My husband is a producer and had a film in a film festival—for which I couldn’t have been more proud—and we got to go to the festival in sunny California—for which I couldn’t have been more excited. But I wasn’t able to watch the film. Because it is a zombie movie. Of the horror genre. A genre I cannot risk subjecting myself to. For it engages my fear response at every turn.
As a teenager, I loved scary movies. Little did I know I was engaging my fear response each time. Causing a rush of adrenaline ending in a crash. Nightmares. Feelings of being unsafe. And looking for danger around every corner.
During my trauma recovery, I’ve learned that working against my fear response is in my best interests. I no longer lean into it—bringing back the feeling of terror—now I know to push away. To work against it. And to make it as nonexistent in my life as possible. Leaving it only for when it’s meant to arise. When real danger occurs.
If I let myself, my fear could prevent me from doing most things. From driving. From flying. From living my life. Even commercials and TV shows test my fear response. Books and articles without trigger warnings. And forget watching the news. My fear response could go off with every story.
I take steps to work against my fear response. I put my fears aside to drive and to fly, letting myself find freedom in the fact that what is going to happen is going to happen, and it’s out of my control. I mute commercials and watch TV shows with light content. And I stopped reading thrillers. As much as I love them, I noticed they rev me up. Make my pulse race and my breath quicken. Make it hard for my nervous system to settle down. And I scroll through news stories only reading what I think will be safe. Sometimes a headline still hits me, but I try to let it go and stay in the moment. Something my trauma recovery is teaching me how to do.
I’ve also realized my fear is creeping into my success. Into my ability to succeed. In my day. In my career. In my life. Because not only is there a fear in the unknown, but in some ways, I’m probably still punishing myself. Still keeping myself from feeling good. But I’m learning I deserve to feel good. And I’m learning to work against my fear. To embrace my life. Without letting my fear get in my way.
So while I would have loved to have watched my husband’s movie on the big screen—as much as I wish I could have been there beside him—I realized it was wise for me to sit this one out. To cheer him on from behind the scenes. And to keep myself present. In the moment. Where my fear cannot touch me.
If you notice your fear response is easily triggered, here are some tips for feeling safe again:
- Begin to journal throughout the day and make note of how you’re feeling. Journaling doesn’t have to be a chore and can be done on a scrap sheet of paper or on the Notes section in your phone. If you check in with yourself in writing throughout the day, you can begin to notice patterns. And hopefully, you’ll notice when your fear response has been triggered based on your actions.
- Avoid things that you know trigger your fear response. If you aren’t sure what does, observe yourself throughout the day and note your behavior. Typically when my fear response has gone off, I am more alert to danger. I check locks on doors, look out windows when I hear a sound, etc.
- If your fear response has been triggered, do something to engage your nervous system: use a weighted blanket, receive a hug, go for a walk, do yoga, etc.
- Once you know your fear response has been triggered, not only should you do something to engage your nervous system, but start avoiding what triggered you. Maybe you’re like me and reading thrillers is no longer a good idea. Or watching scary movies. By taking control of the things we allow ourselves to engage in, we give ourselves agency–and we take back our own lives.
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