Few books have grabbed my attention from the first page the way Fearing Nothing by Michael O’Brien did. Michael begins this book by sharing his personal story of how he had won bodybuilding contests and was attending another one when he had his first panic attack that caused him to rush out of the auditorium. Wow! I thought. You mean even bodybuilders have anxiety attacks and suffer from fear and depression? And that was just the beginning for Michael. He found himself unexplainably having to get out of a car and run three miles in his dress shoes, having to run out of a restaurant while having lunch with his brother, and then being unable to drive or even leave home. Too often, people with anxiety and fear issues stay silent, trying to hide their problems from others, so I want to say, “Michael, thank you for sharing your story because it makes the rest of us realize we are not alone and it gives us the courage to share ours.”
We all have stress in our lives, but sometimes, the stress becomes nearly unmanageable. While I’ve never had a panic attack, sometimes I’ve thought I was on the verge of one and I often have anxiety during the work day, so I could relate to a lot of what Michael said, and I found the tools he offered to be beyond helpful.
After sharing his story, Michael goes on to divide the book into three sections. The first is about the stressors that lead to anxiety, fear, depression, and other phobias. He uses the word STRESSORS as an acronym for each of the major nine stressors that cause anxiety and fear, including issues with Self-Esteem and Sensitivity. Some of these stressors seem obvious, but others are surprising, including the first one: Smart. I was both surprised and pleased by this first stressor-it turns out I have anxiety because I’m intelligent. As Michael points out, intelligent people analyze and consequently think about what can go wrong, which causes them stress. So anxiety is a side effect of what is otherwise an asset I have. Who would have thought? Michael explains it this way:
“For every symptom you’ve had and experienced, you’ve been in a position to create its preceding thoughts or create those ideas. Like it or not, you are probably above average when it comes to IQ. You are likely smarter than you realize. You don’t have to be a doctor or an attorney to be considered smart. There are plenty of smart people in the world who work at big companies and small companies; smart people work as gardeners, teachers, and mechanics; they work at salons, saloons, anywhere and everywhere.”
He goes on to explain that because people with anxiety are intelligent, they basically sabotage themselves: “You must know this is not happening to you. It’s happening within you. No outside source is doing this to you. Nothing is attacking you. All of this has been created by you, but it’s also refreshing to know it can be cured by you.” Michael also describes how we can use our intelligence to tell ourselves new stories that aren’t so debilitating to us.
The second section of the book is REST, also an acronym that discusses the methods or activities people need to use to overcome their anxiety and fear. The R stands for Relaxation. Michael offers many helpful techniques for how to relax your body, and he advocates that you do these simple and short activities multiple times a day to teach your body how to relax and to become accustomed to being relaxed. The T stands for Tools. This is the longest chapter in the book because Michael has ten wonderful tools you can use. Again, some may be obvious such as breathing, but there are other very surprising ones such as “The Hoax.” You’ll have to read about that for yourself because it’s difficult to explain, but Michael shares his personal story of how he discovered this incredible tool, and it reminds me of other things I know such as the importance of letting go or surrendering to resolve a situation.
The final section is YOU, an acronym for how you are the solution to the problem. This section also included practical advice on ways you can improve your situation. The book concludes with a final note and then appendices that include lists of Bible verses about fear and anxiety that provide comfort and also a series of affirmations you can use to make yourself feel better.
One final thing I really appreciated was Michael’s viewpoint on the pointlessness of trying to determine the causes of anxiety and all the other related fears and symptoms. This book is not about psychoanalysis. Michael, in fact, focuses solely on overcoming the problem rather than trying to dig into the past. He states that he tried for years to figure out the causes of his issues, and ultimately, he came to the conclusion that:
“There is nothing to discover. There is no solution to be found for two reasons: 1) You have a wonderful and creative mind where millions of thoughts are created, and 2) Everyone in the world has these same wild and crazy thoughts, too. Yes, it’s true; they just react differently than you have; therefore, they never give those thoughts much attention at all. They release the thoughts in an instant and move on. Just like you will over time.”
Perhaps most importantly, Michael advocates that the reader do what he has done-quit hiding your situation from the world. Michael states:
“You are hiding. It’s time to stop hiding. When an alcoholic comes to grips with the fact that he’s an alcoholic, one of the first steps to improving himself is to admit he is, in fact, an alcoholic.
“Well, you might not be an alcoholic, but you are someone who is hiding from society. So much so that by not admitting what you are dealing with, you bring on additional suffering. You are contributing to the fear. The fear that someone will find out. The fear that someone will think you’re strange. The fear that you’ll be fired if your boss finds out. The fear that you won’t be accepted. The fear of what will people think? Today is the day you end that. Let the world know.
“I promise you will find comfort in knowing people will still love you. You will find comfort in knowing people will be concerned about you in a loving way. You will discover more people are experiencing this same situation than you ever thought possible.”
I have taken much of the advice in this book to heart, and while I haven’t tried all the tools yet, I believe that people will find much in this book to help them-they can take what works for them and leave the rest because no one solution fits everyone. That said, fortunately, there are many pieces to the solution in these pages, and I am certain you will find something useful here that will make your life less fearful, more normal, and hopefully even happier and more joy-filled.