Strategies for Coping in a Climate of Fear
In the wake of the horrific attacks in Brussels,it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by sadness — and fear.
These are times that we’ve never seen on such a global level, and that’s part of the challenge with coping—we’re in uncharted territory. There are countries that have lived with the daily reality of terrorism and violence for decades or longer. But for many parts of Europe and especially for us in America, this is something relatively new that we’re learning to live with. The other challenge is that when a terrorist attack happens, we have an overabundance of information and images at our fingertips.
The two mistakes we don’t want to make are looking for something terrible to happen everywhere we go—or—acting as if those things will never happen. So how do we live with the in-between? How do we balance that tension and guard against irrational thoughts and fears in this new reality?
A few ways to cope:
Be responsible with information and limit how much we take in
24-hour news and social media expose us to an overload of information that can actually magnify an event in our minds. When something horrible happens, we almost immediately have access to graphic pictures, iPhone videos, eyewitness accounts and seemingly endless news stories. We see things up close in a way we never did before. So one of the things we have to do is manage how much of our mind and our time we occupy with it. It’s critical to limit how much we watch and take in, and guard against obsessively reading or reviewing coverage.
Be mindful of our thoughts
When a violent attack like yesterday’s or those in Paris or San Bernardino happens, it’s easy to slip into a mindset of fear and start looking for a threat around every corner. Because these events are so shocking, they strike us at an emotional level. So we have to step back and let our rational thoughts mix in with our emotional thoughts to have a realistic perspective on our safety and the probability of danger. Think about getting on a plane soon after reading news of a plane crash. We all know that statistically, flying is much safer than driving around our own neighborhood, but at an emotional level our thoughts can get the better of us.
Be aware of what is driving our choices
When we find ourselves limiting our activities and what we do and where we go because of fears, we need to check those things out. Without pausing to examine the reasoning behind our choices, we risk making our world so small that we are missing out on life. It’s the same as not getting on an airplane because sometimes airplanes do crash. If we continue to let fear make our world smaller and smaller, we’ve allowed our thoughts to irrationally affect how we move about and how we live (exactly what terrorists hope we’ll do).
I’m not saying we should be reckless and careless. But we shouldn’t swing the other way and think we live in a world where there is no safe harbor. Because the reality is that terror attacks, plane crashes and other horrible tragedies simply don’t happen as often as we might think. And it’s our thoughts and our conscious choices that can help us navigate this uncharted territory without the burden of fear.
If you try these strategies and are still feeling overwhelmed by fear or are experiencing obsessive thoughts, we encourage you to reach out to us or another professional.