How Can You Deal With Scary Experiences?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

In February of 2021, a little over a year ago now, I underwent laser surgery to both my eyes. It was a voluntary operation that I’d been looking forward to for years. I was really excited about it, but I was also pretty terrified. The idea that I’d have to lie there with my eyes forced open while a huge machine worked on my eye using a really strong laser beam was… well, you can imagine! Last year, I wrote I’ve written shortly about how I prepared for the surgery in this post, but preparation is only one way you can help yourself cope with a frightful moment in your life, like an operation, an interview with the police or a job evaluation.

In the days leading up to the operation, I definitely felt fear. It was uncomfortable, made my heart flutter and gave me cold sweats. You know, all that good stuff. I also knew, however, that this time, I had good reason to be afraid. I tend to fear most things that are unknown – I’m pretty much a scaredy-cat in denial – and especially things that carry some sort of risk.

When we feel fear, the usual way in which we cope with it is to find an escape route. We can either delude ourselves into thinking we don’t feel it (and suppress it), or distract ourselves with food/alcohol/games/etc. But with fear, sometimes the best way past it is through it. I decided, early on, that I wanted to do everything in my power to prevent this really scary event from turning into a traumatic experience.

This is what I did:

  1. I shared my feelings with others.
    I talked about how I felt to friends and family. I described what would be happening, and how my body was reacting to this idea. And with that, I received support, which let me know I wasn’t alone. That already helped reduce some of my anxiety.
  2. I breathed through my fear.
    As I was lying under the machine, I didn’t freeze up like I had expected myself to. I was pretty scared, to be honest, but I talked to the doctor about it. And I focussed on talking long deep breaths, allowing the air to find the places in my body that were tensed up, like my clenched fists and the knot in my stomach.
  3. I practiced TRE (Tension/Trauma Releasing Exercise).
    TRE is a way for our body to release tension we get from stress, or that is locked up in our body due to trauma. I made sure to tremor or shake at different moments before and after the operation, to allow my body to return to calm and balance. You can find out how to do these exercises with this useful video.

I’m glad I knew about these tools before the operation, but I’ve also used them to process experiences I had in the past. They are always available, and I’m so grateful I can fall back on them when needed.

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