Simple Trick to Overcoming Fear
by Brenda Wisniewski on 06/07/13
My 5 year old daughter says to me the other night, "Mommy, I'm scared of the dark, will you lay down with me? I can't sleep, because I'm too scared". She has said this to me before, especially after the bombings that happened at the Boston Marathon. Having lived in Cambridge, MA for many years I have a lot of friends living there and some who were at the race, either running in it or watching their loved ones run. Unfortunately, my daughter heard me on the phone and saw some of the television reports about the day's events. This caused her to be afraid of bad guys as well.
I've been doing my best up to this point trying to alleviate her fear by telling her she's safe, mommy is just down the hall, and by leaving the light on in her closet all night, and trying to convince her there's nothing to worry about. But, on this night, I realized that those words were not working. She needed something else. So, I thought what if I teach her what I use in my coaching practice with my clients when releasing fears. At first, I thought she's too young, she''ll never understand it, but then I thought what do I have to lose, so I went ahead and told her one of the tools.
I said, in simple terms, "Just stop thinking about it and instead think about something else that makes you feel good. If thinking about the dark and bad guys makes you scared then stop thinking about them and choose to think about something that you like and feels great". I went on to explain that she can choose what she thinks about, she is not her thoughts, she can let them go. She seemed to understand what I was saying and was immediately relieved that she had a tool, something new to try out. She was desperately wanting this fear to go away so she was willing to give this a try.
She went to bed that night without a problem, fell asleep right away and didn't wake up in the middle of the night. I didn't think anything of it, until the next day when we were on our way to swim class and she said to me, "Mommy, I'm going to do that thing again". I said, "What thing"? And, she said, "I'm not going to think at swim". And, I said, "Oh, you mean you're not going to think negative thoughts, but instead your going to think positive thoughts about swimming". And, she said "Yes, that thing". I went on to say "Instead of thinking about how deep the water is which makes you scared you can choose to think about how much fun swimming is and how you can't wait to jump in the pool with the other kids and you can remind yourself that you can do this."
She would normally hang on to her teacher's hand with a death grip and have severe anxiety, because she was too scared to swim by herself. We would tell her she was safe and we would never let anything happen to her, but that never worked, she was always still frightened. Until yesterday. She went to swim class, jumped in the pool with a big smile, said hello to her teacher, then under the teacher's instructions and without hesitation she swam all the way across the pool. Her teacher looked up at me with amazement and even mouthed to me "Oh My God". She couldn't believe it. It was day and night. My daughter had a big smile on her face and was all proud. She looked back at me and said "Mommy, I did it". I said, "Yes you did - you did a great job!". The rest of the lesson was a success as well.
As I think back on this, I'm realizing that telling her she's safe is out of her control, it doesn't empower her to believe it, but by giving her this tool, and teaching her how to shift her perspective and choose her thoughts wisely she was able in an INSTANT to transform her experience.
I hope this story inspires you to think about where you could apply this tool in your life. Where are you afraid? Where are you feeling stuck, frustrated or anxious? Try this out. Choose to think about something positive, something that makes you feel good and let those negative thoughts go and see what happens. Watch your experience change without the situation changing. It's amazing how this works and feels great, because it puts you in the driver's seat and you're no longer victim to life.
Kudos to my daughter for recognizing she didn't want to feel this way anymore and for being open to trying something new and doing something about it. She's an inspiration to me and I hope to you all as well.