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"Psychology 101" teaches that the most basic human needs are food, water, air, and safety. Safety probably referred to physical safety for our cave dwelling forebears but today safety encompasses a much broader definition than just the physical aspect.
Living with a pandemic and all the physical/mental health and financial implications — while viewing human rights horrors left, right and centre on a daily basis, and experiencing the effects of climate change and extreme weather, to name a couple of disturbing topics — can start to feel overwhelming and create a sense of anxiety and fear. Just following the news can be traumatising. Some of us are just more naturally fearful and anxious than others.
It’s useful to remember that some news and social media outlets, particularly the less reputable, will build their audience by sensationalising real or perceived threats to the viewers’ personal and/or public safety. We’re served up a smorgasbord of shock and horror.
We need to know what’s going on, but also to live without the spectre of fear overshadowing our daily lives.
What do you do with the barrage of fears and threats that hit you every day?Where do you find some calm and refuge? Sometimes it can feel like there’s no place to run and no place to hide.
Here are a few suggestions for helping keep your feet on the ground, your head lifted high, and keep you living well amongst the messiness of everyday life.
ENJOY POSITIVE PEOPLE
Not everything or everyone in the world is scary! Feed off the energy of those good souls and their attitudes.Ditch the energy vampires and the constant nay-sayers. It’s been proven we feel better around happier/positive people. Find those people, strengthen those relationships. Let them know how much you value them. Believe in yourself.
When you hear the voice of fear, self-doubt, or criticism in your head, recall the people and good experiences that give you energy. Write yourself a letter of encouragement. Practice being a friend to yourself and keep that self-talk kind.
BE MINDFUL, MEDITATE OR PRAY (OR DO ALL THREE!)
Notice the present moment, be mindful or your immediate environment. Remember to focus on your breath and how it feels filling your lungs and belly, leaving your body through a slow exhale. Notice any tension in your body as you breathe and let it go. Notice the surrounding sounds and smells. Five minutes each day may help you feel more at peace and less stressed.
Or, if you are a person of faith, talk to your maker, find a place to say a thanksgiving prayer, and be cognisant of all that you do have.
Take time to meditate, be grateful for what you do have, name those things.
All of the above have been shown to relieve anxiety.
RECALL AND ENJOY HAPPY MOMENTS
Write about them. Look at photos, letters, cards, talk about fun and satisfying experiences you’ve had. Spend a few minutes each day reminiscing about good times and forming future plans and goals. This has been shown to change your brain structure in positive ways, strengthening the neurological pathways responsible for positive-thought processes. We’re wired with a negative bias to help keep us safe.Retrain your brain to notice the more uplifting things in your life.
ACCEPT THAT FEAR IS A FEELING
Bad things do happen in life, but they may not happen to you. When you’re anxious or fearful take a moment to notice your feeling, where you feel it, label it and let it go. Pushing it down or ignoring it will not help you to feel better. Use your imagination to allow feelings to drift by like a cloud in the sky or a leaf on a stream, without hooking onto them. That moment of emotional distance from your feelings can result in a more peaceful, productive, problem-solving state of mind.
CELEBRATE EACH DAY
Develop relationships, habits, activities that feed your soul. Acknowledge the tiniest of pleasures. Let others know that you value them. You’re not alone in feeling fearful or anxious, it’s a normal part of life. That’s what makes it so important to express gratitude and nurture the sources of your well-being at every opportunity.
LAUGH AND SMILE
The act of smiling forces a reaction of muscular, hormonal and neurological activity that is associated with happiness. Laughter is associated with strengthening the immune system. Watch your favourite comedy or read an amusing author. Catch up with your fun friends. It’s difficult to hold on to negative feelings when smiling or laughing.
The more time and energy you devote to focusing fearful or negative thoughts, the more power you give them. The same is true for positive and uplifting thoughts. Limit your consumption of negative news and social media. Do what makes you smile. Go for a walk. Spend time with those you love and who love you. Treat yourself to a show, dinner, massage, or yoga class.
Truth is, there are things to be frightened about. The world is not perfectly safe, and intelligent precautions are part of living a good life. I put on a seatbelt out of love for myself and my family, and I would do it even if there was no law demanding it. Living life with safety in mind, is not the same as living in a state of fear.
So, find solid ground. Enjoy life, feel close to those you love, recognise that fear can make things bigger than they are and accept that we can’t control everything. There is freedom when fear is put in its place.