My home was under a tornado warning last week. I remember on the television screen they mapped out the path of the potential funnel cloud to “Walnut Creek 1:14.” It was 1 PM. Fourteen minutes. Suddenly my television screen was locked with a banner across the top saying to go find shelter. Believe it or not, I tried to change the channel. Like maybe I should catch “Let’s Make a Deal” while the tornado is bearing down. Maybe another channel will predict the storm going elsewhere. My cell is alerting me that I need to take cover. So I call my husband “Should I take shelter?” and he said “Yes.” Like I need permission to find shelter. Crazy things you do in the moment of fear.
So I grab a pillow and my dog and headed to an interior bathroom. I feverishly watch the radar on my phone and listen to the television set muted through the bathroom door. I sat there on the slate floor reflecting on the fact that my dog had no idea what was happening. She was free of the abject fear of that moment. As I sat there wondering if that huge pine in the front of the house would fall on us. I reflected back on the book The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. Hmmm. How can I use some of the things she recommends. This is the perfect Petri dish of fear to give it a try.
So here is what I did to face fear:
1. I started by reframing it. I initially thought “I’m scared.” Then I thought about reframing that to “I’m excited.” So I started to appreciate the uniqueness of this situation. “Wow, I’ve never been under a tornado warning before. This is exciting.”
So my daughter was under a tornado warning some 3 hours later in Durham, NC. She was scared. I tried to reframe it for her. She texted, “I’m scared to be all alone :(.” I replied, “We are with you. Rise to the challenge.” I don’t know if it helped her but I know that when I reframed the situation as I sat on the bathroom floor, I used my energy to focus on being proactive by searching radar information and taking my mind off awful-izing what might happen.
So if you are headed to speak in front of an audience of 100 or having to terminate an employee, reframe it to excited energy. Harness that energy to help you move forward through the fear.
2. Find the positive spin. I realized that I was glad I was with my dog. How often do I get to sit on the bathroom floor with my dog? Like never. I appreciated her calmness. She walked around in a circle and sat down like this was as good a place as any to take a nap. It’s hard to be panicked when you’re sitting next to a Zen dog. I started to think about the fact that I was safe at home and not out on the road. This was the safest place in the world. In the text conversations with my daughter, I kept up the positive spin. “The house you are in is a newer house” and “the storm is traveling fast you’ll be out of it no time” and “you are strong.” Shoring up your resources keeps your mind in a more positive state.
So when you step on that stage in front of an audience of 100, think about the positive intention you are going to bring to the folks. And when you are terming an employee? Think about their positive humanity. The upside propels you forward.
3. Find someone to connect with. I was texting my husband and daughter in a group text while I sat on the floor. I was snuggled up next to my dog as she lay on the bathroom floor. As McGonigal wrote, “Connection with others activates prosocial instincts, encourages social connection, enhances social cognition, dampens fear and increases courage. You want to be near friends or family. You notice yourself paying more attention to others, or are more sensitive to others’ emotions.”
While I was texting my daughter as she sat on her bathroom floor, I asked if I could call. We spoke on the phone as the worst of the second storm cell passed over. I don’t know if she felt better but I felt better by connecting with her. I felt like teleporting my dog up to her bathroom floor. There have been several times that I have been on the phone with my daughter and I’ve said, “I am holding you right now.” It might be virtual but I know it helps. If you are unable to connect due to loss of power or phone connection, try a mantra or affirmations. You can also imagine that your mother is there holding your hand. So when you walk up on that stage, make eye contact and smile at one or two people. When you terminate that employee, look them in the eye. Shake their hand when they leave. Connection dampens down the fear.
It’s not obvious my daughter and I lived through three tornados that day. No downed trees, damage or loss of power. But I have to say I learned from the experience. For one, I didn’t succumb to the stress of the situation. I stayed focused and positive. My husband, who had been on a group text with my daughter and me, came home that night and commented, “You did a great job.” He showed me his phone and there were apparently 80 text messages that went back and forth that afternoon between us as two separate tornados spun by my daughter’s home. If you are in a similar situation, I recommend you focus on the upside. You will think better if a catastrophe does happen instead of reacting out of fear.