Monday, August 13, 2012

Is fear keeping you from anything?

My therapist often says that anxiety makes your world very small.  I find that to be very true, at least for me and my anxiety. Just a few short years ago I felt like I was afraid of everything.  For my example today I will use my fear of vomiting.  Sorry.  Gross, I know.  But, it's one of my biggest fears.  Has been since I was a child.

When I was pregnant with Levi I came down with a stomach bug.  I got sick at work.  I got in my car to drive home, just about a twenty minute drive, and had to stop at two different gas stations (or was is 3?) to get sick.  At the time, yeah, it sucked, but I made it home and slept it off.  The thing with me, though, is that I often take a past experience and then dwell on it.  So, a couple years after that, Ezra had a stomach bug.  Then John came down with it.  I knew it was only a matter of time before I was sick.  That week was horrible.  I didn't eat.  I would be working and feeling just fine when the thought of "you know...the stomach flu is waiting for you." would creep in my head.  I would literally make myself feel sick ruminating on it.  Sweaty.  Mouth watering.  Nauseous.  I would leave work thinking I was going to be sick.  My heart would be pounding as I drove home.  I remember getting stuck at a stop light while on the phone with JF and screaming in to the phone "This is a nightmare!  I am stuck and going to get sick!" And...nothing.  Days later, after finally eating, I did end up going through the same bug they had.  But I would say the worrying about getting sick was worse than actually being sick.  After that my fear of vomiting, especially while away from home, continued to get worse.  I had dealt with a similar situation in high school that kept me from school and work.  This time around, in adulthood, it kept me from wanting to go anywhere.  An invitation to go out to lunch with a friend?  No way!  What if the food made me sick?  Going out for a run?  Ha!  I could start to feel nauseous and have no way of getting home.  I would get nervous on car rides.  Traffic jams, even just a small back-up, would send me in to a panic.  After a while, I just chose not to deal with it and wanted to stay home.  Here is where anxiety made my world small.  I was anxious about getting sick away from home.  So I let anxiety win.  I opted to not go anywhere, do anything, in favor of sitting at home "safe" from my fears.  But I wasn't safe.  I was missing so much.  A shopping trip with a friend.  A baseball game of my son's.  A favorite local race that I had done for years with a friend.  I rationalized that I didn't want to do any of those things anymore.  I was happy to be a home-body.  But there is a big difference between a home-body and being scared to move.  My world was shrinking.  I only went places when I absolutely had to.  I worked.  I went grocery shopping.  And although I appeared happy and at ease, internally I was a mess.  Checking and re-checking my feelings.  "Do I feel sick?"  "Am I going to get sick?"  "Will that food not settle well?"
And this is where cognitive behavioral therapy saved the day.  Once again, I am not a doctor.  So, I am sharing with you my personal story of what has worked for me, taught to me by my psychologist.  I hope that by sharing what works for me it will motivate my readers, although everyone is different.

When it comes to my fear of vomiting in public, here is what works for me.  It has also helped me with my fear of tornadoes, being stuck in traffic, among other things.  Self-talk can help in any situation where you are feeling scared.  Name what you are scared of.  Then address each portion of the fear and give rational ways that you could deal with the situation.  I do self-talk now, but the following conversation flows the way I have also talked with my doctor.  It really does help to learn from a psychologist first, and then practice on your own.

Here is a typical self-talk conversation I would have if I were scared of vomiting:

I am scared of vomiting while out in public.
How often do you really, really, vomit?
Eh...maybe once a year.
How do you feel before you get sick?  Does it just happen out of nowhere?
No...I experience the normal symptoms.  Sweaty, nauseous, heart racing, etc.
So you would know if was going to happen?
Yes...but what if I am in my car and can't get to a bathroom?
Well...what if?
Ummm...I would puke.  On the side of the road or in a shopping bag in my car.
Would it be the end of the world?
No.  But it would be gross.
That's right.  It would suck.  No one likes puking on the side of the road.  But if it happens, it happens.  You wouldn't be dead.  Life would go on.

I hope this gives you an idea of how to talk yourself out of being afraid.  It could work for many situations.  It has also really helped me with my fear of storms/tornadoes.  I now don't feel quite as stuck during storm season.  While I don't feel like I will ever be a storm chaser, I have learned to talk myself down and if I have plans to go out even if the weather is calling for storms, I have learned to keep going. 
It does get better.  It has been quite some time since I have let one of my fears hold me back.  That is not to say that I don't deal with this on a semi-regular basis.  I have just learned how to help myself not get stuck.
 Please feel free to share with me below.  If you have a fear that is holding you back I would love to have a dialogue with you on how you can calm your fears.  Email me if you don't want it to be in the comment bar for the world to see :)

Is fear keeping you from anything?  Has it in the past?  How did you get through it?


  1. thanks for sharing this! i really need to replace the negative with the positive self-talk. do you write this down somewhere? when do you do it? do you think doing it daily even if you aren't in a anxious situation would help?

    i tried finding that book "the worry cure" but it isn't at our hastings. i guess i will have to order it from amazon.

    and as far as fear keeping me from is the open road after 7 car wrecks, none were my fault, and an exhusband that would yell at me when i would have a panic attack on the road that has stopped me from leaving town or driving by myself for that matter. sucks. sucks big time!

    1. Hi Rhonda,
      Sometimes I do write it down, especially when it is new. I do self-talk whenever I need to. For example, if I were afraid to go on a road trip I would do the self-talk as soon as the fear presents itself (maybe when the idea of travel first comes up) and then anytime thereafter that I feel fearful. Doing it daily is helpful, especially when those scary, "what-if" thoughts come up.
      I am sorry to hear that you received such negative responses from your ex-husband when you would have a panic attack. I am sure that only made it worse. 7 wrecks! I think any one would be fearful of the open road after that!
      Here is what I would personally do when it comes to self-talk in that situation:
      Why are you afraid of going on a road trip?
      I might get into a car accident.
      Do most people get in a car accident on their way to _____________? Or will most people make it there okay?
      Most people will make it there just fine.
      So cars don't go flying off of the highway every time someone drives to ________________?
      No. But what if I get in a wreck?
      Well...what if? What would you do?
      Pull over. Assess the damage. If I am injured, get help. Ugh...I don't want to risk it!
      So you want to just stay home and miss going?
      So, then, deal with the fear. If you have a wreck, you know how to handle it. It isn't pleasant, but it happens. Chances are it won't happen this time.

      I hope this helps and that I didn't ramble for too long!
      Baby steps and you will be just fine.

  2. thanks, sally! that helps a lot. i want to start doing it each day. maybe going over what you did above and coming up with different answers each day will help???

    1. Sometimes the same answers, almost like a daily reminder, are helpful. But as your mind comes up with "new" reasons to be fearful of the same thing(s) it will be helpful to have different answers. I will be writing soon about "What-If" questions and answers.


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