Fear ripples through my body.
My heart is beating fast, my thoughts racing. It’s a beautiful day in Guatemala, but all I can think about is why in the hell I agreed to teach English to six different classes, each at different levels, while in a completely foreign country.
Rewind to two weeks prior: I landed in Guatemala City to work with an international volunteer organization that empowers women and children through education. I have taught English to small children before, but never to teenagers who don’t speak any English. I also speak zero Spanish, and I’m not a certified English teacher.
This morning though, it is game time. I am scared and filled with fear that I am either going to screw this up or make a complete ass of myself. My taxi is late, of course signifying that today is going to be a complete disaster.
After finally getting into my taxi, I notice my driver (who also speaks very little English) is driving incredibly slowly. He manages to say “take it easy” in English. While he was referring to the traffic and his driving, I take it as a sign to calm myself the f*ck down.
I take a few deep breaths and think about what I am about to embark on. I rationally explain to myself that I have two choices: I could continue on this path of mental destruction or I could focus on what I could do right.
I could shift my awareness to the fact that this whole situation has nothing to do with me and understand that it was really all about these kids who wanted to learn English.
I chose the latter.
Thankfully, the day went exceptionally well. But reflecting upon it now, I can’t help but think of how many other times I’ve been in this same mental space of worry and fear. Times when I allowed these emotions to completely take over and disrupt any positives that the experience might have provided. Times when I allowed these imaginary thoughts to control my behavior.
Fear is a powerful and primitive human emotion.
So here are a four things I have been using since to overcome the mental destruction of fear, worry, and overwhelm:
1. Breathe. Take one, two, or 50 deep breaths. Not only does this feel good, but it also calms the nervous system and activates the hypothalamus, which then sends out neuro-hormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body.
In other words, you feel calm.
2. Imagine a time you overcame. Close your eyes and take yourself back to experiences where you did succeed. Relive those for a moment . Feel what it felt like to accomplish something big and allow those feelings to release that happy chemical inside you.
3. Take yourself out of the equation. Most of the time when we do something big, we are doing it for reasons other than ourselves.
We must remember why we are engaging in an activity. For me, it was to let these kids know that someone genuinely cared and that their education was important. Think about what you are doing and how it impacts the bigger picture.
4. Challenge your thoughts. This one may be the hardest in the moment of overwhelm, but ask yourself, are the thoughts I am thinking reflective of reality? Most of the time, they’re not.
We have the ability to challenge the thoughts in our heads and ask whether they are coming from fear or empowerment. We can then choose which thoughts we want to think and change our emotions that come along with them.
While I don’t think that we can always control the thoughts that run through our heads, I do think we have the ability to take a step back and challenge what we are thinking. We can always check into our emotions and ask ourselves better questions.
If we can shift that overwhelm and fear to empowerment and strength, we can change our whole perception of what we are doing.
Author: Jennifer Sinclair
Image: PROPetras Gagilas/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton