Have you noticed how many more people are becoming anxious and afraid? After the Orlando shooting and a general rise in violence and fanaticism, millions of people are rushing to buy guns to protect themselves. Combined with wild swings in financial markets, increased global uncertainty and a continuous string of natural disasters, it is easier than ever to fall into a state of fear. Regrettably it appears that fear is becoming a “globamotional” pandemic.
Those who understand how to use the power of fear see opportunity. Rants by fearmongering politicians point their fingers to blame others marketing themselves as saviors. We are also constantly reminded of potential threats by corporate news media that sensationalizes tragic events locally and around the world to draw in viewers. Anxiously we turn on the TV to see where terrorists are going to strike next, expecting the worse. It is so relentless that if the media emphasized the actual danger of driving a car (where we are thousands of times more likely of being killed or injured) at the same level as they are for terrorism, I believe most of us would be too afraid to drive. And we would absolutely never allow our children to ride in a car.
In contrast to what is actually happening, don’t we want peace, tolerance, freedom and most of all to live our lives without fear? From my personal experience and study of history, fearful reaction has never led to any of these. It seems as if we have forgotten US President Roosevelt’s famous words in the midst of the 1930’s Great Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
In fact we are seeing the rise of crafty politicians and want-to-be leaders, some of whom are acting out of fear themselves, who deliberately stir up peoples’ emotions to help them gain power over others. This is an easy time for demigods to manipulate masses of angry and fearful people. They propose more intense violence, less tolerance and less freedom as a way to provide the safety people desire. In their minds, safety is provided by more guns rather than more understanding and mutual respect. This has never worked or provided the lasting peace people are literally dying for. The potential threat of being caught and punished for a crime is only a deterrent. It is no substitute for moral consciousness.
The more fearful we are, the more fearful we will become. The more fearful we become, the more desperate we become and the more mistakes we are prone to make. The world needs level headed people to work together to find new solutions to old problems. Fear and panic don’t inspire people to do their best. They disempower people. Real leaders know how to inspire their followers to give their best. Like a military general, they know that fear within their troops can destroy morale and along with it, their chances for victory.
We have already become so ‘fearational’ that violence and terrorism happening thousands of miles away can make us feel unsafe at home, even when there is no direct threat to us. Billions of people living around the world including 99.999% of Americans are safe and will never experience what we are becoming so afraid of. But those that exaggerate threats and carry the message of fear will say that it could happen to you next. In response, I say that holds true for anything, good or bad, that could happen at any time to any of us like getting injured in a traffic accident. Resist buying into the fear they are trying to sell. Don’t let them cloud your thinking, manipulate your decision making or damage your quality of life for something that will, in all probability, never happen to you. Even if, in the rarest of events, something terrible happened to you a year from now, would you want to waste the last year of your life living in fear, devoid of happiness and joy?
Yet sadly, many of us have silently accepted fear as an inescapable reality of life. In fact, fear is becoming so dominant and routine in our thinking that many are becoming numb to it.
Living in constant fear is unnatural and unhealthy. Becoming numb is a coping mechanism, but it still drains us of our energy and creates some form of dis-Ease in our life. Fear can manifest as worry, stress, insomnia, depression, fatigue, anger, excessive drinking or eating, binge watching to escape, etc. It has a negative, long term impact on the mental, emotional and physical health of everyone, especially our children who absorb everything. Perhaps even worse, fear can cloud our thinking, paralyze us into inaction and leave us in despair.
My interpretation of all of the chaos is that our collective world is telling us that it is time to evolve. This is not a time to step away in frustration, or step back in regression, but to step up. Old ways of doing things are no longer working for most people. They know that they are tired of living with uncertainty, feeling economically insecure and physically unsafe. People want change, but are not sure what needs to change or how to change it. And our collective fear is the greatest obstacle we face to finding the new solutions we all desire.
I know deep inside that humanity can do better. And I suggest that the first step we take is to ask ourselves, do we make better decisions when we are calm and clear headed or when we are emotionally afraid? The desire for creating a peaceful world is a much stronger motivation for taking rightful action as compared to being motivated by fear. Just look at the tragic consequences that are occurring from the deadly combination of fear and guns in America between police and citizens.
For me, I can’t remember a time when I made the best choice when I was feeling fearful. In hindsight, I know I could have done better if I would have remained calm and just allowed whatever the crisis was at the time to unfold without being in so much emotional resistance to it. As I look back, the vast majority of the time, I could not have done anything to stop the crisis anyhow, because by the time it had become a crisis, it was already outside of my control. My life experience has taught me that by calmly observing what is occurring, I not only respond better, but have more energy to sustain the response.
So if you are feeling stressed or worried, don’t get down on yourself, but rather congratulate yourself for being aware of it. You are not too numb to recognize it, and you can take steps to minimize the fear you are feeling.
One of the easiest things I found to do to remain calm is to breathe deeply. I find when I go into resistance or fear in response to what is happening around me, my breathing becomes shallow. My stomach and chest tighten. This is the body’s initial response to stress. It is an easily recognizable physical symptom that tells me that I am no longer relaxed and peaceful. Less breath means less oxygen to my body and my brain which means less mental and physical capacity. So when I catch myself taking shallow breaths, I often close my eyes and take a deep breath in, focusing on opening my chest and pushing out my abdomen. By softening my belly, I know I am opening my heart and relaxing. On my exhale, I try to release the tension in my body.
One of the unintended benefits of noticing what my body is doing is that I am no longer focused just on the news or event that shifted my emotional state into fear in the first place. And overtime with practice I can actually prevent myself from even going into fear simply by controlling my initial thoughts about what is going on around me. All forms of fear begin with a thought. By simply shifting our thinking, any of us can reduce the amount of fear we feel, or even eliminate it all together.
If the news is creating unwanted stress in your life, turn it off or minimize it. Slow down and take time to relax during your day even if only for a few minutes. And breathe. Shift your focus to what is around you and find the safety, beauty and joy exactly where you are. Discipline your mind to stop thinking fearful thoughts and realize that you are safe and live in a peaceful place. Be grateful and embrace your life and fill yourself with the love that is there for you. From this feeling, you can move through life inspired and fearlessly, better able to overcome any challenges that may arise. You will be of greater service to yourself, your family and others. And others will notice because you will have become a guiding example for them to follow.