Posts Tagged ‘Fear’
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously proclaimed in his first inaugural address that there was “nothing to fear but fear itself,” it was intended to encourage people not to despair in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis, a.k.a. the “Great Depression.” Much has been argued over the true meaning of his words, not least because they don’t make a lot of sense if taken out of context. Yet, they have lived on in the public discourse ever since, applicable as they seem in every generation.
Indeed, we are experiencing a time of acute fear and anxiety right now. People around the world are worried for countless reasons. There is hardly a place left on earth where populations enjoy relatively tranquil lives – not even in the remote Himalayan country of Bhutan, where achieving happiness for all is a declared goal of the government.
Many of us seem to be affected by an epidemic of worry. Oftentimes, it may start with something concrete, a situation or event one can point to, like the attacks of 9/11. But over time, a specific fear can turn into a state of growing uneasiness.
Worry is circular, it feeds on itself, gets out of hand, and eventually becomes almost uncontrollable, according to Francis O’Gorman, a professor of English literature at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, and author of “Worrying, a Literary and Cultural History” (Bloomsbury 2015).
While today’s world is a risky place and evokes many well-founded concerns, the experience of fear itself creates new risks that can affect a person’s health and well-being, says David Ropeik, an expert on risk perception. In fact, the hazards of fretting over perceived threats may be more harmful than the actual risks themselves, he argues.
The reason is that when a state of fear persists over extended periods of time, our bodies react to chronically elevated levels of stress. Once stress hormones flood the bloodstream without finding relief, they can literally become poisonous and lead to dire, even life-threatening consequences.
The human species could not have survived for long without the experience of fear. The ability to identify certain events and situations as dangerous and respond appropriately is essential for our existence. But these responses are meant to be rare and short-lived. If we cannot switch off this built-in alarm system of ours, it will quickly exhaust us, even turn against us.
In contrast to justified concerns – which can be motivating to take action – fear as a state of mind is paralyzing. It prevents clear thinking. It destroys hope and optimism. It can lead to destructive behavior and make us sick.
The fact that we are constantly bombarded with messages that contain potential threats, whether they occur nearby or halfway around the world, is not conducive to our psychological (and subsequently overall) well-being. We may live in an ever-more globalized environment, but we also must consider our limits as individuals who can only digest a finite amount of information.
No one should retort to a head-in-the-sand attitude. Our lives have become too complex and too intertwined to hide from reality. But if we keep getting overloaded with data that leave us feeling more helpless than empowered, we won’t be useful in tackling the problems we could otherwise help solving. We just end up hunkering down in fear, anger and despair. Not a healthy prospect. Not for anyone of us, and not for the world.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”
Among the many capabilities that distinguish us humans from other earthly creatures is the ability to forecast future events and prepare accordingly. Your dog or cat may have an uncanny way of “knowing” when you’ll return from work or when it’s feeding time, but that doesn’t compare with our anticipating of what’s to come. However, this unique gift also has a downside: We worry. And sometimes we worry too much.
Worrying is a form of stress that can have multiple negative health effects, especially when there is no reprieve. Constant worriers can turn into emotional wrecks with sometimes serious physical implications.
Potential outcomes are toxic effects from accumulating stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol in the blood stream, which can affect the glands, nervous system, and the heart, and can lead to stomach ulcers, heart disease, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Other less dangerous, but by no means benign, responses include muscle tension, headaches, back pain, constipation and diarrhea. There can also be a greater susceptibility to infectious diseases as the immune system weakens.
Worrying also impacts our wellbeing in other ways. It can rob us of our peace of mind, disturb our sleep, reduce our libido, isolate us socially, and throw us into depression. Unlike fear, where there are concrete obstacles, excessive worrying can make the whole world appear as a threat, causing anxiety and panic attacks.
Worriers typically get bogged down by events that haven’t happened yet but might in a worst case scenario, says Dr. Christine Purdon, a psychology professor and executive director of the Centre for Mental Health Research at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. They succumb to what she calls a “worry chain,” where one worrying thought spurs another and another, until they no longer can think straight.
What’s important is that overly worried people reestablish a sense of perspective. While it is perfectly acceptable to be a little nervous before an exam or a job interview, getting paralyzed with fear over every eventuality is not. There is only so much the mind can bear in terms of apprehension. Beyond that things start spinning out of control.
There are a number of exercises people prone to worrying can do to calm down and regain their confidence, Dr. Purdon suggests. Sometimes it can help just to analyze where a particular concerns originates from. Getting to the root of one’s worries can be a first step to overcome them. Asking the right questions, such as “Do I have any control over this particular situation?” – or “Have I done everything I can to avert an undesirable outcome?” – or “Is this an imminent threat?” can help clarify how justified a particular concern really is.
There are also some hands-on measures worried folks can take to counterbalance the effects of their thinking. Eating extra nutritious foods, engaging in regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are all tried and true anti-stressors. Nothing worse can happen to a person who is under emotional distress than letting his or her body get run down. It is like throwing gasoline on fire.
Not allowing yourself to be isolated is equally important. Seeing a licensed psychologist or health counselor can be helpful, and so can staying close to family and friends. Sometimes just forgetting about one’s worries for a while by rejoining the living can take the bleakness away.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).