You know, it can be really tough weighing in on conversations around dealing with fear. There are so many different philosophies that people subscribe to, have heard, or work for them that any time someone puts themselves out there and asks a fear-based, riding-related question, I often think that the answers that get thrown their way must leave them with a greater sense of confusion than they felt previously.
I think that I’m in a slightly different position where conversations around fear, trauma, and anxiety occupy the majority of my day. Musing on different scenarios and situations and finding creative ways to soften what can feel like an overwhelming and unnerving place to be is where I invest a lot of my energy, and I’m mindful of the fact that all of us are meeting the moment that we find ourselves in with a different set of experiences, understandings, and expectations. We all occupy our body in different ways, have different stresses that inform the shape it takes and the messages it sends us that in turn inform how we show up in the world and for our horses.
When there is some kind of injury or trauma that is connected to the fear- an accident or a fall for instance- we can be fairly sure that the body is holding onto the energy of that experience and has yet to fully metabolise it. As a consequence, we find ourselves in present-day moments that have little cause for anxiety or concern feeling paralysed by fear or triggered into what can seem like a disproportionate response that is both out of context and may defy logical understanding.
What IS happening, however, is entirely logical. The normal patterning of your nervous system has been interrupted, and a trigger that often lies outside of our conscious awareness signals your body that there is cause for concern. So there we are, knowing on the one hand that this is unnecessary, uncalled for, and potentially even ridiculous, but that doesn’t discount the fact that you have found yourself in a very real place of constriction and concern.
Often times, the diagnosis from well-meaning friends or mentors only serves to exacerbate the feelings that perhaps we should be stronger than this, that it’s some sort of weakness or flaw on our part. We then have input from the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee that compounds the anguish and we drive the feelings deeper and deeper.
The thing is, fear is not a choice. It’s not something you decide your way into or out of. When fear becomes paralysing, working at the level of the mind is often ineffectual. It’s like pulling out the lead rope when the horse you are looking to catch is a silhouette on the horizon. You’re much too late.
When we talk about increasing our capacity to manage experiences and emotions, what we are actually referring to is being able to manage the physiology of the experience. If we can learn to master how fear shows up in our body, for instance, and learn to stay balanced and centered in the midst of it, then we can channel find ways to stay in the moment and take small and incremental steps forward without feeling like we need to wave the white flag and run for the hills. We can gently, purposefully integrate the stored survival energy and begin to re-establish a more settled baseline.
To do this, we need resources. Resources that allow us to tangibly manage that energy and can act as a grounding rod when we feel like the circuit is going to blow. Your resources have to outweigh your stresses, and for as long as that scale is tipped, it’s going to be tough.
So if someone tells you that it’s all in your head, I would respectfully disagree. It’s all in your body. And in my experience, your body is the best place to start.