“To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.” ~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved
I eat stress as a late night snack.
Grinding my teeth has been an issue for me since I was very young. I used to grind my teeth so loud that I would wake up my sister who slept in the room next to mine.
Teeth grinding and TMJ, is the body’s way of dealing with stress. I rarely feel stress in the forefront of my mind but clearly, my body is feeling it and it is manifesting in my jaw.
Last summer, while driving home from a stressful day at my job as the director of an artisan market, my jaw dislocated itself. Right there, in the car! My jaw came off the hinge and fell to the right.
Throughout the day, I had been faced with the usual stressors of work. People rely on me to manage efficiently so that our market runs smoothly. As any issue came my way, I would laugh my way to a solution. At one point, we were concerned about having to cancel due to bad weather and I laughed, saying the weather is out of my control. We always want large audiences for our artists so I took many pictures of myself smiling to post on FB so all could see the fun to be had. If you look closely at the pictures, you can see my teeth are tightly clenched.
Instead of facing my fears and dealing with them, I pushed them, or so I thought, to the back of my mind. Interestingly, the back of the brain is where the “fight or flight” response resides. That’s the part of the brain that tells us what to do when we are afraid. Do we flee or do we stand and fight?
I chose neither. I chose to laugh.
All of the years of not dealing with my fears put such a strain on my muscles from clenching and grinding that they finally just gave up and let go.
The following weeks involved various forms of therapy including chiropractic, acupuncture and restorative yoga to realign my jaw, lower my stress and to learn breathing techniques to calm my central nervous system.
I learned the importance of acknowledging my fears.
In the past, I buried my fears. I thought that if people knew that I was afraid that they would lose confidence in me or take advantage of me. I stand just under 5ft tall and was always afraid of being “small”. That fear fueled my determination to appear strong; stronger than YOU or ANYONE around me. It felt acceptable to be short, as long as I was strong. I thought strength would over come fear.
But, the fear never left. It was with me the whole time. Now that the fear had been acknowledged, what could I do with it?
This process has led me to recognize that all of our choices are based on one of two things; love or fear. When I have fears, I look at the scenarios. Is this a real, concrete fear or is it something that I have made up in my mind? If it is concrete and real, what positive (love) action can I personally take to move forward in the right direction? If the fear is not concrete but something that I have made up in my mind, then I must acknowledge that too. I must focus on the things in my life that are under my control and let that propel me to the next level of positive (love) action.
In a frantic moment, when nothing seems within my control, I focus on the breath. I take a deep, loving breath into my belly. I remind myself that my breath is always within my control. I remind myself of the quote by Dr. Dyer, “We cannot control what goes on outside of ourselves but we can always control what goes on inside of ourselves.”
I am still practicing bringing my fears to the forefront of my mind but it is getting easier. What has amazed me is that the more I address my fears, the stronger I feel. I guess I didn’t have to be so afraid of fear after all!