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How To Dissolve Your Fears Through Acceptance [Step-by-Step Exercises + Action Steps To Overcome Your Fears During Pregnancy]
Before she was a beloved pregnancy blogger, certified birthing doula, and childbirth preparation educator, author Bailey Gaddis met her own pregnancy by buying a bunch of books — which, for the most part, made her even more confused, insecure, and scared.
Her new book Feng Shui Mommy: Creating Balance and Harmony for Blissful Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood (New World Library, May 14, 2017) is her way of giving pregnant women and new moms a better option. Adopting the principles and philosophy of feng shui, the Chinese system of a connected inner and outer harmony, this book guides women to their balanced center and supports them in tapping into the primal energies brought forth in the birthing experience.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
Fear can be a catalyst for growth only when it is acknowledged and accepted, then shown the door.
When it becomes a festering guest it begins swallowing up your reserves of health, happiness, and sanity, sticking you in a “what-if” paralysis. The oftentimes-false illusions that give birth to fear (e.g., a misconception that your body doesn’t know how to build and birth a baby) are frequently left unchecked in the vulnerable heart, mind, and body of the pregnant mama.
You may believe the fears are there to protect you, maybe to “prepare you for the worst.”
But instead of helping you prepare for an unlikely and unwanted outcome, the stress produced by these fears often creates the unwanted outcomes, like pregnancy complications, medical interventions, or postpartum depression.
The unknown sound you hear at night is much scarier than opening the door, peering outside, and seeing that the sound is just your cat chasing its tail. You’re going to open the door and get to know fear. You’re going to observe it, chat with it, and befriend it so it’s no longer the hidden demon you run from, but a known entity you know how to communicate with, know how to kindly ask to leave when it has served its purpose.
The first step is exploring the basic (illusory) anatomy of fear, and how it affects your very real physical anatomy.
The Mind-Body Effects of Fear
The skeleton of fear is composed of thoughts about a perceived (not usually real) threat. The flesh of fear is composed of the unpleasant emotions triggered by those thoughts.
As soon as a fear is birthed in your mind, the amygdala (a nut-shaped organ in the core of your brain) sends a wake-up signal to your autonomic nervous system, causing your body to acknowledge the fear. The two lanes of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, are the boss ladies regulating your internal organs, telling them what to do in times of danger and peace. But sometimes, they get a little confused.
Without the sympathetic nervous system (the Panic Room), you might pet a great white shark. Without the parasympathetic nervous system (the Meditation Room), you might have a panic attack when the waiter brings you a salad instead of a hamburger.
The confounding thing is, the chemical response created in the body when facing either the shark or the salad is the same, even though one has the potential to cause death, while the other is just inconvenient. Death and inconvenience both sound unpleasant, but they’re way different. Unfortunately, the body does not know that they’re not rated the same on the scale of seriousness.
Sympathetic Nervous System: The Panic Room
When you’re shoved into the Panic Room, you fight, take flight, or freeze.
Because it is unlikely you will be in many situations where physically fighting is an appropriate (or legal) response, the modern-day “fight” mechanism is to experience anxiety. A few other fun features of your Panic Room are a triggering of stress, an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, a slowing of digestion, a rerouting of blood to defense organs (the uterus is not a defense organ), and a decrease in your ability to think and reason.
Fun, right? But remember, your body is not very good at deciphering an actual threat (a rattlesnake staring at you) from a perceived threat (the grocery store not having the right brand of almond milk); both situations can throw you into your Panic Room.
When you’re moving through childbirth, a process that is natural and rarely life threatening, the mind often sends the body into the Panic Room because it doesn’t know what to do with birth. “This is an unknown, this is scary — I don’t know what to do with this. Yup, we’re probably going to die.” None of these thoughts are based in reality, yet they evoke a very real response in the body, making birth more challenging, and ironically, more dangerous. The quickest way to achieve a room reassignment, from the Panic Room to Meditation Room, is deep breathing.
Parasympathetic Nervous System: The Meditation Room
You should be living in your Meditation Room for about 98 percent of your life. You deserve to be living in your Meditation Room for 98 percent of your life. This is your restful space, where you get to feel all warm, fuzzy, and Zen-like. When you’re living in this space you calmly respond to non–life threatening stressors, your body is at ease, all your organs (including the uterus!) are receiving the ideal amount of blood and oxygen, your breathing is slow and steady, and you feel really good.
With the release and absence of fear comes entry into your Meditation Room. Delivering your baby in this Meditation Room encourages gentle, comfortable, and healthy (maybe even blissful!) birthing.
An important component of preventing your fears from pulling you out of your Meditation Room is letting them speak their piece so they can leave you be.
Give a Voice to Your Fears
Tense situations are commonly diffused after both parties freely express their opinions. Conflicts with fears are no different — your fears need a nonjudgmental space in which to express themselves before they feel compelled to move on. That space is created when you stop trying to “fix” or overcome a fear, and just sit with it in a private location. Breathe into the emotions and sensations that emerge as you allow the fear to be there. Notice them and name them.
For example, “I’m breathing into the tightness I feel in my chest when I think about my fear of pushing my baby out. I’m not trying to make it go away — it’s there — I’m just acknowledging it.”
Resist the temptation to validate, discredit, or conquer the fear — just be present with it.
As if you’re watching a movie, observe the thoughts and images that come up as the fear moves through you; none of it is wrong. Any resistance, tightness, sadness, shaking, shame, pressure, anger, or any other form of emotional or physical expression is perfect, because that’s what’s coming up. It all has to come up to be released, and this can all happen in ninety seconds.
It takes ninety seconds or less for an emotion to be generated, chemically flow through the body, and be set free.
If you say, “No! I do not want to feel sad right now. I’m going to force myself to feel something else,” and resist the ninety-second surge of sadness, you’ll need to process it again and again until you surrender to it.
You can handle anything for ninety seconds; set your timer and breathe through it. Did you know surges during active labor often last about ninety seconds, commonly peaking at around thirty seconds, then diminishing?
How to Liberate Your Fears
Suppressing fear-induced emotions infuses life into them, often causing a manifestation of depression or unpleasant physical symptoms.
Here is a plan to liberate the emotions surrounding your fears so they can have their moment and then go bother someone else:
1. Meditate on the various elements of your life (e.g., friends, family, career, body, home, incoming childbirth, etc.) and any fears that may have latched onto them.
2. Write down the fears. If you’ve made it this far, tremendous progress has already been made. Fears hold the greatest power when they exist without you knowing it.
3. Choose the fear that’s causing you the greatest struggle and move through the following steps. There’s no need to move through your entire list of fears in one day, so be gentle with yourself, creating time for rest in between fear-release sessions.
4. Set a timer for ninety seconds, close your eyes, visualize the fear, and allow the emotions attached to it to be expressed. Let yourself notice and experience the emotions and accompanying physical sensations moving through you — let go of resistance and judgment toward the fear. Hold the intention that the emotions attached to the fear will be flushed out of you by the time your alarm chimes.
The fear you’re working with may be triggered at another time. That is normal — just give yourself the ninety seconds to re-release the attached emotions.
5. Now that you’ve released the emotions attached to the fear, examine the fear objectively and decide where it sits on the following spectrum:
a. The object of the fear is something completely outside your control, and so the fear can be fully released by doing the ninety-second release work anytime it comes up. (This is because there is no benefit in stewing over a potential outcome you have no control over.)
b. The thing you fear is an issue you need to educate yourself on. (Knowledge gained pushes away uncertainty, and invites in confidence.) For example, I was fearful of testing positive for Group B strep, an infection caused by a common bacterium and often found in pregnancy. I educated myself on what Group B strep actually is (not as scary as I thought), and what my options would be if I tested positive. When I did test positive, I felt calm and prepared.
c. The fear is something you need to talk through with another individual. Honest communication fosters peace, harmony, and connection. For example, if you’re fearful of how your romantic relationship will shift after birth, share these concerns with your partner.
6. Do the work, Mama. Just do it. When you release the emotions that hold up your fears and release the fear that they will poke their heads up again (which they may do), you live from a space of love and trust, rather than one of suffering and doubt.
Do It Daily
Every morning before you get out of bed, clear any negativity that may have made itself known as you slept: close your eyes and envision any and all fears, doubts, or stressors being pulled from your mind, body, and spirit and collecting in a bubble floating in front of you. Then deeply inhale, and as you exhale imagine the bubble being blown away from you and picked up by the wind. Imagine it being pulled so far out on the horizon that it becomes a miniscule dot that pops, dissolving everything the bubble carried. Now smile, open your eyes, and claim your fresh day.
You Are Brave Enough
Intentionally inviting your fears out to play can be painful, scary, and rich with tears, but the freedom you gain when your fears have been unchained from you is immeasurable.
You are courageous enough to awaken the inner vibrant, sumptuous, and goddess Self you probably didn’t even know was waiting to spring forth. Be her, by realizing you already are her — all you need to do is take off the veil of fear.
Excerpted from the book Feng Shui Mommy: Creating Balance and Harmony for Blissful Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood. Copyright ©2017 by Bailey Gaddis. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
About the author
Visit her online at www.baileygaddis.com.