Ah, wouldn’t it be wonderful to live without fear? I think this is a common fantasy for nervous people. In fact, when we observe people around us, we often think that these “normal” people must have such “easy” lives, free from the tortures we experience every day.
Yet Dr. Low reminds us that fear is a normal, healthy emotion:
“How can you live in this world—or in any other world it seems to me—without having fear? If you have no fear, this means you have no capacity to feel what is going on. If you have no fear, then I doubt whether you will have loved. I doubt it. You see, that sounds very attractive to be without fear, but that can’t be done. If you are without fear, then you are not human. Then you are angelic perhaps and saintly, but I told you what I want you to be: average, human and not saintly.” (1, 75)
Dr. Low elaborates on the difference between nervous people and other folks:
“[T]he average person has fears, and headaches, and numbness, and develops a palpitation here and a pressure there, but if he feels average, then he takes it for granted that this is coming to him and therefore doesn’t work himself up over it. If he feels average, he will not blame himself for having palpitations, not even for having the feeling that he is dying away. He will simply take it for granted that he is an average human being with the average human limitations.” (1, 75)
We nervous people attach danger to palpitations, blurry vision, tightened chests, rapid breathing, and other “everyday” symptoms, and thus we work ourselves up into vicious cycles. Eliminating that belief in danger is what will free us from the discomfort associated with these symptoms.
So lately when my eyes are blurry and my breathing shallow (“old friends” of mine) I stop what I’m doing and remind myself that no danger is involved in the activity, that the feelings and sensations may be distressing but are not dangerous. I command my muscles (eyes, lungs) to carry out the task at hand (reading, breathing). And when it’s complete I heartily endorse myself—not for the outcome, whatever that may be, but for the effort I invested in improving my mental health.
1. Low AA. Manage Your Fears, Manage Your Anger: A Psychiatrist Speaks. Willett; Glencoe, Ill.: 1995.