I often get tagged in the comments of various posts in response to someone asking for help dealing with riding related fear. Maybe they’ve had an accident and find themselves feeling completely out of sorts. Sometimes it’s a crippling anxiety. Whatever it is, the person in question is finding themselves in a tough spot that they really, really want to get out of. Naturally, a lot of different people weigh in with their thoughts, and I always like to scan through and see what sort of advice is being offered.
This is a selection from the latest post:
“The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.”
“Leave your fear with the situation that created it”
“Don’t stress about it”
“Just keep getting back on”
I’ll be honest and tell you that I have to sit on my hands a lot when I read the comments. Not because I think anyone is ill-intentioned or has anything less than the person’s best interest at heart, but because I know what a vulnerable place it is to be in that person reaching out for help in the first place and how meeting a person in there- and leading them to a better feeling place- requires empathy, compassion and skill.
The problem I have with a lot of the advice offered? It assumes that how the person is feeling is a choice. Feeling afraid is not a conscious decision. If it was, we would be able to overcome it with willpower and the simple truth is that in most instances we can’t.
Fear is the word often used to describe a heightened anxiety response, and arises from two main scenarios:
1. Finding yourself in the midst of a situation you don’t have the skill or expertise to deal with, or that places you outside your capacity to feel like you can effectively cope and feel safe
2. Unresolved traumatic stress that is triggered by a present-day situation, which in many times is disproportionate, out of context, or over the top for what you are actually dealing with in the moment
Softening the edges of fear and getting to a place where you feel like you have access to your body, skills, and agency in the midst of it is not a mind led process; it’s led by the body. It occurs by getting yourself to a place where your resources outweigh your stresses; where you have things to draw on that allow you to down-regulate when you find yourself in a state of heightened activation so the experience doesn’t get bigger than your body and you have choice as to where to direct the energy.
It’s more than an idea. It’s a felt experience.
If you are in the honoured position of having someone share their fear with you, please hold their concerns with gentle gloves. How they are feeling is not a choice. Don’t diminish their experience by assuming such.