Episode 55: Feeling Safe in a Fearful World.

After recently delivering my Ukraine Fundraising workshop; 5 Wellbeing Tools to help you to reduce anxiety, so that you can feel calmer, sleep better and feel brighter a couple of weeks ago and then having an experience of feeling unsafe on holiday last week I felt called to create this episode and reflect more on what was actually going on! In this weeks episode, I want to share some of my knowledge of the nervous system and bodies physiological responses to my feelings of un-ease, how taking a step back and re-centering helped me gain some perspective and my 5 tips to help you to feel calmer and safer if you find yourself feeling uneasy.

Last week I returned home from a holiday to Marrakesh in Morocco. I’d heard mixed stories before I went of some people loving it and some people hating it. I went feeling optimistic that I would love it, but on our first visit into the centre I started to feel on edge. On the 20 minute shuttle bus journey my husband kept pointing out that he couldn’t see many tourists about, I’d heard of people forcing monkeys upon them and expecting money and of henna tattoos being forcefully applied and charged for, and that the markets were busy and overwhelming. On the other hand I had also heard that the markets were amazing and colourful, full of magic and local culture.

When it came to getting off the bus I was slightly apprehensive but not too bad. As we entered the main square, henna tattooists were in sight and the noise and business felt overwhelming. When I tuned into my body I realised my muscles were tense, my breath was shallow and in fact I was very on-edge. I was in a hyper-aroused state - the fight or flight response of the nervous system. Part of me did want to ‘flight’ and run away and get out of there! But I knew I could have some control over this response and tried to move slowly and breath slowly.

This fight or flight response (a branch of the sympathetic nervous system) is similar to a cave man out in the wild, hunting for food, on high alert for any dangers that may occur. If he were to see a tiger he may fight it or run away! Frequently, these dangers are created by thoughts in our minds, fears, worst case scenarios, that often never come true but can quite literally worry us sick!

I’ve experienced this sense of un-ease many times before in foreign countries such as Malaysia and Bali, where things are different and in the past I have led my experience from a place of fear. A fear that something terrible is going to happen, that I am going to get mugged, that I shall get attacked in the dark or get kidnapped. I have learnt in the past that I need to move my spot light from looking out for every possible bad thing that could happen and instead shine my mental spotlight on all the kind and wonderful delights, places and people that are there in that moment.

In Marrakesh I had to remind myself that most people are just going about their day, and that generally I am safe. There were families and small group of friends smiling and talking as they enjoyed their Saturday evening in the city. It was my own thoughts and reactions that were making me feel on edge. My husband was there in exactly the same environment and he was feeling pretty fine, he doesn’t usually get as triggered or overwhelmed in the hustle and bustle as I do.

We continued our afternoon and I gradually found myself calming through the day. However, this then changed as we started to walk back through the bustling square and it was dark at this point. There were musical instruments being played, people cheering - my senses were on overdrive. And then I saw a man walking towards me with a monkey, I didn’t like the thought of this monkey being placed on me without my permission, let alone the poor animal welfare I didn’t want to be supporting!

My fight or flight response kicked in again and I ran away in a panic, my husband laughing at me. I was back on high alert - tense, breathing quickly and feeling unsafe. Looking back, in reality if the monkey had landed on me yes my boundaries would have been broken, not ideal but it wasn’t a life or death situation, but in my mind and body in that moment felt unsafe!