GUEST POST: Navigating Sanity in an Increasingly Fear-driven World

I received this article recently from Christina Sestan – a fellow life coach – and thought it was great! So I’m sharing it here for you guys to benefit from too.

Have you flown into the US lately? Notice anything different? Perhaps a flight attendant poked her head into the lavatory to see what was taking you so long. Or maybe you missed a connecting flight because the additional security pat-down in the boarding lounge delayed your departure 2 hours. Its even possible that the in-flight entertainment system was not available if it included maps showing the plane’s location over the US.

In the world of air security, things have changed dramatically once again. This comes on the heels of the thwarted terrorist attack on Christmas day aboard Northwest F#253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. It has now become even more time-consuming for travelers to anticipate and plan around the extra security measures that involve everything from high-tech body scanning machines to individual carry-on bag searches.

The threat of terrorism is clearly something to be taken seriously, but how do we know when we are going too far in trying to protect ourselves from threats that are perhaps less likely to occur than we are led to believe? How do we attempt to live a “normal” life and retain some modicum of sanity amidst the dizzying array of frightening news reports that are fed to us daily?

When you see an ABC News story about an Islamic online forum where extremists discuss how to attack Western targets using deadly biological agents onboard planes, do you think to yourself, “maybe I should try to cut back on my business travel?”

When you read a New York Times story about how the CIA bungled the intelligence they had about Mr. Abdulmutallab a month before the attempted bombing incident, do you decide to put off the family vacation to Disneyland?

Generalized fears, the kind not resulting from an immediate survival threat, work on our psyche in a powerful way making it exceedingly difficult to separate fact from fiction or opinion. Remember the H1N1 epidemic a few months back? To immunize or not to immunize. That was the very confusing question. Then there was the recession when we all thought about stashing our cash under our mattress. Unfortunately the dominance of fear-inducing reporting doesn’t appear to be losing momentum.

And then there are all the micro level fears we face every day. What if my daughter doesn’t pass grade 11? What if my business fails? What if that pain in my guts is something more serious?

Continued exposure to fear creates a heightened state of agitation and anxiety that runs in the background of everything we do. When we’re afraid, many of us have a tendency to engage in repetitive threads of thought where we go round and round trying to figure out how we can avoid the thing we’re afraid of. Negative self-talk, such as “why does this always happen to me?” can amp up our emotions, further distracting the mind from focusing on solutions to the problem at hand. The resulting state of mind is often referred to as “analysis paralysis” because we become stuck and unable to take action.

In the extreme, unchecked fears lead to poor health and destructive behaviours like overeating and drug or alcohol abuse. Our capacities for joy, peace and fulfillment are seriously impeded.

Despite its significant impact on our lives, fear is actually a pretty insubstantial thing. It is simply a projection on the future of something we don’t want to happen. It’s the ultimate “what if” game. FEAR is: False Evidence Appearing Real. Feeling fear is just part of the human experience and to try to do away with it is futile. However, taking action when we’re afraid only seems to lead to more fear. The most empowering stance we can take when it comes to managing fear is to take a step back from whatever is going on and realize we are afraid. Conscious awareness creates the space to choose a different response.

The reality is that we live in a culture where praying on human insecurity is the primary marketing strategy for industries selling everything from home security systems to cosmetic products. Fear grabs our attention more forcefully than any other advertising tactic. Reporting stories about terrorist attacks, job losses and exaggerated death tolls from swine flu also sell more newspapers and pull in more viewers for the evening news.

In order to protect ourselves and our health, it’s essential to adopt a simple process for dissipating fears before they take hold and begin to compromise our peace and fulfillment.

Here are a few simple steps for managing fear:

  • Get out of your head. When fears are left to fester, they tend to grow deep roots and hang around for a while. Don’t worry alone. Share your concerns with someone else and brainstorm creative solutions together.
  • Lose the habit of worrying in the present moment. Whenever you feel plagued by fears, note them down on a worry sheet and make a deal with yourself to worry about it later. Whether you come back to it or not is irrelevant. The point is, you strengthen your practice of shrugging off fears.
  • Get accurate information. In our age of information, just about anyone can pose as an “expert” and offer up their own particular spin on an issue. If you’re not comfortable with what you’re hearing, researching the issue from several other perspectives can be empowering.
  • Don’t over-feed your analytical mind. With the world at our fingertips, it’s easy to spend hours surfing the internet on anything that scares us. This can seem like a good idea – we’re just keeping ourselves informed. But on the flip side, endless research can also lead to analysis-paralysis. A good rule of thumb, limit your surfing to an hour and give your worries a break.
  • Get real about the payoffs. Chronic worriers often admit that worrying makes them feel connected and involved, as though they’re doing something important and worthwhile. On the surface, it might even look like caring and is often seen as an integral part of loyalty. By consciously considering our motives, we reveal the flaws in this logic, and are more able to let go. 
  • Acknowledge your limitations and let go. Learning to discern the difference between what you do and don’t have power over, can mean the difference between peace and exhaustion. Many wellness experts agree that letting go and leaning on some form of faith builds a healthier peace of mind. 

“I’ve seen many troubles in my time. Only half of them came true.”  Mark Twain

Article courtesy of the awesome Christina Sestan. (c) Citrus Coaching Solutions 2010. Please do not duplicate this article without the author’s permission.

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Friends and Enemies by Dorothy Rowe
The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman