“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~Jack Canfield
Freezing in fear is something I have done since I was a child.
My first home was an unsafe one, living with my alcoholic granddad. Once upon a time I didn’t know life without fear.
I learned young to scan for danger. How were everyone’s moods? Were the adults okay today? I would freeze and be still and quiet in an attempt to keep myself safe and control an eruption.
Unknown to me, between the ages of conception and seven years old my nervous system was being programmed. The house I grew up in was shaping how safe I felt in my body.
Living in a house with domestic abuse and alcoholism and losing my beautiful grandmother who cared for me at five was enough to make that foundation within me shaky.
I learned to be on high alert, scanning for danger always, and became incredibly hypervigilant and super sensitive to the moods of others.
Sometimes this superpower of mine kept me safe as a child. My dad wouldn’t always lose his temper if I was quiet enough. My mum would be available to me if I sensed her mood and provided her with comfort.
As I grew, this superpower of mine caused me issues.
I would worry all of the time about the thousand different ways something could go wrong.
I couldn’t enjoy the moment and what I had right now as my brain would be scanning for the next problem.
I couldn’t sleep.
My anxiety was like this monster in my mind consumed by all the what-if scenarios, and as a result I just couldn’t move forward.
Life didn’t feel safe. Even though I no longer lived in an unsafe environment, my body and my brain were still there.
This anxiety stopped me from applying for new jobs, challenging myself, dating, healing from the past, changing, and growing.
I would be frozen by the fear of all that could go wrong. I felt stuck, frustrated with myself, and full of self-hate for living a life that made me miserable.
The penny dropped one day. I finally realized that this fear was all in my head—99% of the things I worried about didn’t manifest into reality. My anxious thoughts didn’t make anything any better, but they were ruining what I had right now.
Here are the ten steps that have helped reduce anxiety, fear, and overwhelm and help foster a life of happiness.
1. Give that anxious worrying voice in your head a name.
This creates separation between you and the voice. You are not your thoughts. This is a voice from your ego concerned with survival, and you have the choice to listen or choose a more empowering thought. However, this voice could be sensing real danger, so listen to see if it is a risk to you right now or a potential risk that could happen.
If real, then of course take action after some deep breaths. Otherwise, continue with the steps.
2. The minute you hear the voice, recognize it is a sign that your nervous system is dysregulated and moving into fight-or-flight mode.
Then choose to pause and take a few deep breaths. Coherent breathing can help calm down this response. This means take deep breaths in through your nose, inflating your belly for five seconds, and exhale while deflating your belly for five.
3. Create a list of tools you can use when your mind and body are about to go down the what-if train.
This might mean lying on the grass, dancing to your favorite song, EFT (emotional freedom technique) tapping, doing a yoga pose, or journaling to discharge fear. The minute you notice the voice, do something off the list.
4. Repeat a mantra to calm your nervous system.
Find a statement that helps calm you down and repeat when the anxiety voice is back. My favorite is “If X happens, then I will deal with it.”
5. Get in present moment.
What can you hear? What can you see? What can you smell? What can you feel? I like to get outside when I do this. Feel my feet on the grass and take in the moment.
6. Place your hand on your heart and remind yourself you are safe.
It probably doesn’t feel that way. But feelings aren’t facts, and your thoughts can only hurt you if you let them.
7. Notice if you have moved into a freeze state.
When we first start to worry, our nervous systems go into fight-or-flight mode and adrenaline and stress hormones pump into our body. Then when it all feels too much, we freeze. We’re literally not able to do anything and go into despair.
You can find the tools that work for you to move from freeze and slowly back up to fight or flight and then up to your calm state. It is a ladder with freeze at the bottom and calm at the top. (It’s called the polyvagal ladder.)
You can split the list in point three into what helps you through freeze and what helps you out of fight/flight. A great way out of freezing is movement. Even five minutes of jumping jacks will get those stress hormones pumping. Then do something to calm you down, like deep breathing.
8. Choose to trash the thought.
Is this something that is a worry for another day? Imagine putting it in a trash bin. Or you can even write it down and put it in the bin physically.
9. Start to notice your mental state throughout the day.
Are you calm or triggered by worry? Are you frozen? Or is your heart pumping, so your stress response is turned on and you are in fight-or-flight mode? What tool can bring you back to calm or move you up the ladder?
10. Write what you are grateful for in this moment.
Noticing what’s going well right now can disarm fear.
Slowly, these steps can help you to regulate, discharge fear, and allow your nervous system to heal. You may not have been safe as a child, but you have the power to feel safe now.
You have the power to change your circumstances and remove triggers that are recreating that feeling of unsafety.
Your fear in your body could be very real and giving you information that maybe a particular relationship, job, or environment is not safe for you. Take notice and make baby steps to create a life that makes you feel safe, as this is the foundation for happiness. Give yourself what you longed for as a child.
Yes, hypervigilance may be something that got programmed into your nervous system young to help you survive, but you don’t have to let it hold you back now.
Changing, growing, and healing can feel scary and unsafe, but as you take those baby steps to create a healthier you, your confidence and self-esteem will grow. Your brain will get new evidence that you are safe, and those worrying thoughts will slowly disappear. A new worry may come, but then you can just repeat the process.
These steps helped me stop living life small and in fear and allowed me to go after my big dreams—finding love, progressing in my career, and even buying a house.
Anxious thoughts no longer hold me back. I just watch them with curiosity and know the steps I need to take to move through them. I took back the power I lost as a child, and I know you can too!