“The ego is kind of a big, unwieldy thing. It’s not so easily tamed or subdued.”
– Alan Ball
I don’t remember when I first began feeling anxious. Perhaps it was in high school, when I feared that I would not get into college, find a job, and live the life I wanted. The fear of failure was there even before that. It is quite possible that I have experienced anxiety and panic attacks through most of my life.
There was always this tremendous fear of the things that lie ahead, and a positive outcome would not relieve it. I feared getting into college, until I did so, effortlessly. But the 6 years I spent working on my bachelor’s were spent worrying about whether I would find a job after graduation.
During that time, I also worried about whether my boyfriend would marry me, and after he did, I worried about whether he would stay with me, whether I was good enough. I worried about money constantly, confident that once I got that job, I would stop worrying.
Of course, I got that job easily, but now I worried about keeping it. I became sick to my stomach at every end-of-the school year mention of layoffs. I was terrified of a bad review and beat up on myself whenever I made a mistake.
The irony is that this constant anxiety made me behave in ways that led to fear becoming reality. Because I was afraid of not having enough money, I didn’t keep as tight of tabs on the budget as I could have, and we often overspent. My panic over not having enough after this overspending led me to make more destructive choices with money, leading us to always be broke and stressed out.
I feared losing my marriage, so I kept secrets. I hid any mistake that I made that I thought would anger my husband. I didn’t set boundaries, because I feared that I would lose him if I did so. I sacrificed my needs in my efforts to please him.
I was so terrified of losing my job, that I also became unable to establish boundaries there. I would offer to do more than I was capable of doing, leading to repercussions and more promises that I couldn’t keep. I became an outcast, because I was afraid of forming relationships with my co-workers.
My mind was constantly in fear, and I found myself resorting to addictive behaviors in order to soothe it. I drank in the evenings, I overate, I spent more time online than talking to people in real life. I became clingy to anyone would provide me with attention, validation, and understanding, because I could not give these things to myself. Of course, I was terrified of losing such a person, and my clinginess nearly always drove them away.
My mind was a wild horse, running freely and wrecklessly in the blind terror of being imprisoned by walls it couldn’t understand.
The Taming Begins
It was in my tenth year of teaching that I began to see that the walls that were imprisoning me were actually my thoughts. Someone suggested that I note all the labels I had been giving myself. This initially led to more anxiety, as I didn’t know what was “real” and what was not.
My growing understanding led me to leave my job and move across the country. I was certain that this would stop the cycle of fear, but it did not. I was terrified of losing my new job, people seemed to be stabbing me in the back, and the pattern was repeating itself.
It was much easier to see the repeating pattern after moving. While the pattern was the clearest at work, I also observed that I was continuing to have the same financial and marital fears and patterns as well. I saw that I was imprisoned, I saw that I was stressed, but I could not find a way out of it.
I actually began having more panic attacks during this time, because I was afraid that this pattern would be my life, that there was no way to break it. Simply becoming aware was the first step, but it would require many more baby steps in order to gain that wild horse’s trust and, ultimately, to tame it.
How I Tamed the Wild Horse
During the 2 ½ years after our move, I worked closely with a life coach, who helped me to gain the tools to help me calm my mind and find a way to stop all of the fear-based patterns that had kept me trapped for so long.
It was slow work, and at times it felt like I was going two steps forward and one step back. But, in the end, I found that I worried much less. All of my relationship grew stronger, and I no longer sought attention, validation, and understanding from those around me. I was now able to find these within myself.
Here are some lessons that I learned from my journey:
1. Make basic needs a priority. If I didn’t eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, and drink enough water, I was highly likely to have a panic attack and experience more fear than if I had met these needs. When we don’t meet our needs, our minds go into survival mode, constantly scanning for possible threats.
2. Focus on relaxation. The most important thing I learned is that my fears were not based on reality. Even when my mind was unable to believe this, I would take the time to do breathing exercises to calm and reassure my mind. Doing this helped to stop all the stress hormones and allow me to think more clearly about the situation.
3. Redefine limiting beliefs. With my life coach, I learned a process for redefining the beliefs that were behind my fears, so that I no longer experienced the fear. Even when I am afraid or anxious now, I can use the tools I learned to question and redefine the thing that is causing me to be afraid. Redefining is an important step, because it “convinces” the subconscious mind that the fear is not true. Simply repeating affirmations only affects the conscious mind, so the fears are likely to return.
4. Be patient with yourself. Overcoming fear and anxiety takes time, and trying to force changes too quickly will only lead to more anxiety. Change must be slow, so that the mind can accept it and feel safe.
When you take the time to tame your own wild horse, you will find that the power and energy that your mind has been putting into fear can be re-channeled into creativity and brilliance. Take some time to give your mind some attention, to see the reality beyond your fear and patterns. What could you possibly have to lose?