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Coping in a World Full of Fear

Updated: Jan 11

With the first confirmed case of Coronavirus in Tennessee this week, panic is setting in and people are racing out to stock up on hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes. We also just had a tornado come through out of the blue that destroyed numerous buildings, and claimed dozens of lives. So, it’s been a rough week for Nashville to say the least. It seems everywhere you turn these days there are reminders of horrible things happening in the world. Wars, political upheaval, natural disasters, sex trafficking. On top of that, there are the personal problems we could face at any given time. Divorce, job loss, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, injury, death of a loved one. Even the air we breathe and the food we eat aren’t always safe. It’s enough some days to make you want to hide at home under the covers isn’t it? Then nothing bad could happen to you. Unless of course there’s mold in the crawlspace, or you have an electrical fire?

Fear always has been, and always will be, a part of the human experience. That’s not all bad actually. Under the right circumstances fear can be exciting, which is why roller coasters, cinema thrillers and extreme sports are so popular. Facing and overcoming our fears provides immense satisfaction, and inspiration for others too. Bravery is celebrated with parades and medals. Nervous energy can be converted into intensity and focus. Fear protects us by highlighting real dangers, so we will use extra caution. A little worry can be a good thing. Too much, however, can cause us to become paralyzed by anxiety, unable to see or enjoy the positive aspects of life, and withdrawn from circumstances or relationships. So how do we cope in a world full of fear?

1) Assess the actual risk: Competitive reporting, access to massive quantities of information and excessive overthinking lead to many concerns being blown vastly out of proportion. We will all certainly have troubles, but it’s unlikely that anyone will encounter ALL known problems, and definitely not all at once. So it’s important to take a step back at times, and use your common sense. Perhaps do some independent research. Ask yourself objectively what the real likelihood is that the thing you’re afraid of will actually take place, and adjust your stress levels accordingly. The honest truth is that most of what we worry over will never even happen.

2) Do what you can: Sometimes there is little we can personally do to shield ourselves from a particular dilemma, but quite often there is. Whatever you CAN reasonably do, you should. This could mean starting a savings account, beginning a job training program, or having a flu shot. Whatever will make you feel more ready and able to tackle future fearful events. Taking concrete steps to prepare and protect yourself is very empowering.

3) Practice self care: Meditation and yoga are both great tools to help us learn to calm our minds and bodies. Exercise releases endorphins that can also lead to more peaceful states of being. When anxiety reaches critical levels, it may be necessary to visit a therapist to talk things through, or a doctor who can prescribe relevant medications. The important point is to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Strength and courage go hand-in-hand.

4) Take a media break: While it is good to stay connected and informed, if the constant stream of negative sound bites is becoming too much for you, it might be wise to turn it off for awhile. Allow yourself to take a "time out" to regroup and ground yourself emotionally. News that is essential you’ll undoubtedly still hear about, but it’s sometimes best to not be exposed to every single detail of every single issue.

5) Focus on gratitude: Set aside some time every day to concentrate on at least three things that are going right. If you can’t think of any big things, reach inside to connect with moments of gratitude for small and simple things - like the warmth of the sun on your skin or a stunning sunset view. In the midst of all of the bad in this life, there is also so much that is uplifting, awe inspiring and beautiful. Maintaining an attitude of thankfulness can create a calm mind space throughout whatever storms may come.

After all is said and done, let’s not forget the power of simple distraction. Get out and have a little fun. Pursue a hobby. Sign up for a service opportunity. Hang out with friends. Give your mind and heart something positive to focus on. We never can eliminate all possible problems or sources of angst, but we can live a life full of joy in spite of them. Happiness can be a powerful antidote to fear if we allow it be.

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