You may think that you are afraid of an ever-growing list of places, tasks, people and situations. You are not. There is only ONE FEAR driving your anxiety disorder – fear of how you feel and what you think. Acknowledging the one fear can clarify and simplify your recovery path so let’s talk about it.
You may think that over time your list of fears has grown. You may find that the number of places, tasks, people and situations that you fear and avoid is growing with every passing week or even with every passing day. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed. You may feel that you are getting “worse” or that you are breaking or getting more ill as time passes. When your list of fears grows, recovery can feel overwhelming and confusing. Seeing yourself face a long list of diverse challenges and obstacles on the way to getting your life back can seem intimidating and almost impossible.
This is all incorrect. There is only ONE FEAR. You are afraid of how you feel and what you think while anxious. You have simply glued or attached this one fear to a growing list of places, tasks, people and situations over time. You do not fear the supermarket. You do not fear the doctor’s office. You do not fear being home alone. You do not fear eating certain foods or being in large crowds or feeling trapped. You only fear your own body and mind. You have learned to be afraid of the sensations and thoughts that come along with anxiety and panic. This is the one fear. It simply appears in more and more situations over time.
When you acknowledge the one fear, suddenly recovery will seem far less complicated and overwhelming. You will have one target to aim at. You don’t have to learn to walk around your neighborhood or go through the drive-through at McDonalds or take a vacation with your family. You only have to learn how not to fear your own body and thoughts. While that is certainly challenging and scary, it is quite possible and it is one task. Your recovery plan becomes focused on simply finding ways to confront the one fear in a systematic, incremental and consistent way over time. The one fear gives us an easy to understand and embrace goal. The one fear simplifies and clarifies.
When you understand that there is only one fear, you can let go of the shame, humiliation and embarrassment of being “afraid of everything”. You can stop blaming yourself for being incapable of stopping “the slide downhill”. You can let go of the idea that you are breaking more and more every day. You can be assured that recovery is not slipping away. Recovery has always been within your grasp. It simply lies beyond the one fear.
The one fear drives things like health anxiety and GAD too.
You may think that you are afraid of 17 different diseases, injuries, or ways to die. You are simply afraid of one thing – discomfort and death. The one fear in health anxiety doesn’t manifest as avoidance, it manifests as a compulsion to check, scan, and seek reassurance that discomfort and death are not coming. You do not have to overcome your fear of every possible malady. You only have to learn that you do not have to check, scan and seek reassurance to be OK.
You may think that you are afraid of simply being awake and aware. If you are feeling anxious and on edge and afraid all day long – the common conundrum of the GAD sufferer, understand that you do not have to resolve a myriad of fears, avoidances or hidden root causes. You simply have to face the reality of the one fear. You have learned to be afraid of that feeling and have gotten in the habit of bracing against it and wishing it away all day long. Understanding that your reaction to the one fear is what creates the GAD state means that you have one dragon to slay, not many.
Embracing the one fear has it’s negative side too. When you focus on the one fear you are left with no alternative. You must face it. You must go toward the fear that drives everything. Knowing the one fear will set you free, but not before you put in some hard work. The one fear gets even scarier when it’s placed in clear view directly in your path. I understand this and I do acknowledge that this revelation often causes people to back away. Know that we are always doing hard things, not dangerous things. Know that you are always safe even when afraid in this context. Know that millions of people have done these hard, scary things to recover and know that you can do them too. I know you can.
When we identify and focus on the one fear, we can now make a plan. Know the one fear, then start listing all the “challenges” that trigger it in your life. Sort them into short-term every-day challenges, mid-range challenges, and long-term challenges. Then sort those categories into lists from easiest to hardest on the scary/hard scale. Now you have a plan. These are the challenges, practices and exposures you will use to confront and un-learn the one fear in a systematic and incremental way. The one fear makes it easy for us to build a blueprint for recovery, and having a blueprint makes this a far easier endeavor.
The best news about the one fear, is that when you solve the one fear in one situation, it becomes progressively easier to solve it in all situations. If you aspire to taking a two month cruise around the world, you will get there by walking around your neighborhood for a few minutes, sitting on your front steps for a few minutes, or drinking that cup of coffee you are sure will launch you into a panic. Want to get better at the big things? Work on the little things. The little things help you solve the one fear, and this is our goal.
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Podcast Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)