Persevering Through A Pandemic (1/2)
There is pandemic going around. But I’m not referring to COVID-19. As severe as COVID-19 is, there is something even more toxic, even more contagious, and with even further reaching effects.
This fear has swept around the world, has infiltrated social media, has splintered communities, split families, and has possibly griped your very own heart.
Fear of death. Fear of loss. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of judgement, ridicule, being different. Fear of the future.
This fear presents in different ways. It can feel like denial, uncertainty, anxiety, frustration, or overwhelm. It could feel like resignation, anger, blame, worry, or hostility. There are many faces of fear, but they all come from the same root.
While all this might sound over dramatic, take a moment right now to reflect, have you been infected by fear in some shape or form? Chances are, the answer is yes.
And right now you might be wondering, “What does this have to do with my horse?”
The answer is best understood through an analogy. Have you ever, on a ride, encountered one scary thing with your horse, and it affected your entire ride? Has your horse ever been scared of one thing and then been jumpy and agitated for the rest of your interaction? Of course. That’s because fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and other negative emotions carry over.
Just as that happens in your horse, it happens for you too. The fear, uncertainty, anxiety, frustration, and overwhelm that you are experiencing in the world today beyond the barn walls, so to speak, is affecting every single area of your life, including your horse.
While researchers and scientists are working on getting us through one pandemic - COVID-19, it’s up to you and me to get us through the fear pandemic. But we’re not alone. Horses can teach us a great deal about conquering fear.
Horses are hard-wired for fear. That’s how they survive. But they don’t live in fear. They move beyond it. They conquer it. Here are the 6 steps to conquer fear as taught by the horses.
(This week, we'll explore Steps 1 and 2. Next week, we'll wrap up Steps 4 to 6.)
Step 1. Retreat and Reflect
When horses are scared of something it can help them if we lead them away from the scary thing and let them look at it with two eyes from a safe distance. It’s never helpful to ignore that they’re sacred, discipline them for being scared, or push them on without dealing with it.
Do the same for yourself. Retreat and reflect. Retreating from a situation is not the same thing as running away. It’s simply that you’re getting some space between you and this situation so that you can regroup. Find stillness and solitude to be with yourself in this scary time. Then reflect on what is actually going on inside. All too often we numb, ignore, and push down our feelings with busyness, substances, or distractions. Don’t ignore your emotions, don’t punish yourself for feeling them, and don’t blindly push through. There’s a big situation going on. It’s ok to feel some level of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, or overwhelm. But just as you don’t want your horse to stay in that heightened sense of fear, you don’t want to stay in that state either.
Step 2. Reconnect with Heart
Have you ever been on a horse so scared that you could hear their hammering heartbeat as it rocked their entire body and yours? Emotions affect physiology - the heart is erratic, the systems enter disharmony, and the brain goes offline (that’s why your horse cannot think straight when he’s scared). For the horse to find calm, their physiology needs to find calm too, and you’ll feel their heart settle down.
While your fear can affect your heart beat the same way as it affects a horse’s - causing it to beat hard and fast - it also causes much more subtle effects on your heart’s physiology too. Feeling fear, frustration, anxiety, overwhelm, discouragement, disappointment, anger, and any other stressful emotion causes your heart beat rhythm to become disordered and erratic. This may be less perceptible, but it’s still measurable. This erratic rhythm from the heart that researchers call incoherence, causes your brain to go offline. That’s why, just like your horse, you can’t think straight when you’re upset, depressed, anxious, or frustrated.
In order to get your brain working again, you have to reconnect with your heart. Simply get out of your head and drop into the heart. Focus your attention on the heart wherever and whenever you feel anxious, fearful, frustrated, uncertain, or disappointed. In fact, do it right now. Bring your focus down to your heart. And find calm there.
[Over the next week, continue practicing Steps 1 & 2. Give yourself the time and space to retreat, reflect, and reconnect with your heart. We’ll be back next week with Steps 3 to 6 on how to conquer fear.]
Here's to You and Your Horse!