It seems there’s a lot more fear in the world these days. Having struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I at first believed it was only me who was afraid. But as I began to notice that wide-eyed look more often in the eyes of others—clients, schoolteachers, shop clerks and especially my own—I realized I was seeing fear.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, there has been a lot more to worry about. Remember the Y2K fear of a worldwide computer crash? For the first time in history, we were all afraid at once. On New Year’s Eve, the world held its breath until it figured out everything was OK.
Then the real thing happened: September 11, 2001, and the after events, making our global world truly rock with fear. With the near instantaneous ability of communication technology, mass fear spread like a far-reaching fog, affecting everyone to one degree or another.
Our brains can go crazy from imagining the worst. Our money is unsafe because the stock market is unsafe. If our money is unsafe, our families are unsafe. War can happen any minute—our physical safety is threatened. Add to that the strange weather patterns across the globe. Because there’s more to be afraid of, our mental health can be severely challenged.
Why we fear
Fear manifests in different ways. Perhaps we become sharper than usual with people; perhaps we have more fights and conflicts with others, or simply more “bad days.” Maybe we’re worrying more, making little things out to be bigger than they are. If you’ve been traumatized or have PTSD, it doesn’t take much to trigger an over-reactive brain. When that happens, internal fire alarms go off, forcing the body to produce the chemicals we need to get ready to fight or run. Fear can thus cause a lot of problems in the psychology and relationship departments.
We all have a survival part of our brain that’s designed to help us stay safe. When it can’t get us safe, it never signals the body to relax and release the peaceful healing chemicals that follow a fear episode. And so we live in a state of tension that stiffens our muscles. This tension can be subtle as vague, increased worry, or it can be as severe as a panic attack.
Fear energy is not only destructive, it’s contagious. Not only do we manufacture it without thinking about it, but we can catch it from others. Think of how mass panic occurs—it’s simply fear energy gone wild. We all pick up a lot of fear when we read about terror and murder in newspapers or talk about fearful things with others. To stay in such a state of constant tension is a strain on the body and mind. Too much can wear down our mental and physical health.
How to handle fear
The good news is that there are many antidotes for fear. When we know the nature of something, we can figure out how to master it. We can take control of our thinking and refuse to entertain fear thoughts as best we can. Worry is a useless activity. If the brain is worrying, it means it doesn’t have a solution. If it doesn’t have a solution, it goes round and round, creating more fear. When you catch yourself worrying, you’re free to just turn it off—think of something else: God, your family, the tulips you planted months ago.
We can control our brains. We can train the brain out of fear thinking. We can drown out persistent negative thoughts with positive affirmations such as, “God is with me; all is well.” Create a thought that comforts you and repeat it over and over instead of thinking. This is especially effective with restless nights. Lull yourself to sleep by repeating a positive phrase. When the brain thinks, it triggers chemicals to match the thoughts. When you’re resting, you want only rest chemicals and healing brain waves.
You can even practice not thinking at all in your daily activities. Much thinking is a waste of time as it’s preoccupied with worry. Practice turning your brain down or off. If you have a problem to solve, talk it over with yourself and find a solution. You don’t have to talk to yourself 24 hours a day, especially if your self-talk is negative.
Another mental antidote to manufacturing fear is to stop negative talk. Don’t talk about scary world events with people and look on the dark side. Give up scary novels and websites. Give up the newspaper for a while. You can cut down to only Sundays or read only the headlines to stay informed. Avoid negative news programs and documentaries. All these things excite the primitive brain and make us more fearful and uncomfortable. Don’t go into agreement with the mass panic the press perpetuates. Don’t contribute to the fog of mass fear.
In your personal life, don’t allow your brain to imagine the worst or buy into worst-case scenarios. Look on the bright side; make up positive stories about what could be happening rather than negative predictions of what might happen. Avoid negative gossip.
If you’re highly over-reactive in the fear and anger departments, there are many therapies to reduce and eliminate emotional overloads and post-traumatic stress disorder in just a few sessions. Get the help you need to eliminate the panic attacks, anger and restless nights.
The most powerful antidotes for fear are spiritual. The opposite of fear is love. Fear begets stress, for all stress is some degree of fear. Love always begets peace and safety. The most peaceful place in the world is in the arms of someone who loves you. That is why we get so upset if the ones we love leave us. The mind and body need to feel safe, protected and loved. When they do, feel-good, healing chemicals are produced that support the health of the body. The brain tells the body what kind of chemicals to produce according to the thoughts it thinks. Thinking “All is well,” “We are safe,” or “I am loved” allows both body and mind to relax, unwind, rest and rejuvenate.
We may also find peace in our relationship with a higher power. Spiritual people develop a core belief system from faith that may go something like this: “I’m OK because God is OK. No matter what, God and I are forever. If this world passes away, I will still be with God. I’m not sure what that looks like, but I trust God enough to know that I will be OK with it. The world is God’s business, and I can let God handle it. God will always love and help me.” With a belief system such as this, the brain can produce a core feeling of safety.
Because the whole world is more stressed these days, it’s important to make more time for stress reduction. Fit stress reduction into your budget. Buy that Jacuzzi tub you’ve been wanting forever. Go get a massage a few times a month or do other kinds of bodywork. Take a meditation class or learn to deepen your practice of meditation. Make your daily prayer time a higher priority. Spend relaxing time with your family, and remember to love those you love.
By using these ideas or others, we can all reduce stress, not only for ourselves but for our world. The more stress we reduce, the better our mental and physical health, and the more successful we function on all levels. Our life takes on a higher quality when we stop and smell the roses.
Read more about dealing with fear in LIFE IS CHANGE: Learn to let go of fear and accept change