Three Steps To Mitigate Your Fear Response
What To Do When Your Health, Finances or Relationships Are Threatened
Do you sometimes have sudden attacks of anxiety and overwhelming fear that last for several minutes? Maybe your heart pounds, you sweat, and you feel like you can’t breathe or think. Do these attacks occur at unpredictable times with no obvious trigger, causing you to worry about the possibility of having another one at any time?
If so, you may have a type of anxiety disorder called panic disorder. Left untreated, panic disorder can lower your quality of life because it may lead to other fears and mental health disorders, problems at work or school, and social isolation.
That is quoted from the National Institute of Mental Health on Panic Disorders.
The question I’m asking:
Is the Coronavirus a legitimate sell-all-your-stocks-and-buy-months-of-toilet-paper kind of situation?
Or, do the reactions we are seeing at the local grocery store and world financial markets indicate a mass hysteria of sorts?
The Brain-Body Connection
Our Amygdala, the fight or flight center of our brain has one purpose, protect our life.
It is a miraculously complex system that affects nearly every major body function in a millisecond when it perceives danger. Blood flow shifts, digestion minimizes, adrenalin increases, breathing rate increases, glucose rushes to the muscles for increased response.
The Fight or Flight is life-saving
The problem, however, is that the amygdala is not tied to our intellect per-se; it is more tied to the emotional centers of the brain. It is monitoring what our mind-body perceives as a danger, not whether or not something is actually dangerous.
That’s why we can love the excitement of a roller coaster or a haunted house. The effects of physical and emotional surprises and disorienting sensations that our body isn’t used to create a rush of neurochemicals.
We pay huge money to experience that kind of fear.
Now, how about a job interview or performance review or a play audition or final exams?
How about those things where, in our mind and self-talk, believe something to be life-threatening when it actually isn’t?
Being that this topic is about our global reactions to the Coronavirus pandemic you might be saying, “that’s great but this virus is life-threatening possibly unlike any other virus”. Yes, it could be, but stay with me here.
Have you ever “made yourself sick” worrying about something?
Lord knows I have dealt with anxiety disorders my whole life.
I have to overcome anxiety-ridden (but not dangerous) situations often, and more-often-than-not, I’m successful.
It has taken decades of practice and huge amounts of self-awareness and intentionality to even step into those “perceived” situations that my amygdala inaccurately tells me I need to be protected and react immediately and irrationally.
I know how my fear-based existence developed. In my childhood, I was beaten and abused and my home life was rarely safe. I learned that people can be really mean and dangerous and that stepping out of line, physically or even verbally, would most-likely have dire physical consequences.
I learned to be afraid of the situations that I fear.
For example, I know that having an annual performance review is not going to result in me being beaten. I have received rewards at work in the past so it is even unlikely that a review will result in a pay cut or termination or some kind of other disciplinary action… so why can I be physically and emotionally sick with worry for days in advance?
Whether the danger is real or imagined (or simply exaggerated in our mind), the fear spreads throughout the nervous system, driven by a combination of conscious thought and subconscious memories.
If you’ve been burned by a hot stove in the past, the sight of a glowing hot burner or flame will induce the protection and response centers of the brain.
If you got in trouble a lot as a kid and yelled at, then hit or punished in some fashion, then just the act of being judged, and for sure being yelled at (or in my case even hearing other people argue loudly) can trigger a physiological response automatically.
I don’t choose to be afraid, I simply learned to be afraid in this situation.
The bottom line is, in a millisecond we can be “triggered”. It truly is a form of PTSD. If our reactions are not proportionate to the current situation, then we are responding emotionally, not rationally.
Imagine walking through a forest trail with a friend and you guys are in deep conversation. All of a sudden a bush rattles and a snake jumps out onto the trail. You leap backward, only to realize it was a branch and not a snake.
That is how fast our animal brain responds to our “beliefs”. We believed it was a snake, and reacted 100% emotionally and physically, based on what we thought was true.
Once we realized it wasn’t a snake, we then felt silly.
Gee, is there anytime in history where we did something (individually or as a group, community, nation or even globally) that we looked foolish over afterward?
I believe we are seeing some really good examples right now.
In applying this general understanding of human psychology, biology and neurology to the current Novid-19 virus, we have to ask; what would be a measured and reasonable response?
Five Steps To Mitigate Fear-Based Behaviors
- Increase Self-Awareness
We must learn to notice the sensations of fear when they first begin. Knowing how to step off the ledge is pointless if we don’t even know we are standing on one.
Next time you are stressed out, pay attention to the physical reactions such as tightness in the chest, shallow breathing, wrinkled brow or slight headache. Everyone has their own physiological responses, get used to recognizing yours.
Also, emotional manifestations must come into clear view. Short-temper, becoming reactionary and feeling tense and short with people instead of calm.
Tony Robbins calls this “States”. Several times a day I will intentionally poll my mind and body and ask; what are my states right now.
I’ve become especially good at responding quickly, such as after getting bad news like a loved one was hurt or a virus is expected to kill off the planet in the next 30 days.
2. Step Out Of The Fight-or-Flight Response
Once I notice that I’m feeling more emotionally led instead of in my happy place (a state of calm and thinking clearly), then I will immediately take steps to come down off the ledge.
Whether a physical threat or an emotional jolt, the body reacts the same. The chemicals that flood the system need time to dissipate. Just like having great sex can leave the mind and body flooded with feel-good chemicals for hours, fear-based chemicals do the same thing.
If your blood pressure shot through the roof when someone cuts you off on the freeway, you know that it doesn’t go away quickly. We can play the scene over and over and make ourselves angrier than the initial event.
We must first change our self-dialogue and perspective of the situation. We must begin to let our conscious more rational mind begin to self-soothe the emotional beast who just through red paint all over a white canvas.
Meditation, if it is your thing, is scientifically proven to be one of the quickest and most effective ways to calm the nervous system. Putting on your favorite music, calling a friend, anything to break the rumination death-spiral.
Obviously you aren’t going to cross your legs and close your eyes while barreling down the freeway, but any kind of mantra or repetitive affirmation as to your safety and well-being will begin to balance the neurochemistry. For me, I like reciting my favorite bible verses for reassurance that unless Jesus has been spotted, this too shall pass.
3. Fix The Narrative
Once we notice, through self-awareness, that the wheels are coming off the bus and have taken steps to get back into a state of calm where we can rationally evaluate this situation, then we can start taking action.
Just like the branch on the trail, odds are the source of fear is the story you are telling yourself creating a false reality in your own mind. This perpetuates the fear and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
(See, I told you there was reason to panic, I went to the store and there is no toilet paper, everyone must be panicking for a reason, this is really bad)
For millions of people who are glass-empty types, all news is bad news. Even with the overwhelming information that indicates my performance review will go just fine, I sat in fear and worry over the “, yeah but…” or “what if…”.
Now is the time to step back out of the clouds and start rationally looking at the situation.
Usually, the biggest fear-inducer is a lack of information. Fear of the unknown can be extremely emotionally crippling. Waiting for the results of the cancer test, seeing how bad the markets are going to crash today, waiting for a loved one to get out of surgery.
If we haven’t learned (it doesn’t come naturally) the skills to self-soothe then all of this is exponentially more difficult.
For me, this is where the Serenity Prayer comes in;
Disproportioned responses to any situation usually transpire when we flip that paradigm and start trying to change the things we cannot change and ignore then things we can do; hence the need for the wisdom to know the difference.
With respect to the Coronavirus, I had to turn off the headlines and start Googling for credible resources.
We must do our own due diligence and stop destroying our emotional well-being at the whorehouses of sensationalism and click-bait journalism.
There is a lot of good information, but it is mostly still just projections of the worse-case scenario. When you get under the surface you will find that there is some reasonable cause for hope that it won’t be anywhere near as bad as initially projected.
Will it be bad? Yes, it already is. And it seems likely that millions of people will be affected over time, either personally or someone they know.
Will it get worse before it gets better? Yes, that too seems inevitable.
But the mass sell-off in the stock market was fear of fear. The first few people started selling their stocks and then the lemmings jumped on board believing they had no choice, and eventually it got so bad that there almost was little choice.
Much like the depression, it was a fear-based run on the banks that bankrupted the financial institutions.
I myself didn’t move anything. It looks bad on paper, but I have the exact number of shares that I had before this started, they are just worth less. When the market recovers, my shares will regain their value.
That is provided consumer confidence (i.e *not* panicking) can ride this out.
The alternative is the domino effect of the 1930s.
Granted, I hope I live old enough to see them recover, it takes a while. But I’ve survived every crash over the last 40 years, and God-willing we will all recover from this one.
I don’t know what your faith looks like, but hopefully, by some of the information presented here, you can see that much of our fear is fed by worst-case-scenario catastrophizing.
Clearly everyone’s faith is being put to the test; how is your’s holding up?
There are nearly 8 Billion people on the planet, do the statistics really indicate that YOU and your family will be one of the “relatively” few who will die from this?
And that really is what we are talking about; fear of death, starvation, and not being able to wipe our bum.
Would you panic over just having “flu-like” symptoms? Fever, sore throat, cough.
Because that is what this virus does to more than 80% of its victims so far. And with the mortality rate currently hovering around 1% (if you throw out the initial high spike from the early days of the virus’ dramatic entrance) then that means 99% of people who contract it, recover.
10’s if not 100’s of thousands of people probably have the coronavirus right now and think it is just a cold or flu.
Again, I am not minimizing the severity, I am simply trying to bring it into a manageable emotional perspective.
Do you buy lottery tickets? Do you stay indoors during a lightning storm? Do you swim in the ocean?
The odds of dying at the hands of Covad-19 are elevated, but relatively low compared to other every-day life activities and risk-factors.
And just like a lightning storm, for now, we are asked to stay indoors. Simply limit our physical contact with others for a few weeks in hopes of mitigating the rapid spread and prayerfully warmer weather will affect the virus just as it does the flu.
Chances are we are looking at this being a seasonal risk, just like the bird flu in summer with increased mosquitos or frostbite in the Himalayas.
Take precautions, be smart, do your meditations to calm your fears, read your bible for greater assurance that the world isn’t ending tomorrow, and stop adding to the problem.
Mastering our emotions are at the foundation of any successful life.
If you find that you have bought into the panic, a good question to ask would be: why? And then follow up with: would I be happier if I did something about it?
Life Mastery (my life’s calling to teach and preach) begins with self-mastery.
And self-mastery begins with self-awareness.
Are you faith-based, or fear-based?
It is something you not only can change but must change if fear makes you do things that hurt your neighbors under the guise of self-preservation.
Let’s all start making our decisions on “what is” instead of “what if”. If we don’t have all the “what is” answers just yet, then dig deep and let’s wait until we do before panicking.
Along those lines, if anybody has a 2 month’s supply of toilet paper, can you ship me a couple of rolls, I ran out and can’t find any locally.