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What I learned yesterday about my own fear

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"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life." — Prince Rogers N
 

Inspiration for Overthinkers

August 22 · Issue #53 · View online
Tackling stress and anxiety, one experiment at a time.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” — Prince Rogers Nelson

Hello dear friends,
Having been packed into our little San Francisco house for six months together, my family got the chance to escape to Southern California last week. We were grateful for the change and stretched out in our new environment. Heading home yesterday, however, we shifted back into reality.
The drive home was eye-opening. When we first hit the smoky haze on I-5, I thought, “Wow this is bad.” The stress hit. I worried. My brain shut down. I gazed out the window uselessly.
Then things got a lot worse.
At one point the sun was entirely blotted out by smoke.
At one point the sun was entirely blotted out by smoke.
Weirdly, the worse the air got, the more I let go. I’ve always been like this. Emergencies clear my head. I get calm. I take action. I overlaid fire maps on our driving map and started tracing our progression, noting the smoke didn’t always correlate with the fire itself. The sky was apocalyptic, but we weren’t in danger.
Finally, we made it home.
Our mint plant was dead, but the sky looked pretty clear.
Our mint plant was dead, but the sky looked pretty clear.
I could suddenly appreciate the relative clarity of the sky at home. The drive forced me to accept that smoke doesn’t mean flame and that wind patterns change air quality hourly. I faced my abstract fears and created the concrete framework I needed.
Why do emergencies clear my brain clutter?
The answer, I think, lies in emotional regulation. I remember reading this Fast Company piece last year, Procrastination is An Emotional Problem, and learning
People with anxiety often do everything they can to avoid the perceived external threat and, in turn, shut off access to both good and bad feelings. By procrastinating, we’re avoiding a task with the assumption that the task won’t feel good, and that means we’re missing out on any feelings of, for example, accomplishment or success. 
In other words, my deadened response (staring out the window) is a type of procrastination. When the emergency hits, like a deadline, I’m able to stop procrastinating and get to work.
My takeaway about fear
The next time I feel myself fear flatlining, I will try (no promises, Michael) to take the advice laid out in the article and
treat procrastination as an emotional and mood regulation problem in order to move past it and get your work accomplished.
Learning from you
I would love to hear if this experience resonates with you, or what you’ve learned about your own response to fear. Reply to this email to reach me, or join the Beautiful Voyager Slack group to talk about these ideas in real time.
Keep sidestepping wildfires, everyone.
Love, Meredith
Love, Meredith
Further reading
Our Brains Struggle to Process This Much Stress Our Brains Struggle to Process This Much Stress
Comforting Someone When Something Bad Happens to Them Comforting Someone When Something Bad Happens to Them
Get Out of My Head: Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious World Get Out of My Head: Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious World
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