“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Bertrand Russell
There are so many things right now that have the population in the United States fearful and anxious.
We are afraid of contracting the Corona Virus, we are afraid that we might not be able to stay inside for another year if there is no vaccine readily available at the beginning of next year.
Some are afraid that if there is a vaccine it may harm them if they take it.
Many Democrats are afraid that Donald Trump will get elected and the moral state of the United States will be in jeopardy.
Some Republicans are afraid that if Joe Biden gets in we will become a socialist nation.
We watch the news channels hoping for some sign that will give us hope whatever stance we take. The common denominator in all of this is fear and anxiety. We need a way to bring the level of anxiety to a reasonable level, so we are not paralyzed by the fear we feel.
I have tried my own personal ways of turning down my anxiety. I limit the amount of news that I watch. If the news increases my blood pressure every time I watch it, I turn off the television. I have gone back to meditating daily, using progressive relaxation guided imagery on Insight Timer, a free app for my phone. Still, I find myself inexplicably anxious when I wake up in the morning or late at night when I can’t sleep because of all the thoughts running amuck in my brain.
So, what is this fear all about? How do we overcome fear and anxiety? I believe one way is to look into the basis of what fear is and how we might overcome that with courage and resilience.
Paul Eckman, former USFC professor and a prolific writer of books and essays on facial expressions, emotions, and deception, states that “fear is one of the seven universal emotions experienced by everyone around the world. Fear arises with the threat of harm, either physical, emotional, or psychological, real or imagined. While traditionally considered a “negative” emotion, fear actually serves an important role in keeping us safe as it mobilizes us to cope with potential danger. People can learn to fear just about anything.”
The universal function of fear is to avoid or reduce harm. Depending on what we have learned in the past about what can protect us in dangerous situations, we are capable of doing many things we wouldn’t typically be able, or willing, to do in order to stop the threat. But if the fear is only imagined and there is no immediate threat to us what do we do then?
It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” Marcus Aurelius
The desired response to fear is courage to confront the fear thereby lessening its effect on us. This often takes what Martin Seligman and Mikhaly Czikszentmihalyi call “emotional courage’. Emotional courage requires “digging around and uprooting the tangible and intangible sources of fear resulting in anxiety, worry, sorrow and depression that can poison the proverbial wellspring of joy.”
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
Ekman also states that “when we choose to ignore, suppress or deny our emotion, we risk a reduction of insight leading to faulty decision making, inaccurate mental representation of our experience, and/or even a failure to ensure or restore homeostasis and thus ensure our survival.” That is a pretty sobering thought that fear can actually cause us to make faulty decisions even when those decisions are not related to the original fear.
I believe based on the above it would be very important for us to find ways of coming to term with our fears and anxiety. Much like outing ourselves to ourselves. I find one way that is highly effective in doing this is journal writing. By writing down our fears and exploring them through the journal we can get to the basis of our fears and can counteract their negative influence.
"In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.” Abraham Maslow
Cognitive behavioral exercises like ‘thought records’ are also a helpful way of identifying our fears and coming to terms with them.
If we find ourselves catastrophizing (thinking only of the worst thing that can happen) we will find ourselves tied up in knots and looking for any evidence of what we are most afraid of coming true. A way to approach catastrophizing is imagining the worst that can happen and then ask yourself “what would I do in that situation? Then after answering that question continue asking the same question over and over again until you realize that no matter what happened you would still be ok. It helps to have a coach or therapist help you with this. I do this with my clients and will be glad to help anyone that needs this kind of support if you write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to my web site at debkhiggins.com.
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his greatest surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do” Henry Ford
Martin Seligman believes “it takes emotional courage to begin to love yourself, be proud of yourself, and believe you are worthy of love and happiness. Essentially it is related to self-acceptance coupled with a willingness to move outside your comfort zones to explore new ways of being that many not be familiar as quest for self-realization and fulfillment.
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato
Why are some people better able to confront their fears and summons the courage to combat them? I believe it is due to their resilient natures.
What is resilience and what type people have skill or ability to live life courageously?
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.
Cal Crow Ph.D., the co-founder and Program Director of the Center for Learning Connections identified some attributes that are common in resilient people. He states that “resilient people have a positive image of the future, they have solid goals, and a desire to achieve those goals. Resilient people are empathetic and compassionate and never think of themselves as victims. They focus on changing the things that they have control over”. Resilience can be learned, and the fastest way is to surround yourself with people who have resilience.
I would add another quality of resilient people is that they most times have a good sense of humor even in the face of the most horrific conditions. One of my college professors, who spent her entire academic career studying resilience, told our class of the story of one of the survivors of Auschwitz that she interviewed for her paper on resilience. One man that she interviewed, said that when he was being loaded into the box cars to take him to Auschwitz, he looked for someone in the crowd that seemed to have a sense of humor. The man was smiling and helping other people. He said that he wanted to be close to that person because he instinctively knew that this man’s humor and his altruistic behavior might be the key of getting through the terrible experience he was facing. He told my professor that it had apparently worked, because he and the man that he made sure he was close to, were some of the few who made it alive until the liberation of the camp.
“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot
I know personally when I was told I had Stage 4 Breast Cancer in my bones that my ability to still find humor (even if it was gallows humor) helped me to overcome the depression that gripped me in the first month after the diagnosis. That is when I had thought (erroneously) that I was going to die very soon. I also found that my Christian beliefs helped me very much at this time. I can’t tell you how many times I repeated the phrases “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “Trust in God and do not lean on your own understanding in all your ways, acknowledge him”. Believing there was a loving God who was with me at all times was a great boon to my resilience and courage.
Having a resilient mind set is so important, because it allows us to view adversity and stress in a different way, which affects how we succeed.
I challenge you during these particularly trying times to step out in courage and learn resilience. Take the actions that will alleviate your suffering and do not believe that suffering with anxiety and fear is the answer. You have many tools that you can use to stop the flood of irrational fears and overwhelming anxiety, but it will take action on your part. Choose which way you want to live your life.
"When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened, or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.” Paulo Coelho
Deb has worked in mental health as a social worker helping her clients transform their lives.
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