Creative Counselling: How to Stop Fearing Life
In this month’s instalment of Creative Counselling, Marie Bruce explores why some of us development a fear of everyday life and explains how to counterract it
by Marie Bruce
As a bereavement counsellor, I expect to encounter clients who have developed a fear of death. It is a natural fear after all, and the passing of a loved one does tend to make people face up to their own mortality. However, what did take me by surprise was the number of clients, usually young women, who had developed a fear of life.
By this, I mean that they were afraid of the normal day to day experiences most of us take for granted, such as taking public transport or visiting a shopping centre. This fear of life could manifest itself in a myriad of symptoms and diagnosis, from generalised anxiety disorder to obsessive compulsive disorder, from agoraphobia to claustrophobia and many, many more. Some clients had so many medical labels attached to their psyche that it took a lot of work to dig down to who they were before they developed their disordered way of thinking.
Add to this the ridicule such people may face online or in person, being called ‘the snowflake generation’, repeatedly being told to get a grip and get on with things, and it’s not surprising that these were some of my shyest and least communicative clients. It’s a tough job trying to help someone who has this sort of deep-seated fear that the world is out to get them and bad things are going to happen if they step out of their comfort zone.
While some of these fears often have a basis in truth – the world can be dangerous at times and bad things certainly do sometimes happen – they become paralysing when they stop someone from living a normal life and reaching their full potential. How do you encourage someone to forge a career for themselves when they’re too scared to even get on a bus or walk to the shops in broad daylight?
What’s more, people who have a fear of life have usually worked out how to avoid as much of it as possible and they don’t necessarily readily adapt to their routines being shaken up. Many are unable to hold down a regular job, or choose work that can be done from home. Others stay in education as long as possible, moving from one course to the next with no clear career goal in sight. Frequently they live at home with their parents, feeling unwilling or unable to make the step to living alone or with others. In short, they remain wherever they feel safe.
A thoroughly modern malady?
In some ways, anxiety disorders have become the modern trend, with many social media stars and celebrities opening up about their own struggles and fears, and while it’s good that people are discussing this topic, there is also the danger that this fear of daily life is being normalised. It isn’t normal to feel overwhelmed by something as simple as going out to buy groceries, or to pay the bills. If you do feel overwhelmed by such things on a regular basis then this is something that needs to be addressed – because you deserve better.
So, how do you address it? Firstly, we should look for the root cause of the issue. When did you begin to feel overwhelmed by everyday life? Is it in response to a difficult life event such as a bereavement or an accident of some sort? If you can pinpoint that initial triggering event, you have a starting point for what you should seek help with through counselling. No matter how much remedial work you do on yourself, you won’t alleviate the anxiety and day to day fear until you have dealt with the root cause.
Secondly, check your metaphors and self-talk. If you look at the world like it’s your enemy, then of course it will seem like a scary place. Change the metaphors you use and begin to see life differently. See it as a great game you can play and have fun with, or a grand ball you can dance through, or a wonderful suitor who wants to date you and introduce you to amazing new experiences. Daily life is not meant to be terrifying and hidden away from. It is meant to be lived, slowly, 24 hours at a time. That’s really all you have to deal with in one go – just the next 24 hours.
Another way to calm this kind of fearful anxiety is to do some time structuring. Whenever you have something coming up that is making you anxious or nervous, schedule it into your diary. Then, immediately before and afterwards, schedule in something fun that you can look forward to around the anxiety-inducing acticity. For example, you could go on a walk with your dog at 12:30pm, go to your dentist appointment at 2pm and then have a Zoom call with your friend at 3:30pm. You get the idea. Structuring your time around things you find difficult like this will help you to feel in control of your life.
For some people, a blank page in a diary is a trigger in itself and they only see all the time in which bad things might happen, or they will disappoint themselves or let someone down in some way. Time structuring in this way ensures that you are not drifting along at the mercy of others, but are in control of your day to day commitments. If you have two difficult meetings in one week, you will know to leave the dentist or the routine vet appointment until the week after. Again, this will help to make sure you don’t fall down the rabbit hole of being overwhelmed. Adding in fun dates with yourself as a reward will nurture your confidence in small, manageable baby steps.
Now is a great time to invest in a new diary or planner. Make a new habit of structuring out your time, writing everything down so that you can see at a glance how much balance you have between work, family, friends, hobbies and those day-to-day administrative tasks that we all need to take care of. Don’t allow yourself to go down the anxiety spiral.
Take control by making a plan and rewarding yourself with fun whenever you know you have to do something you might find trying. In this way, your life will begin to work for you rather than against you – and you have the added comfort of knowing that time structuring is a tried and tested counselling tool that really does help. Happy planning, and until next month,
Marie Bruce x
About the author:
Marie Bruce Dip. T.C. MBACP is a qualified psychotherapist, Cruse Bereavement Counsellor and best-selling self-help author. She specialises in grief and loss counselling, PTSD and military counselling, and life coaching.
In this monthly column, Marie offers simple tools used by therapists to help clients and readers improve their mental well-being.
Marie’s books are available on Amazon UK.