“First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933
I am writing this in the midst of the COVID-19 scare. As I listen to news reports, I find that it is difficult to glean what is legitimate news and what is sensationalized fear-mongering.
The health scare provides us with a good metaphor for any time that we feel out of control. It is all-too-human for our first response to be fear before we have all the facts. Any time something threatens our sense of security, it is easy to get caught up in catastrophic thinking. Being cautious is advisable, but when a healthy dose of concern turns into a blind panic, it thwarts our creativity and keeps us focused on the problem rather than the solution.
Whenever we fear a condition outside ourselves, there is something greater operating within us. We are rarely reacting to the situation at hand. We are reacting to a stimulus that reminds us of old fears that have not been resolved. Panic does not cause us to be level-headed solution-finders, but rather reactionary loose cannons who work from adrenaline and a fight-or-flight mentality.
All of this reminds me of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech, at the height of the Great Depression in 1933. The history books and conventional wisdom tell us that the cause of the Depression was the stock market crash of 1929, but that was really only the catalyst. Yes, the markets crashed and many people lost money. But the true CAUSE of the Depression was the panic that ensued in the following 3 years.
Most experts agree that the markets could have rebounded and the economy recovered within a year if the majority of the US population had not overreacted. Unfortunately, President Herbert Hoover did not instill confidence in people. His solutions were lackluster, at best. Instead of counseling patience and clear thinking, he denied that there was a problem at all. This only fueled Americans’ panic that things were beyond their control.
Roosevelt won the election of 1932 in a landslide because he promised hope and a measured, active, reasonable response to the situation, rather than the denial-oriented, “too-little-too-late” response like his predecessor. Americans wanted facts and solutions, not speculation and reaction.
In this climate, FDR said at the beginning of his inaugural address, “first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
In the current climate of fear around this virus, it’s good to remember that the FEAR can be more of a problem than the catalyzing event. This is true in all areas of your life. Whatever it is that you are fearing, keep in mind that the original situation is probably not as bad as your fear is telling you it is. There are always common-sense, proactive ways to find reasonable solutions for any condition.
First, learn to identify when panic is setting in. You can tell when panic rises in you by a heightened heart rate, shallow breathing, and free-floating anxiety about things that have nothing to do with the situation at hand. When you feel yourself crossing from concern into panic, take a deep breath, focus on your heart rate, and distract yourself with something to help you relax, like a walk or some calming music.
Second, manage the panic with information. Find out the facts. The media are not the most reliable source for facts. Use Google to find reliable sources and do your research. Is it really as bad as you are believing? Seek out more information from accurate sources.
Third, maintain your perspective. Identify how serious the risk really is. Remind yourself that you have faced adversity in the past and always survived it. Focus on the ways that things are going well and try to find the silver lining.
Fourth, be proactive. What can you control, and what can you not? Do things that you know will make a difference (in the case of the virus, try washing your hands, disinfecting surfaces, avoiding people who are sick) and don’t buy into the things that won’t make a difference (what does hoarding toilet paper have to do with anything?).
Fear can be a tricky thing, but it doesn’t need to control you. You can manage your thoughts about the situation. Stay calm. Get accurate information. Control what you can and roll with what you can’t. There is nothing to fear but fear itself.