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Episode 9: Working Through Fear



[00:00:02] Parenting is hard enough on a good day — but when you're facing a huge change like divorce, moving, a health crisis, or even a pandemic, it can be downright overwhelming. My name is Sara Olsher and I'm the founder of Mighty + Bright, where I help your family cope with the uncertainty that comes from life's major upheavals. Together we can help your kids take this hard time and turn it into resilience that they'll be able to use for the rest of their lives. Join me for quick and easy 5 to 10 minute episodes that will leave you feeling 100% positive that you got this.

[00:00:41] I do things that scare me all the time. For me, sitting in front of this microphone is terrifying. I find myself worrying that I won't say the right thing or say it in a way that comes across how I intend it, or that it won't land the way that I hope it will.

[00:01:03] But I push through that fear pretty much every day of my life, because I am an anxious person and my nervous system has always been a little bit higher than most peoples.

[00:01:20] And I my whole life have had to deal with that. For a long time I didn't even realize that it was a problem. I remember when I was in graduate school, I was pursuing a doctorate in psychology and I was having migraine headaches literally every day. I went into the doctor and I said, "I can't live like this anymore and I don't understand what's going on." If you've ever had migraine — like serious migraine — and you know all about rebound headaches and all this . . . there's so much that goes into migraine. They put me in a special class for migraine, and one of the things that they wanted us to do was decrease our stress.

[00:02:08] And I was like . . . "How do you do that?" Exactly. They had biofeedback as an option, but the thing that I remember most vividly was being handed a workbook with clouds on the front that was all about breathing, and learning how to breathe. And I took this workbook home and I tried it, and it made me feel like I was suffocating.

[00:02:37] And I thought, what is wrong with me? I took the workbook back to the next class and I said, "I can't do this because focusing on my breathing makes me feel like I can't breathe." So basically, I flunked out of the stress class because they didn't have anything else for me at that point, and the truth is I wasn't ready for it yet.

[00:02:59] Now, however, focusing on my breathing is a big part of how I decrease my stress. But like I said, I wasn't ready for it at that point.

[00:03:07] There are different stress-reduction techniques that you can use depending on where you're at, but the truth is you won't resonate with things unless you're ready to hear them. 

I remember right after my divorce, I was in an anxiety spiral pretty much all of the time. I had convinced myself that my future was bleak, that my ex-husband and I would fight forever, and that my daughter would be super messed up from our divorce. I had all these stories. And because I was convinced that that was the reality I was going to face, I had also created a plan for how I was going to avoid that happening.

[00:03:57] So if you'll back up for a second and think about this . . . I had created a story in my own head about how things were going to turn out, and I had created a plan to keep that from happening.

[00:04:13] If you can really think about that, I'm sure a lot of you resonate with this - because so many of us do this. But in that moment, none of that stuff was happening. If I had been able to focus on the current moment, instead of making up stories and plans for how I could solve them, I would have had a much more pleasant experience of life.

But at that time, I was so focused on my stories and on my plans that I was spinning out of control in my own head because I was just focused on how I could make my plan work and how I could control the uncontrollable in order to make things turn out okay.

[00:05:06] I was convinced that life didn't have to be so hard. And I thought that the only way I could make it not be so hard was to try harder. And the truth of the matter is that that behavior was the only thing that was making things harder. But I wasn't ready to hear that yet, just like I wasn't ready for the breathing exercise.

[00:05:27] I had to sit in it, and I had to keep trying and keep trying and keep trying for months and months and years and years to make things work the way that I wanted them to before I finally got hit with a cancer diagnosis.

[00:05:44] And in one afternoon, everything unraveled, and I realized that all the plans that I had made to make my life work out so that the bad stories wouldn't happen . . . it unraveled in like, a five minute period. And that was the hardest time of my life.

But it was also the time that I'm the most grateful for, because I wasn't really willing to learn unless I was hit over the head repeatedly. I thought I was willing to learn, but I clearly wasn't. There's a quote from Oprah that goes something like, "at first life will give you a whisper and then if you don't listen, it'll start screaming."

[00:06:35] And that's basically what my life did for me. I was not listening to the whispers. I was not learning the things that I needed to learn until my life started screaming at me and I didn't have any other choice but to finally learn it.

[00:06:51] So this is not to say that I don't get into anxiety spirals anymore, or that I don't, you know, make up stories in my head about how things are going to go. But most of the time, I recognize those things when they're happening now. And they don't last very long. Recognizing it when I start doing it is the thing that I needed to do in order to stop the spiral from happening.

[00:07:20] Like after my divorce, I remember I had a girlfriend who was going through this stuff at the same time I was, and we just kept saying, "how, how, how, how do we stop doing this? How do we stop worrying about things that aren't happening?" And the answer is: you just do it, because you start recognizing it when it happens. And then when it happens, you have to remind yourself over and over and over again, this is not actual reality. None of these worries are happening. This is not in my control. This is a story in my head. This is not reality. The only thing that is real is what is happening in this moment.

And friend, if you are listening to this: in this moment, you are safe. Because in this moment, you're listening to a podcast, and you could not be running for your life right now while listening to a podcast, otherwise you would not be listening to the podcast. So in this moment, you're okay.

All you can do is the next right thing. And for me, the next right thing is being done with this podcast and hoping that it did land the way that I wanted it to.

[00:08:35] So if you have any questions, as usual, please contact me! I hope that you are having a beautiful day and stay healthy and happy.