Day 10: Somatic Tracking II: Anxiety Strikes Back A Tale of Two Fears Steer Clear of Fears John Madden was a Hall-of-Fame NFL broadcaster. Every season from 1979-2009, he traveled from city to city to announce the games. His first year on the job, he was flying out of Tampa, and before the plane even took off, he had a panic attack. “You think you’re going to die,” he said, “I was sweating, shaking…the whole thing.” A few weeks later, he got back on a plane, and had another panic attack. And then it happened a third time. After that, he bought a bus. For the next 30 years, John Madden drove around the country, and never stepped foot on a plane again. Blood, Sweat, and Fears For as long as he could remember, David Burns wanted to be a doctor. While this would be an ambitious goal for most people, David had a particularly unique barrier: he had hemophobia – an extreme fear of blood. It’s not a good sign when a doctor’s more afraid of giving a shot than a patient is of getting one. To overcome his fear, David took an extreme step: he volunteered to draw blood at Stanford Hospital, three times a week, for two years. The more exposure he had to blood, the more his fear began diminishing…and after several months, it had completely disappeared. David Burns went on to get his MD, and became a best-selling author and a leader in the self-esteem movement. The Road Less Traveled Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling, and most of the time we run away from it. We distract ourselves in whatever ways we can – drinking, smoking, stress eating, living on our phones, checking Facebook twenty times a day, watching reality TV – all to avoid facing the uncomfortable sensation of anxiety. There are two ways you can deal with fear – you can habitually avoid it, like John Madden, or you can lean into it, like David Burns. Somatic Tracking is a direct way of confronting your fear. Instead of running from the physical sensation of your anxiety, you embrace it. In the following clip, Denise is able to use Somatic Tracking to regulate her anxiety, and hone a sense of safety: So, I have two questions for you: 1. Do you avoid / run from / distract yourself from your anxiety? 2. Is it working? When we avoid any physical sensation, we're giving our brains the message, "This feeling is dangerous." But there is another way. Simply by attending to our anxiety, we stop running. This action alone communicates a message of safety, and can help deactivate our brains' danger signals. Unlearning Fear Neural pathway pain arises in those with a strong mindbody connection. Not everyone can generate such powerful physical sensations with their brain. My favorite analogy for this comes from Star Wars: “The Force” is stronger in some than others. And fear is the path to the dark side. If you can change your relationship with fear, you can develop new neural pathways and deactivate your brain’s danger signals. Like Yoda said, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” When you attend to the physical sensation of anxiety with genuine curiosity, you’re leaning into the fear. Your anxiety might increase, decrease, or move around. You don't need to change it, you don't need to fight it, you don't need to run. All you need you to do is watch.