Challenge Fear with gratitude
When we challenge fear with gratitude we take back some of the territory that fear is trying to claim. Fear is a universal human experience but some of us (people with anxiety disorders especially) live in a state of fear more often than others. Gratitude is a profound human experience that can evoke a sense of warmth, lightness, and joy all things that are severely lacking when we worried and afraid.
A few years ago, I read the book The Hiding Place. It’s an autobiography of a woman named Corrie ten Boom who lived during the Nazi Holocaust. She and her family hid Jews in their home and oversaw a network of safe houses until they were tragically discovered and scattered to various concentration camps.
At one point in the story, Corrie and her sister were moved to a new facility where they would be sleeping. The facility was invested with fleas so much so that they could hear a whirring sound at all times from all the movement of the fleas. Upon entering the facility, Corrie’s sister said a prayer and gave thanks for the fleas. Corrie was horrified and could not, for obvious reasons, agree to be grateful for the fleas. She was overcome with fear and anger.
The response that makes the most sense in this scenario is fear and anger, right? Even still, for reasons beyond comprehension, Corrie’s sister looked at the situation and had anticipation that the fleas were serving a purpose greater than what she could see at that moment. This belief led her to gratitude.
Fast forward in the story, and I don’t want to share too many of the details in case you want to read the book, but the lives of Corrie and all the women who lived in that facility were spared when punishment and death were imminent. Why? Because the Nazi soldiers refused to enter their sleeping quarters. They were deterred by the fleas!
I am NOT saying that you must make lemonade from lemons or turn a blind eye to whatever suffering or setback you are experiencing. I share this story to advance the point that gratitude can offset fear. Corrie’s sister’s fear was not gone but she was able to experience gratitude alongside her fear and that made a terrible situation more bearable. It brought light to an incredibly dark place.
This is the time of year we hope to experience greater joy, connection, and peace when in fact it also affords us the opportunity to experience more fear, worry, and guilt. Among financial pressures, job strain, upsetting world-events, and changing family dynamics it can be difficult to experience gratitude. If you are not able to identify anything you are grateful for at this moment, I don’t want you to beat yourself up for that. I want you to offer yourself compassion and care like you would offer to a friend who is hurting. Here is a great resource that talks more about self-compassion or you can read this blog post.
If you are in a place where you can take a moment to step back mentally, emotionally or maybe even physically from whatever your current circumstances are, I want you to try the following:
Connect With The Present Moment
1- Simply notice. Notice what is happening in and around you. Take an observing stance with your thoughts, feelings and those around you. View your present circumstances with nonjudgemental curiosity.
2- In your noticing, find one thing to focus in on. It might be your breath as you exhale or the soft texture of your sweater or the way the sun is shining through your window and painting shadows on your walls. If kids are yelling and you can’t tune them out, focus on the strength and volume of their voices.
3- Give thanks for that thing no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. In noticing your breath, you might feel grateful for life. In noticing your sweater or the sun, you will be grateful for a sense warmth or comfort. In noticing your kids loud voices, you might be grateful for their health and your ability to hear them.
Studies show that people who experience gratitude experience more positive emotions which also translates to better health and overall quality of life. Gratitude can bring light to even the darkest of situations. While it is not a cure for anxiety or depression it can be a source of relief, hope, and comfort. When you have moments of fear or worry, come back to the present and see if you can notice something to be grateful for.