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Overcome that which holds us back

No matter how they arise within us, defeating one’s fears and fighting back through the dark is tough.

You may feel like the retired military serviceman, who was experiencing highway driving anxiety but needed to be able to transport his children between London and nearby larger centres.

He sought treatment with Mary Rodenhurst, a social worker psychotherapist in private practice, and eventually overcame this fear.

“Fear is a real bully and can force you to make your world smaller and smaller,” she says. “This is a strong, capable individual who was unable to do one of the things he really needed to do because of fear. The poison is the cure.”

To get over it, you often have to “do the very things that you don’t want to do to desensitize yourself: exposure-response prevention,” she adds.

To do this, he started driving to the outskirts of London, then on sideroads outside the city for increasingly longer distances, then to the highway on-ramp. He was able to drive for longer periods on the highway but needed to use techniques to deal with his anxiety, like breathing exercises, visualization, mindfulness and meditation. He learned how to challenge the distorted thoughts.

Tamelynda Lux, a certified hypnosis practitioner, lists public speaking as the number one fear for which her clients are seeking help. “They fear getting up in front of a group to give a presentation; it’s often career-related. Occasionally I’ll have a best man or father of the bride or groom at a wedding come in as well. Fear of spiders, fear of flying and fear of highway driving (after having had an accident) are listed as the other top fears her clients have.

“Everyone will have a different base for where fear comes from. It could be recent or could be past history. The wonderful thing with hypnosis combined with coaching is that you don’t have to revisit the trauma to overcome it,” Lux explains.

She explains that “hypnosis is a technique to get them (clients) to tap into their subconscious and use their inner strengths to deal with the challenging issue or concern. The client is always in control and won’t do or say anything he or she doesn’t want to.”

Lux is trained to work with those dealing with trauma and says various techniques can be employed to help. “You had your calmness before the trauma. There’s a trigger, a stimulus, and a reaction. But there’s a space – a nanosecond – between the stimulus and the panic attack and the tools within hypnosis and coaching help find that nanosecond to build on the positive and regain that calmness.”

According to Dr. J. Bruce Morton, professor of psychology and cognitive neuroscience at Western University, fears can manifest in objects, social interactions or situations. He adds that the intensity varies between people, “often dependent on the development of the brain around fear. (It is) often constitutional, which means formed through interaction of their experiences and their own brain chemistry.”

No matter the source, the response is often the same – fear – and it can limit how you live your life. He recommends working with a therapist to learn coping strategies, like breathing and relaxation exercises, and self-talk to use with incremental exposures to overcome your particular fear.

He gives an example of the latter: “I’m in the elevator and experiencing fear. Do I really think I’m going to die?”

Morton reminds us, “Fear is actually a good thing because it helps us. Not having fear can get you killed.” Learning to control it and not let it control us is the key.

Certified hypnosis practitioner Tamelynda Lux uses this technique with clients and recommends it for working through fears and dealing with stress. She adds that it is also good for sleepless nights. “The Vagal Breathing Technique can calm and relax your body’s vagus nervous system.The vagus nerve is basically listening to the way we breathe, and it sends the brain and the heart whatever message our breath indicates. Breathing slowly, for instance, reduces the oxygen demands of the heart muscle (the myocardium), and our heart rate drops. So, when we breathe slowly, the heart slows, and we relax.”

• Breathe in through nose counting four seconds
• Hold breath for two seconds
• Exhale through puckered lips for eight seconds
• Repeat. Best done three to five times in a row, up to eight to 10 repetitions

TIP: For maximum mind/body healing: do a repetition cycle every 90 minutes throughout the workday.