Do you effectively respond when faced with true potential danger?
It’s hard to know when a worry is real or imagined and when you should run from danger or think about it. A common problem for sure! Over time you may have lost the ability to differentiate between primal fear and worry.
Your innate primal survival gift is the ability to feel and decipher your body’s messages (your felt sense or emotion), to interpret them accurately and respond.
For many of us that ability has become obscured and weakened with a mind and body uncertain about what is a true danger and what is a chronic worry.
I was listening to Oprah’s Supersoul Podcast yesterday in which she was talking about responding to our body’s innate signal of predatory danger to protect ourselves from attacks. In it she offered some clear instructions especially for women to pay attention to and respond to the feeling of danger and to override learned “polite” behavior.
Over and over Oprah repeated that the “feeling” you get when you are in the presence of danger is an important instruction.
“Listen to your gut,” she says. And far be it from me to disagree with Oprah. She is right. Humans do have the same safety sensors as animals.
The problem is we override our genuine instincts with thoughts and worry. You know the thoughts: I need to be kind. I don’t dare anger anyone. I’m being ridiculous and paranoid. He won’t like me. People will make fun of me.
Oprah’s pragmatic instructions are especially difficult for those of us who consider ourselves chronic worriers.
When worry chronically floods your body, how can you trust your body’s feelings enough to listen and respond?
Several years ago, my son and his then girlfriend (both sensitive, worrisome people) had an encounter outside of his apartment. A young man was walking down their street and was apparently commiserating with them as they noticed the girlfriend’s car window had been smashed.
Already on high alert upon noticing the broken window, they felt extra anxious about the young man who had stopped to chat. However, in an effort to be “good people” and not offend the young man in any way, they overrode the danger cues for just a few moments.
The result was disastrous, a brutal attack that left my son and another friend beaten and those witnessing and trying to help traumatized.
For many, dismissing worried feelings has become an important tool to successfully get through the day.
Personally, when I’m asked to pay attention and respond to my sensations of danger, there is a part of me that wants to hide in the closet instead.
The need to stay physically safe is yet another reason why it is vitally important to slow down during everyday moments and learn about worried feelings, rather than simply trying to stuff them or ignore them.
When you try to ignore, dismiss or shame worry, anxiety and fear, you teach your body to mistrust itself.
This act is not only unhealthy, it can be dangerous. And I think it’s getting worse with increased fear-mongering in our nation. The body can only handle just so much fight and flight response and then, if you cannot act to relieve stress, you shut down, become apathetic and collapse in the body’s natural protective response. As you can see, this chronic response is dangerous on a personal and an aggregate scale.
But here’s the thing: you can absolutely help yourself to realign with your body’s messages, to access sensations of calm and to recognize and trust true cues of danger.
As I’ve become more aware of and actually respectful toward worry, I realize how many little things I do to calm and stay clear without fear.
Here’s a tiny, hilarious practice that I noticed I was using just the other day.
I wanted to warm up some homemade waffle pieces. The waffles’ odd shapes worried me: what if they get caught in the toaster? Fearful images of fire flash in my head. I can smell the smoke! I recognized the danger “twinge” as I contemplated how to make my breakfast. And then I saw my handy wooden toast tongs, right there attached to the toaster. A smile came to my face, and I heard myself say, “Thank you toast tongs!”
As soon as the thought of gratitude went out to the tongs (and myself for purchasing them and having them right on hand) my body calmed and I felt confident that I could successfully prepare my waffles. No danger here!
Silly, I know!
But hear me out:
Tiny practical changes that calm worry help you stay connected to your body, clarify your thoughts and create more trusting relationship within.
There are many ways to begin a practice of connection within yourself. This connection is crucial to detecting true danger. The toast tong tactic is just one you can begin today.
Here are 4 simple and fun steps to get started.
1. If you’re unsure of what your body feels when you worry, take some notes. The next time you worry, breathe and ask: How do I know I am worried? Soon the sensation of worry will become an obvious feeling you can easily detect.
2. Track this worry sensation as you go about your day (just as I did with the waffle prep). Think: Ah hah! There’s that little worry again. It’s just a quick alert of real or imagined danger.
3. Acknowledge any immediate worry relief and notice anything that helped you.
4. Express gratitude toward the source of relief and to your body for swiftly calming even a little. Examples of sources of relief:
- modern conveniences like ice makers and GPS
- compassionate self talk
- physical comforts like a sweater or air conditioning
- your own strong, capable body
- a friend or support
- resources like time, money or sleep
- your voice advocating for your needs
- your higher power
How does this practice aid and restore your ability to survive true dangers?
As your body calms over time, you will trust yourself more and more. Your intuitions will become clear and restored to their natural role in your life. And, as you grow more confident and intuitive, unrealistic fears lessen and you are better able to be a wise and compassionate human in this world.
May you be safe and calm.
For many more tips on how to begin – Calm Your Worries: Unlock Your Secret Code to Lasting Stress Relief and Self-Confidence.