Facing Real Fears

The world has recently become a scarier place than it was before Covid-19. The incidence of anxiety is increasing in the US, thanks in part to the speed with which we can hear or read a barrage of bad news all day, every day.

Some people are worried constantly about the state of the nation and are convinced that they can never regain their personal or economic losses. Some are panicking over every minor ache or pain because it could be the frightening new disease. If you’re looking for a reason to be anxious, just click into social media or turn on the news.

With our human tendency to worry, our imaginations can easily concoct fears that are irrational, exaggerated and unlikely to ever actually happen. Of course, it’s important to be informed about national events so we can make wise choices, and it is always wise to live a healthy lifestyle and check out persistent symptoms with your health care provider (not just Google). But living in constant fear of everything that might happen will steal your energy and your peace.

But what a lot of people are concerned about now is a legitimate threat and fear, and, in most cases, they are experiencing a normal and rational response. Fear is called an “adaptive emotion” because it prompts us to “adapt” and prepare to meet an oncoming danger.

When fear is handled poorly, it can degenerate into worry, which is characterized more by ineffective hand wringing and inability to respond. Worry leads to “fortune telling” where you look into the future and imagine every possible worst-case scenario, which only escalates panic.

When handled in a healthy manner, fear can lead to thoughtful and courageous action. Questions to ask yourself may be: What is the next right step? What resources do I have to help address the situation? Who else has resources that can help? What MUST I do? What CAN I do? Another helpful question to ask yourself is: What elements of this situation are completely out of my control? Knowing what you realistically cannot do can be helpful in directing how you use your time, effort and resources.

While you are working out what action to take, it is important to recognize and accept the emotions you will feel. Anger, sadness, frustration and fear are normal, healthy responses to tragedies and frightening circumstances, but it is important to exercise judgement in how and when to express them to avoid making the situation worse. For example, yelling at a health care worker or a store clerk while they are trying to help you is more likely to hinder than help. Avoid putting your energy into blame, hostility or revenge; they will derail your efforts to respond effectively. While you should acknowledge and express your emotions appropriately, don’t put them in charge of crisis management!

Remind yourself of the truth that being afraid doesn’t have to defeat you. The greatest acts of courage occur in the face of fear, not in its absence. Don’t wait until you “feel” more hopeful to begin acting hopefully and constructively. Take time to reflect, pray and gather wisdom and facts to help you face the scary circumstances. Seek out support and let others lend you their strength when you feel as though yours is running out.

Remember that whatever you are going through, you are not alone, you are not the first, nor will you be the last. The timeless truth is that life includes both good times and bad times. The question is not, “Why me?” but “How do I manage myself through this?” followed by, “How can I learn and benefit from this experience?”

For today, smile at something funny or beautiful. Find a reason to be thankful and grateful, and look for ways you can help someone else overcome their own fears. Even in this time of isolation, life is better together - even if it involves a video connection!

Live, Work & Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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