Our human brains are designed to constantly be looking for danger. At the most basic level, we are wired to look for the worst-case scenario in every situation so that we can avoid it and survive another day.
So when we find ourselves in our daily lives to be in a constant state of worry, or concern, or dread, or anxious anticipation of how things will go, we are simply allowing the most primitive part of our brain to do what it was made to do.
When we’re afraid, our body is in a state of fight. When we spend most of our day… and week… and life worried and concerned and frustrated, we are in a constant state of fight or flight.
The stress response in the body was designed to be a short term response to an acute threat. Think about someone breaking into your house, for example. Your body immediately kicks into the fight or flight response in order to protect you and your family. Ideally, the police would arrive, the threat would be over and your family would all be safe in the end. And then your body would regulate back down to the rest and digest response and you would go about your life.
Our body is not designed to stay in the stress response long term and so when we do, it can cause all sorts of issues with the other systems of the body that are suppressed during fight or flight, leading to insomnia, digestive issues, reproductive issues, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and more.
What can we do about this constant state of stress? The first step is to identify our basic fear. Where does it come from?
Think of the negative emotions you experience: …anger…worry…frustration… sadness…
These are all, at their root, based in fear. Fear that something bad will happen to us or the people that we love.
We don’t always recognize these difficult emotions as fear. We blame them on someone else’s behavior, or on our circumstances and justify our anger or worry as something that is justified and that is just how it is, or who we are.
But we can always change the way we think about a situation. And to do that we must first identify what it is that we’re actually afraid of.
If we follow the negative emotion back to its most basic origin, it’s fear, and particularly the fear of death.
Stay with me here. I know that being frustrated that your kids won’t load the dishwasher doesn’t really seem like it’s based on fear, but what if we trace it back like this:
My kids won’t load the dishwasher. They don’t do what I ask them to. They don’t really care about me. They are going to grow up and leave me. They will forget about me and leave me to grow old alone. I’m going to fall and break my hip and no one will be there to take care of me. I am going to die alone.
Pretty bleak, huh? I know, and it’s not a conscious series of thoughts (usually) but the basic frustration comes from not feeling like I can count on them and extrapolating from there.
We can do this with any difficult circumstance…Money fights? Fear of not having enough…Critical Mother in law? Fear that she’ll convince your husband to leave you and you’ll die alone. …Stressed about a messy house? Fear that others will judge you and kick you out of the tribe, therefore causing you to die alone.
We can try and rationalize these and justify why we’re feeling what we do, and make it someone else’s problem to fix…or we can take responsibility for how we’re thinking and change it.
The first step in managing difficult relationships and circumstances, and the negative emotions we experience is to stop and ask ourselves, in the most basic sense, what am I afraid of?
When we realize that all of our difficult interactions come from our basic fear, and seeing the other party through compassion and recognizing that they are ultimately just afraid too. We can diffuse most arguments and begin to heal our difficult relationships.
Exploring our fears and having the courage to feel the difficult emotions that accompany those fears is one of the concepts I work on with my clients. If you’d like to learn more about how to explore your fears and manage the anxiety and stress those fears cause, I’d love to visit with you.
We’ll be exploring our negative emotions and the deep fears that cause them in 12-Weeks to Clarity my Online Group Coaching Program and Community that begins soon. Want to join us? Join my mailing list to get all the details!