Fear and Terror: Five Mindfulness Tools to Help You Calm Down

Terrorism has a very clear goal: to terrify us. People are being harmed bodily. Many, many more people are being harmed emotionally. Calming down helps fight the emotional effects of terrorism.

Mindfulness – focusing on the here and now – is one of therapists’ top tools for coping with anxiety. It’s been found to reduce stress and to make us happier, more self aware and more in control of our reactions and behaviour. It’s particularly useful in coping with fear because the essence of fear is NOT here, NOT now.

Almost always, if we’re afraid of something, it’s not currently happening to us. Yes, there is objective danger these days and we should take steps to keep ourselves safe. But the most pervasive effect of terror is the extreme and painful fear and anxiety that we feel while we’re going about our daily lives and tasks.

Here are five techniques from the world of mindfulness that can help you be calmer.

1. We build entire worlds with our thoughts. And then we live in them, as if they really exist. Thoughts are just thoughts. They are not the same as reality. Being afraid of violent attacks is completely understandable and normal. But remind yourself that at this moment, you are whole and unharmed.

2. Look up and notice where you are. Sometimes it can feel like pain and fear are the only thing that exist. Especially when we’re anxious we can be totally absorbed by our anxious thoughts or by the sensations of anxiety that we feel in the body. Look up. Look around. Notice where you are. The anxiety might not go away, but it will be one part of your experience instead of filling up your entire awareness.

3. Notice the sensations. If fear is making it too hard to focus on anything else, direct your attention to the physical sensations you’re experiencing. Ask yourself: where in my body am I experiencing this fear, right now – chest, stomach, throat? Bring your attention to those sensations with a gentle curiosity. See if you can follow them as they move and change. This takes some of your attention away from the scary scenarios that you are imagining.

4. One or two moments of noticing the present moment can change your day. There is always something good in the present moment. Almost always, there’s something beautiful wherever we happen to be. Notice the trees and the sky outside the window or on the street you’re walking on. Find something beautiful in the room you are in – a piece of art, a fabric with a striking colour or lovely texture. Notice what you see, hear, body sensations and so on – this can dramatically reduce fear and anxiety.

5. Make a decision to appreciate life’s gifts. Can you see, walk, talk, or stand up? Is there someone who loves you and whom you love? Gratitude for life’s everyday gifts reduces stress and has been found to dependably increase happiness.

We can’t get rid of fear and anxiety. Struggling with any feeling and attempting to completely erase it actually increases its effects. But we can remember that there is much else in the world besides our fear. And being calmer, we’ll be able to make better decisions to keep ourselves safe and well.

About the Author
Margo Helman, MSW, clinical social worker and therapist. Margo works with individuals, couples and families, adults and children, coping with depression, anxiety, relationship and developmental issues. She works in private practice and is clinical director of Gisha Lachaim (Tishkofet), a non profit that works to increase the focus on quality of life when living with or treating serious illness and loss. Formerly a midwife, Margo likes to remember that pain can sometimes be a precursor to joy.
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