We’ve been told a lot recently to not panic.
We’ve been told that we shouldn’t let fear rule our lives.
We’ve been told to keep the current health situation in the world in perspective, and not to overreact.
It’s definitely true that panic is rarely a helpful response to a situation— but I can’t help but notice that many of the things we’ve been told lately have treated our concerns about our health as an attitude problem.
That is to say, we’re told the the problem is not the viral pandemic that is developing worldwide— it’s our attitude about that potential pandemic that is the REAL problem.
(We’ve also been told some idiotic statistics about how many people die as a result of various other conditions, as if it was some kind of competition or useful comparison.)
Every time I hear it said that we shouldn’t let fear run our lives, it occurs to me that that’s easy to say— and it very conveniently blames the scared person for their own fear.
If a person is scared, they don’t need a lecture about their bad attitude.
They need tools and skills to manage both the situation and their emotions effectively.
Make no mistake: there are things about the current health situation to be concerned about, and maybe even scared of.
(It also annoys me that a subset of people breezily assert that the spreading virus will likely “only” be deadly to a subset of vulnerable people— as if, what, they don’t count or something?)
We don’t need admonitions to not let fear win.
We need tools and skills to manage the fear in our heads and the situation on the ground.
When it comes to managing fear, it’s important to remember that fear (just like any emotion) is created and maintained by what you focus on and the narrative you’re telling yourself (often quite unconsciously and unintentionally) about what is going on.
People who are scared out of their minds are focused on things that can only support and exacerbate that fear; and they’re accepting a narrative that leads them to the inescapable conclusion that they are in danger.
In order to manage any emotion, fear included, you’re going to have to manage your focus.
That means becoming aware of and purposefully altering what we see in our heads and what we say to ourselves.
The good news is, fear doesn’t have to be perfectly managed.
In fact, if we never felt afraid, we’d probably do some pretty stupid things.
The absence of fear is not courage. The absence of fear is a recipe for reckless behavior.
In order to manage your fear right now, get clear about the thoughts and beliefs that re feeding that fear.
Then take a step back, and remember that your thoughts and beliefs don’t necessarily represent reality— they represent your conditioning.
Think through the extent to which you might be buying an outsized narrative.
Think through what an alternative, more empowering narrative might be.
Ask yourself what you can focus on, right here, right now, in order to feel something other than the panic and fear you WERE feeling.
And ask yourself what you can DO, right here, right now, to make yourself feel 1% more prepared to deal with whatever it is you’re fearing at the moment.
Remember that fear doesn’t always represent a distortion. Sometimes we get afraid of things we SHOULD be afraid of; and what needs to be managed is not our perception, but our actual readiness to deal with a situation.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all this fear is just because you have a bad attitude.
Positive thinking won’t protect you from a pandemic.
But neither will panic.
Luckily, those aren’t your only choices.
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