What to do when life feels terrifying

Once again I’ve uprooted my life completely. After having been based mainly in Thailand for five years I decided to go back to Europe – not to Denmark where I’m from, but to Spain. I know a few people here, but other than that it feels like a whole new beginning – both exciting and kind of terrifying.

I travel solo, I’m self-employed and I don’t have large savings to draw on. Luckily I have a supportive and encouraging family for whom I’m eternally grateful.

From experience I know that it takes some time to create a sense of belonging – to find a community where I feel at home and places where I can teach, learn and share.

Some days it just feels tough and scary. Today is one of those days.

Before arriving in Valencia I walked for 40 days from Pamplona to Finisterre on El Camino de Santiago. It was an amazing pilgrimage going through vast landscapes, mountains, villages, fields, cities, lush forests and eventually ending by the wild Atlantic Ocean. My takeaway from that journey is that all I can do is consistently take small steps and trust that I’ll eventually arrive where I’m supposed to be.

It’s not always easy. For days like today when it feels terrifying, I’ve identified six steps that help me stay centered and keep going.

Be gentle

This is the first step. I can easily go to war with myself and start blaming myself for feeling fear, for not being tough enough, etc. Believe me that only intensifies the emotions. Instead, I bring gentleness to myself. I acknowledge how I feel and accept it without trying to change it with force.

Identify the anxiety

I look a bit closer at the anxiety I experience. Where in the body can I feel it? Or do I even feel my body?

Sometimes the anxiety feels like a flight response where it manifests by taking over my body. My chest tightens, my heart beats extremely fast and my whole body is tense.

Other times it’s more like a freeze response where I have a sensation of having a really heavy body. If I pay closer attention to my body I’m almost disconnected from it and I’m stuck in my head. I’m mentally caught in a fear scenario about failure, not having what it takes or being completely overwhelmed by worry.

Know that these thoughts are not real

Either way the anxiety is triggered by some thought concept. In this actual moment, nothing is wrong. I’m alive, healthy and have enough. There’s great power and liberation in understanding that.

Breathe

I remind myself to breathe – deeply. When we feel anxious or are stuck in our thoughts we tend to breathe very shallowly and that just intensifies the sense of anxiety. Our body doesn’t get the necessary oxygen. Long slow breaths connect us to our body and help the body relax and soften which is the opposite state of anxiety.

Move

Walking El Camino de Santiago really made me see clearly how physical movement is so vital for us and how it’s directly connected to the moods we experience. Walking works wonders for me especially in nature; but even in the city the physical effects are clear. After some time of moving there’s a noticeable mood elevation.

Take action

Once I’ve centered myself I try to take some kind of action that supports me. This could be to write out all the things I need to do and then prioritize them. That helps me be clear about my next steps. If I don’t take definite action I can easily stay stuck in a feeling of overwhelm or worry. This often appears when there’s a lack of action. For example – when I know I have to do something but it feels scary so I postpone it, I experience more worry than if I actually go ahead and do it. Action can be anything I feel is needed. It can even be to take a nap if I’m exhausted. Once I’ve rested I can take more outward constructive action that moves me forward.

Small consistent steps are what take us very far.

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Disclaimer: The suggestions in this post are not meant for someone who suffers from severe anxiety or depression. If that is the case for you, I encourage you to reach out for professional support.

Luise is a mindfulness coach who supports women to embody their personal power so they can live a fully expressed, wholehearted and meaningful life. She recently returned to Europe after having lived five years in Thailand, spending more than 4,000 hours immersed in mind and body practices. She finds beauty everywhere and loves to discover new unknown places. You can connect with her on her website, on Facebook, and on Instagram where she explores her passion of mindful photography.

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