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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