (to me) non-verbal cues I send to my audience of one, tens or hundreds. I only internalized this morning, that it’s a response from my Autonomous Nervous System – the part of the nervous system responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes. We don’t sit down and decide ‘okay, now I’m going to breath’. It’s an inherent part of every human being, babies welcome it with a shriek and it’s an alarm if they don’t cry at birth. The same way my body responds to breathing is the same way it responds to situations out of my comfort zone giving me the options of fight or flee. Fight the discomfort or flee the situation, and below is a better understanding of the fight or flee response.
Recap – The Autonomous Nervous System (ANS) is a control system in the body that acts largely unconsciously and regulates heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. This system is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response and its role is mediated by two different components: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) division and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) division. These two divisions have opposing effects on the internal organs they act on. The SNS which originates in the spinal cord activates physiological changes that occur during the fight or flee response (accelerated heart rate, goose bumps, sweating) and the PNS which originates in the middle of the spinal column, arising from the spinal nerves of the central nervous system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract (which explains my occasional trips to the washroom when I’m super tensed – my body is trying to calm me down).
There are ways to manage and solve these situations and Psychologists have this practice called the Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). I have used the theory to come up with this practical step by step journey to master fear and anxiety.
1st step – Access to information. Without knowledge, our situations remain the same – unsolved.
2nd step – Being aware of situations that unsettle us. Even better, find the roots of the problem.
A huge source of our fear stems from the thought of rejection and exposure of our weaknesses. We are constantly seeking approval and the uncertainty of not getting one unsettles us.
Have in mind that it’s our thoughts and feelings that influence behaviour. We get into a situation, we relate it to a previous occurrence, we remember what it felt like and from these thoughts and feelings, we act (behaviour) – we either fight or flee.
From the image above, if we can learn to rationalize our thoughts (reorganize them to make them more logical and reasonable) we can develop a healthy and objective way of analyzing threats.
3rd step – Practice a response that counters the fear/situation. This could range from:
3.1 Self-talk therapy – conversations with self that gives you the right perspective on the situation.
“What’s really the worst that will happen if i…?”
“They are probably not even talking about me.”
“Everyone is concerned about their day/lives and I’m the last person on their mind.”
“I definitely got better at this, and I will keep getting better.”
3.2 Face the fear head on.
If you are afraid of crowds, wait until the hall is packed and walk in.
If you are afraid of speaking before people, volunteer to do so in small gatherings.
If you have the fear of the unknown, walk into a packed street and lie down for a minute. See the comfort zone crusher program with over 25,000 participants.
4th Step – Practice step 3 multiple times a day
Eventually, your body will pick on the response mechanism and adjust it to different situations.You will definitely face moments of fear but the PNS will quickly engage your body to rest and carry on without distress.
3.2 response is my favorite because once you start running, there’s no stopping.