Stress and Fear

Stress and fear often go together and dealing with stress created by fear is not always easy - especially those so called "irrational fears" that many of us have.

In the article below, the author of Turn Stress Into Bliss, Michael Lee, talks about events that might shed insight into this dilemma.

Taming the Tiger

Fear of something, no matter what it is, can be a source of stress. And it's often very different for each of us. For a teenage girl I worked with recently, it was fear of flying. For my wife, it's fear of supermarkets. How do we deal with these so called "little stress fears"?

It's been said that we shouldn't sweat the petty stuff, but that's easier said than done. There are various approaches ranging from "embracing the beast" to "turning and running".

A while back, I had the pleasure of leading an Introduction to Aviation Week for ten students from a nearby private high school. Flying is one of my passions and so it was a great chance for me to give back something I've gained from my 20 or so years of flying airplanes.

On the first day I asked them why they had chosen this class. The responses were varied and many talked about the adventure and excitement that went with taking to the air. For Victoria though it was very different. She said she was afraid of flying. Terrified, in fact. For her this fear created a lot of stress. She talked about the physical reactions in her body every time she set foot on a plane to go anywhere. She had decided that by learning more about airplanes and even getting to fly one, could be one way she would overcome the stress and fear it created.

On the first day we went flying. The weather was not the best and it was pretty bumpy aloft. Victoria let out a scream or two as the airplane bounced around. I began to wonder if this "self therapy" she had prescribed for herself might not work out. By the third day she was much more relaxed and was beginning to enjoy the experience. By the last day of the program she was ecstatic as she took the controls and actually flew the airplane herself for a while with my guidance. In her evaluation she wrote: "Taking this course has taught me not to be afraid anymore. Because I faced my stress and fear and allowed myself to embrace the rawest form of flying I will probably experience, I am no longer worried!" Victoria had truly "embraced the beast and tamed it".

My wife Lori really hates supermarkets and when in one for any length of time beyond a few minutes, she experiences stress related symptoms. She feels nauseous, light headed, and unstable on her legs. If she pushes through these symptoms, she then gets a headache and by the time she gets to the checkout she's often feeling like throwing up. For many years she's tried to overcome the stress and fear of supermarkets by "just doing it anyway".

As a small child from a large family, she went several times a week to the several different supermarkets with her mother for prolonged shopping experiences armed with coupons and lists. She hated it. She felt very small inside the big store and the array of stuff on the shelves was overwhelming. The stress and fear of not getting the best bargain was ever present for her mother and the high powered fluorescent lights tended to make her feel sick in the stomach. Every time she left a store, she inwardly wished it might be the last time she'd ever have to go into one.

On the other hand, I love supermarkets. I read labels and spend additional time seeking out new products to try. I enjoy looking for the bargains, chat with the guy at the seafood counter, talk to people I meet, and generally come away feeling pleased with the experience. No stress or fear for me - just fun. So in our family it's a no-brainer. I do most of the grocery shopping each week and have done for years. One of the most loving things I can do for my wife is to reassure her that she doesn't have to step foot in a supermarket again if she doesn't want to. This "stay away from the damned tiger at all costs" strategy works just fine for her.

This weekend we changed the clocks forward one hour for the return to daylight saving time. I couldn't help but notice how I chose to "hug the tiger" on Saturday night. Before going to bed I made sure all the clocks were changed, remembering how in years past when waiting until the next day to change some of the clocks and forgetting to change others, I had managed to create some stress next day around us knowing what time it really was. For me, I find that when I notice the urge to procrastinate and then consciously choose not to, it makes for a less stressful time ahead. If I can overcome the fear of action now, I can prevent the stress later on.

In these examples I have outlined above there are three common elements. They are: Awareness, Choice, and Action. If you want to know more about these in more detail there is a chapter on each in my book Turn Stress Into Bliss.

To shortcut though, you can ask yourself these questions: "What are the little fears (tigers) in my life that create stress?" "What are my choices with each?" "What action do I want to take?"

So what DO you do with your stress fears or "tigers" in life? What works and what doesn't? For more stories on Stress and Fear read Michael's blog

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