When Fears Take Over

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The first Ebola patient in the USA has died. Does this mean a disease that seemed continents away will now run rampant in North America too? Should we be afraid, very afraid?

Ask the fear mongers and the doomsday sayers and they will no doubt say yes, it’s the new beginning of the end. The same way the millennium was to trigger mass system failures and the same way the end of the Mayan calendar signaled the supposed finish of us all.

That’s not to say we don’t face a serious situation with the spread of this disease. It’s a global situation with the potential of affecting many countries. While the World Health Organization and contagious disease experts work towards a solution, let’s take a look at the concept of fear itself and consider what we can do, as ordinary people, in extraordinary times.

There’s a well-known acronym for FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. In other words, our minds (and the media) can convince us something terrible is going to happen, even when there is no evidence any such thing will actually occur. Think about it. How many times have you laid awake at night, tossing and turning as you grapple with a situation, and your mind takes you on a trip to the worst possible outcome: Disaster. Failure. Danger. Humiliation. And how many times has the worst possible scenario actually come true?

The US National Institute of Mental Health reports that almost 90% of our imagined fears will never occur and are considered as insignificant topics for worry. Remember, what our minds tell us is not reality, it’s just a collection of thoughts from our brains. When we are tired, stressed or uncertain, fears can easily take over, if we let them.

Most things we fear will happen, never happen. They are just thoughts circling in our minds. And if they happen, they will usually be nowhere nearly as painful or bad as we expected. Worrying is most often just a waste of time and mental energy.

This is of course easy to say. But if we remind ourselves how little of what we’ve feared throughout our lives has actually happened, we can start to release more and more of that worry from our thoughts.

Sometimes, it’s worth talking to someone when no matter what we tell ourselves about our fears and worries being unrealistic, they still plague our thoughts. Be discriminating about whom you share your fears with—a close, non-judgmental partner, or a professional, neutral counsellor can both help you gain a different, more realistic perspective. Education is another great way to separate fear from fact. Make it a point to follow only reputable sources, especially when it comes to unfamiliar situations, and tap into your own good common sense.

Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained. – Arthur Somers Roche

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