When we dare consider leaving a high-control group in order to reclaim our life, our fear quotient can shoot off the charts. We have probably been warned about what will happen if we try to leave. We know the repercussions usually meted out by the group. We can anticipate what is in store for us. We will then, perhaps, feel anxious or crippled with fear.
To leave, we are told, will mean a literal or symbolic death – a cutting off from the group, from salvation, from heavenly rewards and perhaps from god himself. Some of our fears may be exaggerated due to phobias instilled in us during any thought-reform practiced by the group. However, most of our fears are well-founded. We are not paranoid or crazy. We have seen what happened to others who dared to take back their mind and their life. We understand the challenges we will face in order to rebuild an authentic, self-directed life.
Once out, we soon realize that a lot of the instilled, pervasive fears have a life of their own. Even if we have done all we can to ensure our safety, we may still feel we could be blindsided by the coercive group’s punishments. Perhaps we fear that we will be permanently cut off from god’s love and protection. These and other concerns seem to be deeply embedded in our cells and we would do well to … learn how to manage them while we wait for the healer known as “time” to help them dissipate.
Sometimes anxieties arise in the form of obsessive thoughts that seem to have a life of their own. They arrive unprompted, unwelcome and even contextually irrelevant. But off they spin making us constrict, withdraw, tense, and perhaps move into a fight, flight or freeze response.
Here are ten simple, easy things you can do to help manage fear or anxiety:
Stop. Sit. Ground. Breathe. Rest. Hydrate. Inquire. Remember. Move. Imagine.
- STOP: When you notice fear thoughts are out of control, stop what you are doing and become the observer of what is taking place in your mind. Do not judge or condemn what you observe – just stop whatever you are doing and pay attention without becoming engaged with the thoughts. Stop any active involvement with the thoughts and just observe them. (Note: Sometimes fear arises for a good reason. If, while observing, you assess that you are in actual danger – take the required steps to protect yourself.)
- SIT: If you are not in any actual danger, sit down and bring your attention to what is happening around you in the moment. Sit with present moment awareness. Yes, there are fear thoughts spinning around in your mind AND the sun is shining in the window, and the cat is purring at your feet. Just sit. Simply be present to and connect with life around you while you sit.
- GROUND: As you sit, make sure your legs are uncrossed and both feet are planted flat on the ground – better yet, if you are outside – bare and flat on the earth.
- BREATHE: As you sit, bring your observing awareness to your breath. At first, just observe your breathing without trying to change it. Then after a few moments, as best you can, take a few slow, deep, cleansing breathes. Check to see if your breathing is stuck mid-chest or if you are able to do deep diaphragmatic breathing. (Seeing your belly move in and out, instead of your upper chest would indicate you are doing diaphragmatic breathing.) Begin to simply concentrate on the exhalation – focus on a long, slow release of air with each breath.
- REST: Each of the above steps should have helped you enter a calmer headspace, which in turn should help your muscles begin to relax. Rest now, for a while, in the rhythm of your breath. Remain identified with your non-judgmental, observing awareness. For this moment – there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to be. If you observe that there are still fear thoughts in the mind, just watch them without attaching to them. Imagine any anxiety or stressful thoughts leaving your body with each exhalation and return to resting in the rhythm of your breath.
- HYDRATE: After stopping, sitting, grounding, calming and resting in your breath, if you can, drink some water. Hydrate your cells. Being still, grounded, oxygenated and hydrated will support the body/mind to release itself from the grip of the anxious fear thinking.
- INQUIRE: Now that you have completed the previous six steps, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions. Hone in on the dominant fear thought that you’ve observed and ask yourself: Is it true? Is it really true? If you believe the thought is true, follow up with the question: How do I feel inside when I believe that fearful thought? Usually the answer is something like, vulnerable, powerless, little, alone, unworthy or unloved. Then ask yourself if you are willing to release the thought and move back to feeling, as best you can, okay, centered, capable and worthy of love. Self-inquiry can help diminish the import and impact of the thought. (You can learn more about self-inquiry by visiting the website called The Work by Byron Katie.) Familiarize yourself with the process of self-inquiry so that it becomes easy for you to use in the midst of stressful situations.
- REMEMBER: Take a moment now to remember who you really are. Remember all you have accomplished. Remember how courageous you have been – in spite of very justifiable fears. Remember how many of the things you feared in the past never came to pass. Often when we are experiencing fearful thoughts, if we stop and ask ourselves: How old do I feel inside right now? – we will find that we feel quite young. Fear-filled thinking makes us feel anxious and we can often regress into feeling quite childlike – which makes the fears seem even more intimidating. Take time to remember who you really are now. Remember that you are an adult with all of the skills and options of an adult. Remember all of the resources that you, as an adult, can access. Remember that you are no longer a vulnerable, helpless, controlled child. Remember who you are now and settle into that knowing.
- MOVE: Once you have completed the above eight simple steps – if circumstances allow, move your body. Go for a walk or do some light exercise. By walking you are oxygenating your cells, producing feel-good endorphins, and balancing your brain hemispheres with the bilateral movements of your legs and arms. Moving (especially bi-lateral movements of your limbs) will help you think more clearly and stop any tendency for negative thoughts to loop around repetitively in your mind. If you cannot walk outside, try marching in place touching your right knee with your left hand and your left knee with your right hand. (This exercise is called the Cross Crawl and is an effective way to balance the two hemispheres of your brain and recalibrate your thinking.)
- IMAGINE: If you have time, find a guided visualization (online) to help you create an imaginary, inner safe place for yourself. Once you have already created a safe place, in moments of distress, anxiety or fear – after doing the above nine steps – you can go immediately to the safe space in your mind and find rest, respite and renewal.
(Excerpt from Chapter 13, The Challenge to Heal, 2016, Bonnie Zieman)
 These ten steps are totally within your control. They cost nothing. You do not need anyone else to help you employ them. You don’t have to go anywhere special to use them. All you have to do is recall and use them to manage and minimize fear-based thinking.