Sunday, April 24, 2016

Being Purposeful in Facing Your Fears

I have a friend who was recently attacked by a dog. This has been a traumatic experience for her and has developed into a fear of walking near dogs. We have walked every week together for over 2 years, whether it's 10 below or 90 and humid. This attack has changed her experience on our walks from noticing people, trees, and the beautiful snow flakes to being hypervigilant to any potential run- in with a dog. It's been interesting to watch her fear take over our walks and grow exponentially with every avoidance move she makes. I finally asked her if I could help her so that she could take back her walks and change her experience with dogs. Thankfully she was open as she was painfully aware of how skiddish she had become. I told her that she had to teach her brain the difference between danger and discomfort. Danger is when something is actually happening (like when she was being bitten) and discomfort is when we fear something might happen (every walk we take). I asked her to start being purposeful about walking next me when a dog was on the street, on the side where the dog is. I explained that every time she moves away from a dog or purposefully avoids walking down a street where a dog is, she teaches her brain to be scared of discomfort, of streets, of walking. In order to enjoy her walks again, she will have to choose roads with dogs so that she purposefully creates an opportunity to practice feeling discomfort and being courageous. The woods was particularly beautiful today, people and dogs were out in force. My friend took a deep breath and practiced walking toward the dogs, instead of away. She got stronger with each encounter and I watched her confidence grow. By the end of our walk in the woods, we were noticing the beautiful flowers again, sharing family stories, and smiling.

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