There have been a few times in my life when a world event seemed to bring everything to a standstill, and people were filled with fear.
Things happen that scare us, and the fear they provoked lasts long after the event itself.
And there are times when we can be fearful for no reason at all, at least not a rational one.
Given the current coronavirus pandemic and all its ramifications, fear is causing many people to do irrational things. I’m sure we won’t soon forget how everyone went crazy over buying toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
However, let’s talk about the emotion of fear and how to control it so it doesn’t control you.
First a story…
When I was about five years old, my mother signed me up for swimming lessons. Given that I grew up on a prairie farm with no water for miles around, I’m not sure what her motivation was, but I learned pretty quickly that water up my nose was an excruciating experience.
After a few attempts at putting my face in the water, I was relegated to the kiddie pool and finally allowed to stop the lessons. Thus began my fear of deep water.
This fear lasted well into my thirties. At some point, not thinking about water at all, I decided that would not allow fear to be a motivator in making decisions for my life. Every time a fearful thought came up, I refused to entertain it.
The interesting thing is, just like an unwanted guest showing up at your door, if you refuse to entertain fear, it will soon stop coming around. Some time after I made that important decision, I had the opportunity to go sailing with a friend. I now live near a large, deep lake and going out on a boat in the sunshine to sail around sounded lovely.
Not once did I have a quiver of fear. In fact, it didn’t occur to me to be afraid about being out on that boat. With the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, it finally occurred to me that I was not afraid anymore. The fear of deep water simply no longer existed.
Let me be clear, I never once decided no longer to be afraid of deep water. I decided not to let fear be a motivator in my life. When I closed the door to all fears, the fear of water went out with it.
Here are some suggestions to stop defaulting to fear, no matter what the situation.
1. Ask yourself if your fear is rational. Is there really something imminent to fear?
In the coronavirus pandemic, the media whipped up fear at a tremendous rate. People began making illogical decisions based on fear alone, not on any imminent danger. Before you give in to fear, ask yourself if you really are in any danger.
Are you okay right now? Will you be okay this time next week, or next month?
How remote is the chance of what you fear actually happening? Stop and think about that for a moment.
Have you prepared yourself in the event of something happening? Are you doing everything you can to keep calm and carry on?
2. Are you being influenced to be afraid?
In my experience, the news media feeds us fear more than just about anything else. The industry thrives on sensationalism and catastrophe sells.
One simple way to turn off the flow of fear is to curtail your exposure to the news. I stopped listening to or watching the news regularly over ten years ago, and still manage to be informed, without the constant repetition of bad news. Limit yourself to one news report per day and you’ll notice how your stress and anxiety levels decline.
Other influences to fear can come from friends and family, or from work colleagues. Fearful people talk about fearful things. No one wants to be alone in his or her fear, because misery loves company.
Recognizing what people are sources of fear promotion will help you to avoid conversations or topics that elevate your fears.
3. Is your fear a habit?
It surprises me how many adults are afraid of so many things, and their first response to anything new is fear. The default position of fear can be a habit. The good news is, if you got into a habit you can get out of a habit.
Watch this video of mine for more on developing good habits.
4. What you focus on becomes larger.
If you want your fears to diminish, simply stop focussing on them. An easy and effective way to do this is to find something else to do that absorbs your attention. This might seem simplistic in the face of a big fear, but it’s important to remember that fear is an emotion, and you get to choose your emotions.
When you focus on what you fear, fear will take over your thoughts and your life. Don’t allow it to. Instead find other things to focus your thoughts on. You have more power over your thoughts than you might believe.
5. Realize that whatever you fear will probably never happen.
Most fear and anxiety is caused by thoughts of what might happen. You might get sick; but you probably won’t. You might have a car accident; but you probably won’t. Your house might be broken into. But it probably won’t. The odds are stacked heavily against any and all personal tragedy.
Yes, bad things do happen in the world but you’ll be surprised how statistically seldom they do.
As of today, all of Canada is bracing for coronavirus to take hold. But so far very little has happened. Yet, across the country people are so afraid of getting sick and having to be quarantined that they are making irrational decisions daily.
Will you get sick? Probably not. Will you be quarantined? Maybe.
Will you die? Most definitely, someday, but probably not from this virus.
Is it worth spending an ounce of energy worrying about it, or fearing what might happen? No.
6. The opposite of fear is peace.
How do you have peace when the world is in turmoil?
The Bible has a simple and elegant prescription for this:
Don’t worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks for what you have and for God’s answers.
When you belong to Jesus, God’s peace will stand guard over all your thoughts and feelings. His peace can do this far better than our human minds.
Spend your thoughts on what is good and worthy of praise. Think about what is true and honourable and right and pure and beautiful and respectable. In other words, control your thoughts and think about good things. And the God who gives peace will be with you and give you peace.
When you do these things, fear will lose its grip on you and your life will be better. I promise.
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1. Stop putting yourself down.
Have you ever said any of these dumb things?
“I’m such an idiot.”
“Why do I do such stupid things?”
“Okay, dumb dumb. Get it right for once.”
Or looked at yourself in the mirror and thought or said, “I’m so ugly.”?
Or, I’m so fat and ugly? I’m disgusting!
We say things to ourselves and about ourselves that we wouldn’t dream of saying to someone else, yet we wonder why we don’t feel good about ourselves.
Please stop doing that! Next time you think of calling yourself a derogatory name, stop. Think about what you are about to say. Instead of calling yourself an idiot again, why not say, “I made a mistake. I can fix this.” Or, “I guess I was wrong. No big deal.”
You have to be kind to yourself, and one place to start is to stop saying nasty things about yourself and to yourself.
2. Stop rehearsing the worst.
Are you a catastrophe thinker? Do you leap to the worst-case scenario, whether it could happen, or could have happened?
Let me give you an example. Another driver startles you by cutting too closely in front of your car. Nothing actually went wrong and you both drove on down the highway. But all you can think about is what could have gone wrong. There could have been a bad accident; you might have been killed; as a result your children would have been orphaned.
What about this: There is rain in the forecast - a lot of it. Does your mind immediately leap to the possible disasters that could occur? What if there is a flood? What if the road washes out and you’re cut off?
Just stop it! Stop rehearsing the worst. Not only do people worry about what could go wrong, but often also worry about what could have gone wrong long after the incident happened - when nothing went wrong.
Expecting and rehearsing tragedy is almost as stressful has experiencing tragedy.
So how do you stop? Control your thoughts. When a worrisome thought pops into your head, change it to something positive.
If you think about what could go wrong, stop and make a list of what is going right. If it’s after the fact, just say, “but it didn’t happen that way.”
And stop listening to the news all the time, and believing the media. Their job is to get your eyes and ears on them and catastrophe is a big seller. Don’t fall for it.
3. Stop not forgiving yourself and others
Every one of us has been hurt by someone else, at some time, whether accidentally or intentionally. We’ve also all done things we regret and wish we had never done.
But carrying around the hurt, disappointment, pain, regret, resentment, or bitterness long after the event occurred isn’t smart. It especially isn’t kind to ourselves.
Look at it this way: When something hurtful happens to you it’s like a sin against you. If you don’t forgive that sin, you will continue to carry it around in your body and soul where it acts like a corrosive agent, damaging you a little every day.
Forgiving someone else does not excuse the wrong. It simply frees you from carrying their wrongdoing around with you. When you acknowledge that you believe they deserve to be punished, but leave that job in God’s hands, you free yourself.
The same applies to forgiving yourself. When you refuse to let yourself off the hook for a wrong you acknowledge, you continue to punish yourself long after the event is over.
When you become a person who is quick to forgive, you’ll be amazed at how much peace you have in your life. So it’s time to stop not being a forgiving person. You will instantly make your life better.
4. Stop rehashing the past.
Meditating on your failures and misfortunes is like eating your least favourite food every day. For me that would be a steady diet of turnips and watermelon. Blech! Why would anyone do that to himself or herself?
Life can be tough and we will all suffer. Jesus said in the life we would have trouble. It’s just a fact. But rehashing it year after year steals your present and keeps you in that place of suffering all over again.
The apostle Paul had all kinds of troubles in his travels but even after shipwrecks, imprisonment, and beatings, he advised forgetting the past and pressing forward in his calling. It’s good advice.
I made what I didn’t know would turn out to be a big mistake several years ago. Even as I realized my mistake, it continued to get worse and I couldn’t extricate myself from the situation without loss. Even after it was over, the fallout left me in a very difficult situation for several more years.
You can believe I’ve rehashed that calamitous mistake to death! Not only did I suffer as I went through everything, but I made myself suffer long after by going over and over where I had gone wrong. It affected nearly every area of my life, including my health. That’s how I learned how fruitless it is to rehash the past. So stop doing that and look forward instead.
5. Stop ignoring your health
You only get one body on this trip through life. How you treat it will have a definite impact on how much you can do, and how much you enjoy the trip.
Here’s my suggestion: Stop doing things that harm or deplete your body.
Stop over drinking
Stop eating too much
Stop eating junk
Stop staying up too late
Stop taking drugs
Stop getting too little sleep
Stop getting too little exercise
Stop ignoring pain
Stop working too hard
Stop pushing your body beyond its limits
Stop thinking you’re invincible
Be kind to yourself.
Get enough sleep
Eat good, healthy food
Eat in moderation
Do things you enjoy
Take a walk
Love yourself, and your body and it will carry you for a long time.
6. Stop blaming
Do you take responsibility for your own life, or do you point the finger of blame at someone or something else?
It’s so much easier to blame circumstances or other people for our situations or failures, but frankly, that just keeps you stuck there.
Taking responsibility for your own life is a grown up thing to do. So you have to get over the habit of blaming as an excuse for your own actions. It prevents you from moving forward with your life.
We can blame:
And a host of other things. It’s time to stop shifting the blame for what isn’t working and take initiative yourself. Stop making excuses.
7. Stop being afraid
I have talked to so many people who want to do something yet are afraid to try. We’re afraid to fail, afraid to succeed, afraid of what people will think about us, and afraid of looking stupid.
Let’s look at these major fears.
Are you afraid to fail? I have been too. Then I did fail, quite spectacularly. And guess what, it didn’t kill me. What it did, besides teaching me a lot of things that I now use to do better, is it taught me that it’s the feelings of being a failure that are the scariest.
So, let me ask you this: If you’re afraid of failing, how do you think you’ll feel about yourself if you do fail?
Is the prospect of experiencing those feelings about yourself where the real fear lies? If so, remember, you get to decide how you feel. Before you attempt that new thing, decide that if it doesn’t work out, you will still feel fine.
Besides, what if you succeed?
Which leads us to the next one: Are you afraid of success? What is really behind that fear? Will your life change too dramatically? Are you afraid of how your loved ones will react to your success? Keep digging until you find the real kernel of the fear then work on a solution.
Afraid of what others will think? Just remember that most people are spending so much time thinking about themselves that they rarely think about you or me. What people think is their own business, and has nothing to do with you.
Other people in your life might be more comfortable if you don’t change, but it’s not your job to make everyone comfortable. Stop being afraid of what others think.
Lots of us are frozen in our tracks for fear of looking stupid. This is another manifestation of fear of what others will think but it shows up a lot in public situations.
Years ago, when I started my first business, I knew I had a lot to learn. One day I made the decision that I would rather look stupid once than be stupid forever. That simple decision gave me the courage to ask questions from people I didn’t know so I could learn what I needed to succeed.
If you stop doing any or all of these dumb things, you’ll make life better and probably be a lot happier too.
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