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How To Free Yourself From Fearful Thoughts

How To Free Yourself From Fearful Thoughts

Many of us are susceptible to fearful thoughts during our lives, as well as feelings of dread and anxiety. If you have experienced this it is important you know that you are not different or broken; you are human. Having experienced this himself, Josh Bowler has shared six tips to help you free yourself of fearful thoughts:

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Here I am, huddled up close to the wood burner, my only source of heat, sitting on an old recliner chair that was given to me, in a rented apartment with windows soaked with condensation. Outside it is cold, wet, and dreary, a typical English winter’s day.

My business folded in July with substantial personal debt and I turned forty-four in August.

Perhaps not the most heart-warming start to a post, but rather some raw facts of how my life is now, not x number of years ago before I turned my life around, but now! I’m pretty sure I am not alone in this situation I find myself.

In July when I folded my never very successful business resulting in substantial personal debt, the first thing I did was completely freak out—panic attacks, endless anxiety, depressive thoughts, the whole nine yards.

I went to my doctor who gave me anti-anxiety medication without a second thought. I tried them for a couple of months, but I had been down that route before and this time I felt that it was not the solution to my problems. So after consulting with the doc I carefully weaned myself off of them.

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What I needed was answers as to what was causing me so much pain inside rather than a Band-Aid to cover it. I needed to find out why I seemed to have spent my entire life under a shadow, a shadow from which I never felt comfortable emerging to engage fully with the world for fear of being seen.

Enter Tiny Buddha. I found Tiny Buddha by chance while endlessly searching for answers as to what was broken in me. What I discovered after reading hundreds of posts was a revelation: I am not broken.

After digging deeper, I began to realize that I was locked in a trance most of the time, a trance created by my egoic mind. A trance shaped by fear during my formative years. My psyche was trying to protect me from the fear and lack of safety I felt when growing up; it was trying to keep me safe.

My childhood interpretation of the events I experienced, combined with non-compassionate and non-understanding authority figures, led my psyche to decide that the best way to deal with life was to retreat to a place of safety and hide, to not get involved or be exposed in any way.

It met any situation or event that it interpreted as fearful with vigorous resistance.

As most things in life contain some element of fear and anticipation, especially new things, my egoic mind trance was active most of the time, constantly in the background, ready to come to my rescue at the slightest whiff of perceived danger.

The irony is that my mind’s way of “rescuing” me was to paralyze me with feelings of dread, worry, and anxiety, coupled with the physical feelings associated with panic. 

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It’s not easy when your egoic mind has spent the greater part of your life trying to convince you that it is the only place where you are safe.

Over the years the egoic mind has plenty of time to really go to town building a devilishly intricate trance machine that becomes deeply entrenched in the psyche. Mine was so entrenched that I thought it was me. Until recently, that is.

What I am learning from reading many posts on Tiny Buddha, which led me to books, podcasts, and other resources on the subject of the being, is this:

1. We need to realize that we truly are not our thoughts.

Our thoughts come from the egoic mind. We are the awareness that hears the thoughts.

When you talk to yourself inside your mind, to whom are you actually talking? It is your awareness, and that is who you are, that is your being. Not the thoughts.

Your thoughts are just constructs of your egoic mind. You can actually choose to let them float on by without believing or engaging them, should you choose to.

2. Understand it is not your fault that your mind is causing you such pain; it’s a product of evolution. 

Back in the days of caves and things with sharp pointy teeth, you were more likely to survive if you were ever vigilant of danger—meaning the genes that favored this behavior were more likely to get passed down… to you.

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The egoic mind thinks it is helping you by keeping you safe and trapped inside a trance. It is not its fault, and you have to face your trance thoughts with compassion and love, and be able to forgive yourself. It really isn’t your fault.

3. Use meditation and mindfulness throughout the day; learn to see the space between the real you—which is awareness—and the egoic mind, as its thoughts race by.

Observe thoughts for what they are: just thoughts. Try not to allow yourself to become absorbed in your thoughts and go into trance, but do not punish yourself if you do.

Be kind and compassionate to yourself when you recognize you have drifted away and start fresh in the moment, returning to a state of mindful awareness whenever you can.

4. Identify the trance thoughts and emotions as they arise and name them.

For example, “Oh, this is fear I am feeling, just fear,” or “I feel you dread and worry; it’s okay,” or “Hello shame and unworthiness; I see you.”

This technique of compassionate recognition will reduce the power they have over you, as you have exposed them for what they really are: just thoughts.

5. Remember that it takes perseverance and practice, lots of it.

Another fun thing we inherited from our ancestors is that the fear of something can become embedded in our long-term memory even after a single, brief exposure to it. Conversely, it takes much longer and repeated exposure to positive stimuli before they are committed to long-term memory.

6. Each time you notice yourself in a state of negativity, use it as an opportunity to practice, to mindfully observe your thoughts with acceptance and compassion.

This will allow them to flow through and out of you rather than be kept inside to be constantly recycled.

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Do not beat yourself up if you find it difficult to let go of thinking. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. It took you more than a few days to learn to read and write. It will take a little time for you to calm your egoic mind and let your awareness shine through.

This is the path I have begun to walk. I’ve begun to let go of expectations about others and myself; to learn to be compassionate and to love myself; to accept who I am, and where I am in this moment; to try not to judge others or myself. To know that in this moment everything is okay.

And now that my cat is lying on my lap, I guess that means it is time to finish this. Life is all about these moments.

Josh Bowler is a musician, writer and ecologist stepping back on the path he inadvertently left 24 years ago and finding it is all still there just waiting to be seen. He has a blog telluwot.com/complete-being/ and has written a short guidebook on the subject of dealing with anxiety and stress.

6 Tips to Help You Free Yourself from Your Fearful Thoughts | Tiny Buddha

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Siobhan Harmer

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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