If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember that in the distant past (April), I posted about the value of “Feeling the Feelings,” which I have been doing a lot of recently, and that has kept me from posting. These feelings happened to be physical as well as emotional, as I had a car accident recently. I’m fine, and my shoulder strap bruise has healed, and I’m driving a new (to me) car. My computer was quite ill for several days, and then, of course, I was kicked in the stomach with depression. I’m also under a physician’s care as we try to diagnose the cause of ongoing physical illness. At any rate, I hope to be getting back on track with the blog.
I had written about experiencing and working through depression. Next I wanted to talk about fear and anxiety, because they’re so closely related. However, I believe they are different enough to warrant separate posts.
Fear is rooted in reality or what we perceive as reality. A person or a situation causing, or threatening to cause us harm prompts that rumbling-in-the-stomach, heart-pounding, mind-twisting terror that takes over. We turn it over in our minds, and become obsessed with the fear. We lie awake pondering it. Concentration on anything else is difficult if not impossible.
Those of us who have been abused have had plenty to fear. Awful things that are unimaginable to a child have crept up out of the dark, making our worst nightmares come to life. We may now be adults with spouses and children of our own. We probably have locks on our doors and even alarm systems to keep out the unknown, as well as the familiar nightmares. However, none of those precautions can deal with the fear that lives on in our minds. Perhaps we startle easily. Perhaps we’ve developed full-blown PTSD that brings the horror back to life in living color, complete with the sense of being touched, hearing the sounds, seeing our surroundings and smelling the scents that were present when the nightmare was alive and real. How do you deal with these present manifestations of past people and experiences?
Actually, I think it is practically impossible to completely lock out the memories of the past that cause us fear in the present. However, there are steps that will help us deal with the memories in such a way that they will stay where they belong – in our awareness of the past, in our consciousness, to be dealt with when we can be calm, thinking clearly and able to put well-defined boundaries around the past.
How? Acknowledge the memories as real and valid pieces of your past. Running from them doesn’t help. In fact, running usually ensures that they will pursue you doggedly until you stop and look the truth. It may sicken you and disgust you and force your fear up to the level of terror at first. You may have great difficulty believing that people who were supposed to love you, whom you trusted, could choose to hurt you so much. To get through the process of facing the truth of your past, you’ll probably need the help of a professional who knows how to guide you through it without traumatizing you further. But you can learn how to cope when the memories come back unbidden again when you are not with your therapist.
If you’re experiencing an ugly memory that seems to take your breath away, try to ground yourself in the present. Feel the chair you’re sitting in, look at your surroundings, take your hands and rub them back and forth on your legs and listen to the sounds around you as you put your memory back in the past. Tactile sensations are helpful in bringing you out of the memory and into the present, so doing things like holding ice in your hand does wonders to banish the lingering memory. If you can, pick up a magazine or newspaper to verify the date to remind yourself you are in the present. Look in a mirror to see that you’re not a small, vulnerable child any longer.
Work to calm your breathing. First, exhale slowly and completely through pursed lips. Your chest should drop as you do this. Next, breathe in slowly through your nose as you focus on your diaphragm rising while your lungs fill with air. Repeat this slowly and gently ten times. If you begin to feel dizzy, stop for a moment, then begin again.
The scent of lavender works wonders for some people, like me, for example. You can find lavender in different forms at most bath stores. Put a dab on the pulse points, and then let it work its magic. I like to lie down, close my eyes and focus on the scent. Perhaps you have music that is particularly soothing to you. Try putting that on to play, and, again, lie down and let it wash over you.
Some people have relaxation CDs meant exactly for this purpose. Relaxation CDs are available at most music retailers. Many are available free through iTunes, YouTube, and other Internet sources. Or you may have the voice of your therapist taking you through guided imagery. I used to listen to one every night in order to fall asleep.
And some people have a prescription for anxiety medication from their doctor. However, reserve the meds as a last resort to be used only if and when you’ve tried everything else. Use them exactly as instructed by your physician and avoid alcohol! That is critical. No alcohol if you’ve taken an anti-anxiety medication. They do not mix!
Hopefully, by now your troublesome memories have dissipated and you are feeling calmer and more peaceful. The more you practice relaxation, the more adept and effective you will become at dealing with the nightmares of the past.