June 19, 2023

What to do when you are scared

When a situation scares us, we instinctually think about what to do to. But, before we talk about what to do when you are scared I think it’s best to first think about how to be with ourselves when that happens. I personally am afraid of earthquakes (who will attend my funeral???). Even drawing a mouse for this musing made me cringe. Most of us try to make our fears disappear as quickly as possible. We often don’t really know how to process what is happening to us. In addition, the sensation of fear and stress is very unpleasant in our bodies.

I used to be the queen of “stepping over” my feelings. I would notice fleetingly that a situation was stressful, and then immediately find a way to distract myself. That could mean cleaning my house, but mostly just not sitting still. But when we ignore our feelings, however big or small, our bodies may send us messages to make us notice them. In my case, I tend to get migraines or palpitations. However, I know many clients who cannot swallow their food easily or need to pee all the time. Each body has its own method of communication.

Allowing your feelings and sensations to happen

Feeling scared, we usually like to get rid of this unpleasant sensation, as soon as possible. The irony is that what we actually need to do is to allow what is hard for us to register as just that – something hard. Sometimes just naming our feelings or bodily sensations is enough, and then our bodies will let us move on. (Emily and Amelia Nagoski write about this concept as ‘finishing the emotional cycle’ in their book Burnout.) And other times we will revisit our experience because we need more time to make sense of what happened. Our bodies will show us the pace.

The story of ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ illustrates how we can ‘be’ with obstacles that come our way and move on after that. When we become doom thinkers, we are afraid that all these unpleasant sensations and feelings will stay with us forever and always. It is helpful to remember that just like in nature, things come and go. Our feelings and bodily sensations move through seasons as well. Like I have said before, after each experience we have, other things happen. My favorite sentence of the story is: “We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we have to go through it” and I use that imagery when I encounter a scary situation.

You can’t go over it, you can’t go over it, you have to go through it!

What happens after you’re scared

So what happens after we learn to ‘be’ with our big feelings and sensations? I think that most of all, we learn that we are able to survive them. We might feel better, and then experience another scare. When we move through, rather than try to go over or under what we feel, our bodies feel listened to and won’t need to speak up so loudly.