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.

Learn how to free yourself from anxieties with these 6 easy steps

Anxiety is a condition that affects everyone at some stage in life. For some people, this is more of a chronic condition than others who only get anxiety occasionally. Having effective coping mechanisms is essential to success when you’re in this headspace. I will go through some processes and ideas that may help you cope when anxiety comes around.

There are links in the article that are affilate that if used helps me keep the blog alive.

Anxiety is a condition that affects everyone at some stage in life. For some people, this is more of a chronic condition than others who only get anxiety occasionally. Having effective coping mechanisms is essential to success when you’re in this headspace. I will go through some processes and ideas that may help you cope when anxiety comes around. 

Breathing

While it might sound obvious – and honestly quite irritating when you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack only to have a well-meaning bystander telling you to “just breathe” and to breathe with them. I don’t know about you, but it’s about as useful as someone waves a sandwich in your face when you’re hungry, wondering why you don’t have a sandwich too. 

However, there are exercises that you can do to incorporate them into your exercise routine or a morning ritual for yourself when you’re making your coffee. 

The most wonderful Yoga With Adrienne has the most wonderful YouTube channel where she takes you through Yoga practices for free. She has an in-depth breathing playlist to teach you various breathing techniques. Her no BS approach to Yoga encourages you to “be where you are” with your practice. If you can’t do the poses, then that’s ok. She encourages the mantra that “turning up is enough”. 

You can find a link to all of her breathing exercises below : 

Writing

Taking some time to write what is causing you anxiety can be a useful practice. I don’t mean for you to analyse what is going on or the things you’re worried about or things that might cause you added anxiety. Focus on getting them out of your head and onto some paper. 

I recommend keeping a piece of paper or a notepad beside your bed or the toilet. Wherever you find yourself lost in your thoughts. Don’t judge your thoughts or content. This is just an exercise to help clear your mind and help you get a little of mental rest.  

Meditation

Like breathing. Telling people to meditate can seem like it’s such an obnoxious thing to say to someone. However, while it’s proven that meditation has positive effects with helping your mental state. There is also equally enough bias and “a way to do it” that people pontificate about. 

I want to tell you that there is no right or wrong way to meditate. It is a practice of just turning up for yourself in that practice of trying to calm your mind. I use Headspace (not nearly as often as I should) and I’ve found that a lot of what makes up a good practice is less about hitting that “zen” feeling or anything like that but more attempting to turn up to the practice and to try. 

The simple fact of the matter is – your mind will not be quiet the first time around. Meditating will feel uncomfortable and unnatural when we’re so programmed to doing things. 

Here is one of the best things that I’ve learned from Headspace: 

“Headspace Co-founder, Andy Puddicombe likens the practice of meditation to sitting by the side of a road, with instructions to watch the traffic. How do we stop ourselves from getting caught up with the thoughts? It’s a question of perspective.”

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on helping you identify patterns in your everyday life that might be triggering any anxiety or depression. It is a system that can apply to a wide number of mental health concerns, not just anxiety. Like all approaches in psychology it will depend on each person whether this approach suits people or not. 

While I’ll always advise going to see a professional licenced therapist for any work – sometimes its not always an option. So here are some recommended text books that talk you through the basics as well as having worksheets to support your learning. (Pro Tip! Use a copier to work on the worksheet so you can reuse them multiple times) 

Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety
Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety
Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety
Change Your Thinking: Overcome Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, and Improve Your Life with CBT
Change Your Thinking: Overcome Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, and Improve Your Life with CBT
Change Your Thinking: Overcome Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, and Improve Your Life with CBT

Talking

In the spirit of counseling, it seems purposeful that we talk about talking. We must find the right support network for us to be supported when we’re having periods of anxiety. Sometimes, despite our friends and family’s best interests, they might not give you the support you need. 

It’s unfortunately common that friends and family may, very well intentioned, tell you not to worry about it or that you’re overthinking things. That doesn’t help with calming feelings of overwhelm or anxiety. 

This is where seeing a registered, licenced therapist comes in. They provide a safe space where you can share your thoughts and feelings in a non judgemental space. Please don’t misunderstand me, it can take a long time to find the right therapist who gets you. I have been with mine through an app called BetterHelp for the last 3 years and my therapist has been essential to my mental health. 

For anyone unsure if counseling is for them, there is a weeklong trial that you can take where you’ll be matched with a therapist and you can see how you feel. 

https://www.betterhelp.com/rpc/8e1fb10457057a04-2-01

Movement

In the lengthy line of cliches about what to do to ease anxiety, going for a walk is nearly always high on the list of what they recommend. I know how bothersome this advice is first hand, as it was my father’s solution to everything that ails you. I legitimately wanted to strangle him every time he mentioned it. 

In saying that, it doesn’t have to be so productive as going for a walk. It can be as simple as taking the time to stretch. Or to do some Yoga poses. When I’m feeling ungrounded, I often do a sun salutation to help me reconnect with myself. 

Yoga with Adrianne 10 minute Beginner Sun Salutation Practice is just enough for me to feel stretched and calmer. 

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As for more traditional stretches you can find a selection of them on YouTube but some of my favourites are from Dr Joe. 

I hope these suggestions will help empower you to make the most out of the times you have anxiety and to encourage you in that things get better. 

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.