Reining in anxiety and fear
It’s the end of the week, your flight arrives late, you’re tired, and all you want to do is go home, eat something, unwind and have a good night’s sleep. You grab your carry-on and make the long hike to the parking lot where you finally find your car and notice it has a flat tire.
After spending an hour or so fixing your flat, you exit the parking lot covered in tire dust. As you head home in a huff you notice in your rearview mirror flashing red and blue lights.
You get pulled over for speeding.
And all this happens before the crack of dawn.
This is where the power of making a conscious decision comes into play. You can flip-out and be miserable because of these circumstances, blaming the airline for being late, cursing the tire for being flat and the police officer for pulling you over.
You can consider better options.
We can choose the meaning of things we experience, and see them in a more empowering way, even if it means using a little imagination to adjust our sight.
Had your flight departed as scheduled you may have encountered a deadly storm.
The time it took you to fix the flat and deal with the police officer could have put you in harm’s way had these interruptions never occurred.
The meaning we give to things happening to us is our choice. If we can get those maddening, worrying thoughts out of our head, we can face any situation with clearer vision and make better decisions.
A happy place on Lake Tahoe
Taking this a step further, when faced with a bout of fear, it may be helpful to visit your “happy place,” that place in your memory where things are stress-free, calm and pleasant.
In Jonathan D. Spence’s book, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, Matteo Ricci taught the Chinese how to build a memory palace, a method for eliminating forgetfulness. In this memory system, he explained these palaces were mental structures to be kept in one’s head, not solid objects to be literally constructed out of “real” materials.
A spin on this memory palace concept is your happy place. Remember Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore?
One of my other "happy places" on Lake Tahoe
For me, I remember being petrified to talk in front of a group of people. To overcome this fear of public speaking I went into my own mind and visited my happy place, a beach on Cat Island in the Bahamas. I imagined giving my presentation to people in shorts and t-shirts sitting down by the water.
Wherever I happen to be on this planet, I can always conjure the smell of sea salt and feel the warmth of Bahamian sunshine. I can hear the waves crashing on shore and the sound of wind whistling through the tall pine trees.
Going back there in my mind literally helped with my fear of public speaking. Afterall, how could I fear speaking to a group of random people sitting on my favorite beach?
Embracing Life-Threatening Fear
Public speaking is one thing. But what about a genuine life-threatening scenario? How can we put our mind to work to avoid panic?
I’ve had two such situations in my life: one when I was 15, the other when I was 56.
Me at 15 getting ready to solo for the first time in my life.
Life threatening event #1
I was a boy on Cat Island, only this time I wasn’t on the beach celebrating the sunshine.
Cat Island, in the Bahamas - my sister and I spent a great deal of our childhood life on Frankfort Point, (bottom center of the island)
I was flying solo in a Cessna 206 Stationair, and after two failed attempts to land on the short dirt runway, with a lagoon at one end and a hill at the other, I began to panic (see photos below).
Cutlass Bay Airstrip
On Cutlass Bay Rd, taxiing in the 206 to the runway
Cessna 7362N, dad's 206 Stationair in flight
Fear crept into my mind and rolled down my spine. My hands began to shake and my eyes shifted erratically over the instrument panel and out the window. I was 15 years old, alone in this high performance airplane, and terrified. I knew I had to land it or I would crash, and crashing wasn't an option.
My mind could have flooded with horrible things. But instead, I imagined I had already crashed, the worst possible scenario, and said to myself, “Now what?”
Once I got those terrifying thoughts out of my head, I was able to think with more clarity and make better decisions. Here's the full story: Embracing Fear.
Fast Forward to 2019..
Tram Face, Olympic Valley, CA
Life threatening event #2
As a new resident of Lake Tahoe I was climbing up Tram Face in Olympic Valley, CA (see photo above) and found myself stuck in a bad spot about a thousand feet above ground.
I was pressed vertically in a crack of granite losing my mind. It seemed impossible to wiggle my way down, and equally impossible to move any further up.
I considered my options: Call for a helicopter to pull me off this rock, or phone a friend and ask for help. I chose the latter and called Nicola who at the time lived in England. She knew Tram Face from living there a while back and I hoped she could suggest some options.
Through FaceTime Nicola was able to see I was under the Aerial Tram wires. She knew exactly where I was and recommended I carefully crawl over to a place called Via Ferrata, a protected climbing route ascending 800 vertical feet to the summit.
If I could just get to the top, there's an easy hike down the other side of this mountain.
When I finally arrived at the Via Ferrata high above Olympic Valley, I was ecstatic to see the metal handles and steel cables anchored into the rock - something to hang on to.
My first steel rung up Via Ferrata
But now I faced a new challenge: I had no harness or lanyard to connect to the cables. If I was going to go up Via Ferrata I'd have to pull myself up 800 feet and hang on to those rungs and cables with my bare hands as if my life depended on it, because it most certainly did.
And that was just the beginning of my terrifying journey, there was a 50-foot-long "Super Monkey Bridge" I had to cross using only one cable for my bare hands and one cable for my feet.
Once again, I imagined the worst case scenario (slip and fall off Tram Face), put myself past it and said, "Now what?"
I made it to the summit... just below the tram tower atop the cliff. Here's the full story: The Beauty of Uncertainty
Fear creates doubt, and doubt creates mistakes.
Half the battle with fear is embracing it. By embracing fear we shake its muddy, maddening thoughts out of our head, the kind of limiting thoughts preventing us from making better decisions... in some cases, life saving decisions. But by moving past the fear, and asking, "Now what?" we keep the fear from pushing us around.
Overcoming fear can be a defining moment in your life as it was twice for me. When you lean into it you learn a lot about what’s inside of you. You discover confidence and skills you never knew existed.
I’m Michael Kennedy, Olympic Valley, CA resident, married to Nicola Kennedy (in photo above). I’m a premium ghostwriter and photographer. I just want to say thanks for your attention - I appreciate it in such a noisy world. If you enjoyed it, please share with others.
It means a lot to me and it helps others see the story.
If you're interested in owning any photos in this post or in my gallery: click here, call or text me at 530.608.9150. Let me know what size you want, and I'll send a quote. My email: email@example.com.