emotion-focused therapy

Working With Fear and Ways to Stay Grounded

Today I feel fear.  Nothing is happening yet I feel afraid.  This fear comes in many forms: anxiety, dread, nervousness, fugues, dissociation, and physical symptoms.  I’m sure you know it too.  This type of fear wracks us all when it hits yet so many of us bravely put on our faces and continue to move forward despite its gripping sensation around our necks.

When this feeling moves in, like a storm steadily chasing ground, I know there is nothing I can do to ease the blow or make the overwhelm cease.  I, like many of you, experience a sort of rawness that accompanies these freezing storms of emotion and (desperately look to find answers, drowning myself in endless streams of hopeful solutions and experiences shared by others. 

Sometimes fear grips us like a chill in the night and we go looking for warmth to ease our pain.  There are times when the warmth is not there or does not offer the safety we hope it will.  Finding ourselves in the midst of emotional downpour feels nearly impossible, but grounding ourselves in the present moment with a fierce intentionality can be enough to weather the storm.

In Acceptance and Commitment therapy, this is called “Dropping the Anchor”, a term used to aptly describe the benefits of keeping a ship securely tethered to the earth, should a terrible wind possibly push the ship astray.  In human terms, dropping the anchor is no different.  It is what we do when we panic, dissociate from our bodies, or feel we are being pulled by some unnamed fear.

Dropping the anchor does two things:

It puts us back into our bodies and helps us see the world around us.  If you are reading this at home, take a moment to stand up and firmly press your feet into the ground.  Really feel the pressure of your foot meeting the floor and notice how solid it feels.  As you’ve firmly rooted your feet down, imagine actual roots growing out of the bottom of your feet and going deep into the earth’s core where they cannot be moved.

Then, look around the room.  What do you see? What do you hear? Pretend that you are a curious scientist who has never seen the room you are in and is seeing all the objects for the first time.  What might you notice? Do the same for the physical sensations occurring in your body.  Can you steadily observe what your feeling and thinking without getting hooked into the story? When we drop the anchor, an entire world opens up and our feelings/thoughts become something to get curious about. 

The benefits of this exercise not only put you back into the moment, but give you the chance to connect to yourself and your surroundings.  You can do this anywhere (except driving) and it only takes 5 minutes, but you can go longer if you need.  Practicing awareness shouldn’t be used as a method to escape or avoid a feeling, rather it should be used to bringing attention to things as they are without trying to change them.

While you may be thinking “Yeah, but I want the feeling to go away”, you are not alone.  Most of us want the feeling to go away, but how many times have we tried to push it out of awareness only to have it come back tenfold?  This offers a less resistance and more open response to what we’re feeling and thinking and reduces the suffering that comes when we try to push those experiences away.