How to break the cycle of fear in habit formation

Recently we covered self care ideation and how there are practical and realistic ways to love yourself beyond the keywords and SEO. Today we will talk about aversion, procrastination and habit forming when it causes some fear response or avoidance behaviour. Being able to form new habits and behaviours is complex and difficult as it requires a lot of internal rewiring. So, we will start from the beginning of the process. We’ll talk about why this happens to begin with, what causes it and strategies to change it.

Why we do what we do?

There is no correct answer to this, as depending on the severity and context of the issue it can be one of many things. However, it all breaks down to one key thing – it is something that ultimately serves you. I’m reluctant to use the word benefits, as no one has depression or anxiety because it benefits them. In saying that, your brain is smart, and it tries to adapt to the environment and the chemicals it produces to function, even in states when it is not optimal.

But this isn’t an article about the chemical compositions of major and minor mental illnesses. It’s about habit formation, but it’s important to understand how these mental states can really affect your ability to form new habits for yourself, even if they are beneficial to you.

For instance, in my personal life I’m having a hard time keeping up with personal hygiene and other fundamental things to keep my body healthy. But my mind is so overwhelmed just existing right now that it’s just not prompting me to do things beneficial for my health. So, not showering – taking medication that involves touching myself or anything that requires an incision into my body. Even though I know – logically and emotionally that I need to take these medicines to be well.

It’s causing for me an adverse reaction. Even thinking about doing these things cause me a certain amount of physical anxiety and emotional strain. Thus, me not doing these things or thinking about them causes me to get that bit of a dopamine hit for not doing them as a reward. As far as my chemical body is concerned, it’s gotten me out of danger and therefore my body should be rewarded for running away from the reaction.

So it is now associating not taking my medicine and that running away from discomfort with a sympathetic chemical reaction.

This can work against us, chemicals in are body are impossible to reason with. They are the things that keep our body together and informs our bodies on what to do. If I continue this pattern of not taking my meds or fighting the urge to take my meds with success, it will only be harder to implement taking my meds because it’s chemically associating itself.

For me, avoidance is how these things manifest in me. For others, this can turn into something much harder to combat, which is fear or phobia. Have you ever wanted to do something so much that you ended up becoming just pure afraid of doing it or having any association with it? It doesn’t have to be anything to do with self care. It could be a fear of heights or spiders, which it is in my instance.

But what happens when you get to a stage where you are so anxious and upset around the thoughts of being in contact with things like water that you become hydrophobic? So, this makes drinking water, taking baths or showers far more complex. Fear increases the stress hormone cortisol in your system. If you have previously seen times like brushing your teeth or taking baths as something that was a relaxing activity but is now not sending those reassuring chemicals associated with calmness and relaxation and have been replaced with a stress response. This can be a challenging thing to overcome.

There are a few things you can do to change your associations around things that had been a source of relaxation and now cause you stress or anxiety.

Key among them is to be exposed to the thing you fear.

Exposure therapy in controlled situations is a well-researched tactic to combat some specific phobias. This does not mean that I’m telling you to jump into a pool to cure your hydrophobia! What you need is slow and controlled exposure in a way that you can incorporate it into your life without its existence being seen to your body and your mind as a threat.

A plan for treating hydrophobia and being able to work up to incorporate water-related activities into your life is by working on it step by step and this is something that needs to be done over months, not weeks or days. The risk of doing exposure therapy too quickly is that you end up building up that fear response instead of disarming it, which is what you want to do.

The goal is to reincorporate these instances into your life again like they have always been there are as little of a threat to you as a cushion you have on your sofa. Trust is a muscle. We build it up. It is understood or implicity given. For example, when you go to sit down on a chair you trust that the chair will support your weight and that you will not fall over because you’ve sat on chairs before and know what to expect. The same is what we’re trying to develop with building in a new habit or breaking free of something that doesn’t serve us.

In our instance with hydrophobia. For the first two weeks, all I’d want someone to do is to have a glass of water beside the fridge or bathroom. (Yes, even if you’re not cripplingly afraid of water) I’d want you to place it in a place where you go by it regularly in your day to day and you don’t have to interact with it. It can just be placed there without you really considering it and go about your days as normal.

That’s it. This is around changing the relationship of how we view something that threatens us. If we can prove to ourselves through non threatening exposure that things will not hurt us, that is the reassurance we’re giving to our mind and our bodies.

After a while, you’re not even going to notice it’s there. It will blend into the background, much like a piece of art on your wall. It’s just going to be there, and it’s all gravy.

When that happens, I want you to put another glass in another common place like your bathroom. You don’t have to interact with it; you don’t have to do anything with it. Just have it there and repeat the exercise till you feel you don’t even really notice its presence anymore.

How does this help me take a bath? You may be wondering. But much like all of this is manifesting for you didn’t just happen overnight similarly neither will the cure. You will build up your trust with a system is in place to help support you, and this should be a plan that you should curate as appropriate to your needs with the support of your personal support network.

This process has no timeline – it will take as long as it takes. But these are the foundations for changing your associations emotionally, physically and chemically to a phobia or habit that you are trying to change. Remember something key, emotion = motion.

If we can catch each other when we’re in a loop of emotions or frustration, we can change it by changing our state.

Tony Robbins goes into this a lot and this is because it physiologically changes what is happening in your body when you are feeling a set of emotions or doing something in a pattern.

An example I can give you is today. When I was writing up this article, I was just out of surgery and got diagnosed with another set of nasty stuff. It’s something I’m hoping to cover in another article, but I was ruminating a lot about Mark. There was a part of me that in some fairy tale imagined him being there when I woke up and that things would be ok. Then I started falling down the emotional rabbit hole of “what if he doesn’t come home” “I’m in so much pain and discomfort and I have no one here.” and I just was spiralling but at one stage I could catch myself and I stood up and at the top of my lungs I screamed NEXXXXXXT!!!!

And I felt better.

I could control and choose my state.

You can too. It doesn’t matter how able-bodied you are, whether or not you can stand. This is about changing your state, to change the chemicals in your brain from you keeping from patterning it out the way you normally do.

Mel Robbins (unrelated to Tony) deems this as pulling the emergency brake.

None of these responses are your fault, your body and brain do so much on autopilot that it has this in place for you because it’s trying to protect you from something. Or is making things as easy as possible for your daily brain to cope with it. But what is important to know is that through the right strategies and mechanisms you can control your life and make the changes you wish to see.

6 ways to start loving yourself the way you deserve to be loved

2020 has been a lot. 

It’s been a lot between the pandemic and how to cope with social isolation. And despite the huge upheaval of how we live our lives, it is important to take the time to acknowledge that this is a tremendous time of stress for everyone. 

With that in mind, there have been a lot of articles and blogs about how to make use of this time by either forming some habit. Or even worse, pressuring people to push themselves. That if you’re not using this time to learn 15 languages and become a gourmet baker, you’ve failed to use this time to the fullest. 

I’ve got another take on this entire situation. Which is: It is good enough that you are just alive. 

That’s it. No hot take, no additional statement. It is enough that you are alive and continue to exist during this time. 

I will give you 10 things to consider enriching yourself that should be an additive or something to consider loving yourself during this period. 

Accept where you are

This can be a hard thing to do depending on your personality and outlook on life. For people who are used to making business deals face to face, or whether you’re an extrovert and now working from home or a parent caring full time for your children – it is tremendously difficult and you can’t expect yourself to cope the same way that you used to. 

Things aren’t the same, and it’s ok to acknowledge that. 

I had gotten a job and then lost it because I wasn’t able to keep up the pace that was accepted of me during this time. I and my spouse have had a sudden breaking in our communication, and he’s no longer living in our home. It started just after the pandemic struck. 

People are responding to this in unusual, unpredictable and unprecedented ways to unprecedented levels of stress. 

It’s important to see things for as they are and not what you want them to be. I do not understand why Mark left – they left me with a note on my bedside table and that’s all I’ve heard from him in months. And I have to be ok with the fact that it happened and that what’s going on means he’s in pain. That I’m not meant to walk with him down the road that he is on. 

All I can do is believe that things will get better, that I will find gainful employment and that he will come home to me. In the meantime, all I can do is stop fighting the tide. 

These are important skills to learn to love yourself after this period is over and this will end. Nothing lasts forever and the only things you can be sure of in life is Death and Taxes. This too will pass, but it is possible to love yourself amid it. I promise. 

Accept your feelings

It is a complex time, with a lot of complex feelings and emotions surrounding everything. 

Here is a list of emotions ok to feel: 

  • All of them

I mean it. All of them. All the pain, loneliness, anger, fear.

Maybe you’re going through periods where this has been great for you. You feel motivated and driven so you wouldn’t have experienced if you hadn’t had this time to yourself. But you feel guilty in sharing that because of everything else that is happening. 

Letting your emotions flow is an important and healthy part of emotional and personal growth. 

There is a lot to go through, especially if you suffer from any form of disability. There would be a lot of unresolved feelings about walking away from work because of a disability than when the pandemic happening, work moving towards working at home. There is a lot of pain and anger – particularly in the disability world, and it’s understandable. For people like us who have always been taught that there is so much that we couldn’t do from home or things that required office time that is now standard – really hurts. 

So be kind to the people around you, we all deserve extra consideration and care with how we feel at the minute. 

Connect with People

Connecting with people, regardless of who they are or where they’re at, is exceptionally important like this. This can be tremendously isolating and confusion. Reaching out and being supported by the people who care about you is essential to keeping yourself afloat. 

I know how hard this can be, especially when you feel like the world has abandoned you. I’m minus family, a lot of my friends, and my husband during this period. It is the most socially unsupported I’ve felt during one of the hardest periods of my life. 

If it hadn’t been for the community I found on Twitter and TikTok and a stellar medical team, I know that this journey would be impossible for me to undertake on my own. 

If you feel like no one understands or that no one loves you, let me take the time to tell you I love you. I love you. We may never meet and I may never be an active part of your life, but I am here to tell you you have a purpose. You still have a lot to give to the world and this universe and you will find your way. 

Self Care – and not the cheesy kind!

While self-care can come as face masks and manicures, I want to talk about the more practical side of self-care. Self-care is defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.” if you are on the preserving side of that self-care side – that is ok. 

Here are some practical self-care methods and practices you can take: 

  • Getting out of bed. I’m serious, it is a colossal achievement.
  • Bonus points if you can move downstairs or to an alternative place. 
  • Bathing
  • Bonus points if you can put on some deodorant or other nice smelling products!
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Bonus points if you can floss or use mouthwash.
  • Eating a piece of fruit
  • Bonus points if you can do that more than once
  • Stepping outside. I mean literally sticking your head out of a window or stepping outside your front door. 
  • Bonus points if you can walk down your road and back. 
  • Cuddle a pet
  • If you don’t have a pet – self soothe, that’s comforting to you hugging a teddy, wrapping yourself in a blanket. 

These are all things you can do to soothe your senses or preserve your health where you are at the moment, doing this – even one of them. These are all forms of self-care and you should be proud of the steps you can take to take care of yourself. 

Creative Activities

No one wants to see my house at the moment, and I mean nobody. I’ve painted my walls many colours, it’s not well blended, I’ve written profanities on the walls. All in the name of creative expression. 

I’m serious. The first thing you see on my wall are the words: 

“ Do not ask me if I’m gay, straight or whatever. I identify as a fucking threat.” – @lightboxgnome (https://www.tiktok.com/@lightboxgnome/video/6802270158644579590

While it might not be possible for you to paint your walls or write profanities on your walls, it is still very important to have an outlet. It’s also important that for this process you create a space devoid of judgement. 

Now, isn’t that a thing that is easier said than done right?! 

I spent a lot of my time trying to create my art and things, but being too crippled by fear allowing myself the space to make mistakes. But I’ve incorporated art into my life in a way where I’m not creating art, but I’m experiencing it. 

I have switched my focus from perfectionism and outcome to one of mindfulness. How will feel about how this paintbrush feels in my hands, how does the paint feel when I touch it, what does the wall feel like? Is it hot or cold? What colour do I want? What will it feel like when I put it on the wall, will it feel different? 

Journaling

Journaling is such a loaded term in the self-care community, isn’t it? It’s sometimes described as a cure-all to what ails you. Well, while I can’t promise that it will be a cure to what you’re going through, what I can say to you is that it can provide perspective. 

There is no wrong way to journal. 

You can use a guided journal that has prompts in it; such as our Pain Journal for pain management or The Happiness Planner that have more guided walkthroughs of what to expect. Paperchase also has a variety of reflecting journals available to go through depending on what you wish to focus on. 

But it could be as easy as grabbing an unused notebook or journal to write in. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be an old school notebook or a spiral-bound jotter pad. The most important thing to do is to get down your thoughts about your day in the best and easiest way to do so. That feels right for you.

That is ultimately the most fundamental thing in all of this, is to get to a stage where things fit into place and you can love yourself the way you need to be loved. There is no time limit on it, just keep doing what you can in the most authentic way you know how to. 

Shameless Self Promotion

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I’m not usually one to do this, but I figured that if there was ever a place to shamelessly self promote it would be here!

My Book is on sale on Amazon right now for £6.22!

If you guys want to check out some of my content this would be a huge way of helping me out!

 

Books, Publications and iGBL

Professional Stuff

Book Publication

So first things first, I’ve published a book! Yes, me of all people! 

I’m pretty proud of my achievement considering I’m not long out of college now, and I’m already a published author its not something to be sniffed at. The link is up there for anyone who wants to have a read or take a look at it. 

iGBL

Happily I got the opportunity to present at this years iGBL in Dun Laoghaire IT for the 5th annual iGBL symposium. It was my first symposium & my first time presenting at a conference of that magnitude so I was quite surprised when I got the message saying that I had been short listed then selected to present. I presented on part of my book and it was titled “Video Gaming & Language Learning: The Untold Story.”

I was about as terrified as you’d presume you’d be starting out in something like this but on the whole I don’t believe that I did too badly. Anyone who I talked to after the conference commented upon how well I did given the interruption of people arriving late and the crowd that gathered for the talk. So I’m personally pleased with how I did, so I can at least chalk it up to experience. I’m not going to lie however, I didn’t enjoy the public speaking and normally I am fine with it as I just go for it. Nerves got to me though and I stumbled and stuttered, but hey! Alls well that ends well. 

There were a lot of things that I’ve been thinking about since the event. I’m still stunned about the disconnect there is between educators and the technical/gaming market as to what are the realistic limitations of what can be achieved on both ends. 

 Before I continue, I’m gonna be discussing somethings’ I witness when I was at the conference and some things people said. I’m no way labling teachers or gamers as them all being the same. Ok? Cool. 

Something that struck me was that while there was a showcase of Project Spark a teacher piped up in the back about how as a geography teacher he was going to be unable to teach different rock formations with this tool. If you click on the link for Project Spark you’ll see that he’s right. Its art style does not lend itself to realistic formations, however, that was something obvious from observing the game from it simply loading that this was not going to be something hyper realistic. It does have other uses for sure. For example, a dedicated english teacher could run simulations of Shakespear plays if they had the time and the same could be said for history teachers. (However games like Age Of Empires may cut out a lot of that work load.) I couldn’t ignore the fact that in that teachers mind he though that this was going to be the solution to his problem.

Here is a fact for all educators out there; if anything claims to be the be all and end all solution to your teaching needs they’re lying. How do I know they’re lying? You still have jobs. Teachers have a very crucial role to play in terms of society even outside of learning. I could never be a teacher, I don’t like kids and I’m not that patient. So I have a lot of time and respect for those who are dedicated to their field. 

There is something to be said for computer literacy in the wider role of education that has to be addressed though. This is coming from someone who in my group of friends (20 – 31) roughly 3/10 of us are computer literate. Now, the golden question here is what do you define as computer literate? I can pretty much promise you we don’t have the same definition of what computer literacy is. To me being computer literate isn’t about who can use Word processing software or Excel spreadsheets, but who can keep a computer up to date and they’re daily computer life safe. I am someone who tends to my friends PC’s constantly, because they don’t know how to do basic disk cleanups or run antivirus, antispyware or maliware cleaners on there PCs. This comes from people of my age group – a generation who are meant to be renound for their tech savvyness. I can promise you for the most part its an illusion created by the media and a misunderstanding about technological advancement. That however, is for another blog post. 

What I was surprised to learn in terms of computer literacy is how little time is given to teachers of all levels to engage with technology let alone the ones who want to be able to implement this technology in their classrooms with the ability to inspire others. They are given maybe 1 day of training for basic literacy – which I was stunned to learned was not compulsory. Then if they did, god forbid, want to go and learn something to bring into the classroom they are still given that one day to do so. That’s just not realistic whatever way you want to look at things. So its half a problem with the ways we get to assist our teachers and half an interest to want to be able to utilise this technology in the first place. 

Its not a solution that is going to fix itself and it’s something tragic that its ultimately not going to inspire our learners or our educators. It’s always easy to blame our system, I personally can’t talk about it, as I was someone who the system failed dramatically. But if we can’t give the power back to the teachers and educators to teach the things that are relevant and important to industry and commerce we’re never going to progress and have the quality of Engineers and Programmers that we’ll need in our ever changing economy. The government and others are going to realise its too late that just having Computer Programming and the such like at college level is not going to be sustainable for much longer. 

I hope they are going to learn these lessons before major technological industry begins to move out of its own accord. I’ve my own ideas about how to implement these things bypassing all the politics, so its not as if I’m standing here on my soap box complaining and not adding something to try and solve this issue. However, its not something I can expand about too much presently. Lots of emails have yet to be sent and even more things need to be discussed before I can post in many ways about the concept that I have put together to help get coding into the hands of kids in a safe and innovative way without any determinant to normal schooling hours & activities. 

If anyone argues, that it sounds like putting a bandaid on a stab wound I’d probably tell you its an accurate analogy but right now, its better then there being nothing there at all. People also need to realise that technology is not as wide spread in schools as people would like to think. I have worked in Desh schools where there is a Windows 95 in each classroom and thats it. That’s all they’ve got. It’s trying to come up with a reasonable solution to give every child a chance at finding an interest and a passion. Thats what I’m trying to achieve!

So wish me look with it. I’ve a long aul road ahead for the project but I’ll be sure to keep you all updated when I have more to talk about!