As I write this blog, fear is the prevailing emotion of our country, and most everyone I know is experiencing anxiety. We are being bombarded with bad news about our health and our economy. How are we supposed to live in these times of uncertainty, where are we going to buy toilet paper, what is going to happen to my retirement account? BUT – if we take a minute to really think about our fear and anxiety rationally, we can move forward and feel a lot better.
Fear and anxiety are different. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) “Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat.”
We should remember fear is an emotion which alerts us to a “a real or perceived danger.” Our fight, flight, or freeze response evolved as a survival mechanism and is an instantaneous physiological reaction in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. Throughout history, fear has helped us to avoid danger and to stay alive. So, some fear is good because it protects us while irrational fear is not good. How do we determine whether fear is good or bad?
I say we stare fear in the face so that we can get a good look at it and assess the “perceived danger.” Our evaluation of the perceived danger educates us about that danger – is it real, how close is it, etc… After I know the danger, I can make a plan and move forward.
Anxiety is an insidious little creature because it feeds on itself. Anxiety is the result of the way that I deal with my fears about the future. In my head, I create and replay “stories” about what might happen in the future in an attempt to make sense of things and to control what might happen. The truth is that my stories don’t solve my problems because the stories are based upon something that may or may not happen in the future. When I repeatedly replay the story, the story becomes a never ending loop of anxiety.
How can I stop the loop? Fortunately, I can change my thought processes. According to studies, meditation (an ancient practice which brings us back to the present moment) can help with feelings of anxiety, anger, and depression and can even change your brain! https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/#50d655aa1465
The present moment is what life is all about. I can only control what is happening right now. If I am busy thinking about the future (or the past) I am going to miss what is happening right now – a beautiful smile, the sunset, a fragrant smell. I am going to miss my life. I am not going to allow Covid 19 prevent me from living in the present moment. Life is too short!