Monday, April 7, 2014

Scary Thrills Or Irrational Dread - Working With Fear and Anxiety

Many people enjoy getting scared with thrill rides, horror movies, bungee jumping, running in front of bulls. But what about dealing with unwanted terror? And can fear ever be useful for personal growth?

If you feel blocked from expressing your talents because of anxiety, there are many ways to help deal with it.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is "a normal reaction to stress. It helps one deal with a tense situation in the office, study harder for an exam, keep focused on an important speech. In general, it helps one cope."

But when anxiety "becomes an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it has become a disabling disorder."

We may feel anxiety without any "real" threat, such as social anxiety and stage fright, for example. Unless you consider the reaction of a potential date or an audience to be threats. Maybe they are, in a sense.

We may experience many flavors of fear in living life. The idea is not to get shut down by those emotions.

Psychiatrist Judith Orloff, M.D. quotes the Tao te Ching: "Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe."

She thinks "Fear is the biggest energy thief there is. A master seducer and gigantic source of negative energy, fear shamelessly robs of us of everything good and powerful, preys on our vulnerabilities.

"Many people become mesmerized for a lifetime, letting negative attitudes seize control. Enough! Though some fears are intuitively protective but we can't let the irrational ones bamboozle us."

But fear can even be helpful, according to Robert Maurer, a UCLA clinical psychologist. After interviewing many successful writers and other creative people, and reviewing research studies, Dr. Maurer found the one ingredient that is "nearly indispensable" to the creative process is fear.

"Fear is good," he says. "As children, fear is a natural part of our lives, but as adults we view fear as a disease. It's not a disease. Children say they are afraid or scared, but adults use the clinical terms anxiety or depression.

"Your skill at being able to nourish yourself and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them is your single greatest attribute as an artist and as a human being."

Philosopher and teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti affirmed, "What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it."

Some artists even welcome fear. Actor Sandra Bullock has commented, "I don't do anything anymore that feels safe. If it doesn't scare the crap out of you, then you're not doing the right thing."

But mostly we may learn to condemn or pathologize feelings, especially strong ones like fear and anxiety, and try to hide or shut them down.

Lesley Sword, of Gifted and Creative Services Australia, notes that "Speaking about and valuing our emotions can be very difficult to do in a society that values logical thinking and sees emotions as the opposite of rationality.

"However, if emotional intensity is seen by parents and presented positively to children as a strength, children can be helped to understand and value this gift. In this way emotionally intense children will be empowered to express their unique selves in the world and use their gifts and talents with confidence and joy."

That, of course, holds true for adults as well - gifted or not.

Anxiety, especially if it is strong enough to be considered a mood disorder, can deplete our confidence and joy, and keep us from developing our talents or living our lives fully.

So do whatever you can to free your mind and spirit from being clamped down by anxiety. Fortunately there are many therapies, self-help programs for meditation and stress management, lifestyle and nutritional approaches that can help relieve anxiety.

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