Have you ever thought about creating a mental emergency preparedness kit? A little run in with some coyotes reminded me of the importance of this and being prepared so that normal fear doesn’t turn into panic.
Last week I was out walking my dog Axl and came across a coyote. Usually when I see them, they just bark and run away. But on this day, he was very curious about us. As I turned to go another direction and he followed me. Not really being concerned yet, I picked up the pace and so did the coyote. I stopped, turned around and he stopped and sat. Each time I moved, he moved. Eventually another coyote came out and now I’m freaked. Not knowing what the protocol is to deal with coyotes, panic set in. Do I run, do I scream? I had no idea. My fear turned into panic and I ran, more concerned about my dog than myself. One coyote wouldn’t take my 90-pound beast, but two definitely could. We ran as fast as we could until we got back to the car.
Sweating, unable to breathe, my heart was pounding! I was in total panic mode. As I got safely in my car, I looked back to the trail and there was the coyote, just sitting there, still watching us. One of them followed me all the way!
When I arrived home, still flustered, I broke down. Tears just flowed as I told my husband the story. Adrenal now gone, all that was left was all the emotion of fear that needed to be released. Did it ever feel good to cry!
I share this story with you all today because I wasn’t prepared. Had I known a little bit more about what I should do, and how to be safe, I would not have panicked and run. Which, by the way, my husband said is the #1 thing you don’t do and is why they most likely followed me. With a quick Google search, I’m now prepared to head back into the bush with my dog. Instead of deciding never to go to my favourite place again, I’m ready. I’ll still be afraid, but it will be cautious fear, not panic.
Being Prepared Keeps Fear From Turning Into Panic
This is often what happens when we are not prepared. Fear turns into panic and we just don’t make the best decisions from a panicked state. In fact, it often keeps us from being, doing and having what we desire.
Fear is normal; we want that, it helps us to decide what to do and be cautious when we need to be. It gives us adrenal that we need to run when we need to run.
Panic makes us irrational. Panic makes us do things we wouldn’t normally do. Panic makes us treat people in ways we never believed we would ever treat people. Panic makes us react, behave, act, decide, and feel things that we often regret later.
My fear was a completely normal response to a fearful experience. Adrenalin pumped through my body, exactly what I need for real danger. Our brain is designed to protect us for when we are in a dangerous situation. Preparedness would have made my mind sharp, telling my body exactly what I needed to do in that situation, which was freeze, not run. When all systems are running correctly, our sympathetic nervous system turns on and we can go into fight, flight or freeze.
Our bodies are not designed to be in such a state 24 hours a day, for days on end. Unfortunately, for many of you, fear and panic is the daily norm. Many of us have programmed our brains to believe that we are constantly being chased by coyotes.
It might look like anxiety, chronic stress, being afraid of things that are not actually real dangerous situations, panicking when there is potential conflict and avoiding it, fearing emotional discomfort, not doing things because you are afraid of failing. The list goes on.
Let’s take a little detour into the difference between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for the “fight or flight” response during any potential danger. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system inhibits the body from overworking and restores the body to a calm and composed state. This is what happens and needs to happen. Our bodies are not designed to carry the heavy burden of being in a constant state of high stress, high adrenaline, high fight or flight all the time.
Feel The Fear, But Avoid The Panic
I’m a strong believer that when we are prepared and know how to react, respond, behave and act in situations that are scary, our fear will help us instead of hinder us.
You can be afraid of public speaking, but by being prepared, your fear won’t paralyze you into not doing it. You can be afraid of failure, but by being prepared, you will know that you are doing everything you can to prevent failure so that if it doesn’t work out, you can simply just learn and shift instead of giving up. You can be afraid of getting hurt, but by being prepared, you can do the healing work of strengthening your trust muscles.
Begin to pay attention to what and where in your life you haven’t been doing things because you are afraid or in panic mode. Instead of trying to eliminate your fears, a very natural response, what can you do instead to prepare yourself for what it is that you have been wanting to do?
For example, before I public speak, I prepare myself with a deep breathing exercise and visualization on how I want the event to go. I feel the success of it. It calms my nervous system and creates the story of success in my mind. That way, my mind doesn’t need to panic because it knows, through the visualization, that even though it is a little scary, it can go really well – failure isn’t the only option. This is how we use our mind to work for us, instead of against us.
Think of this exercise like having a storm disaster kit in your home. You wouldn’t just wing it if you knew big storm was coming. You would get out the candles and flashlights and prepare yourself. This is the same thing. Feel the fear, but avoid the panic by strengthening your emotional and mental muscles and when you need to tell your brain that you are not actually in real danger, so it won’t turn on its sympathetic nervous system when you don’t need it to.