The Psychology of Fear
In the last two and a half years, perhaps, each of us experienced a surge of fear and did not escape the anxiety of a completely new situation that gripped the whole world. This is quite natural; the events touched the entire civilized world.
However, it is difficult to say what the given level and frequency of experiencing fear, apprehension, and anxiety is. Each will always be a unique cocktail in which they will most likely be mixed early, even prenatal experiences and personal settings, degree of sensitivity, genetic make-up, fulfillment or non-fulfillment of basic emotional needs in childhood, and others.
In addition, during our life, sometimes there comes a period of crises, rebirths, and changes when deep forces forcefully and without question penetrate through the shell of our consciousness. These periods can be accompanied by extreme experiences of fear, anxiety, and even terror.
"There is only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
According to one medieval story, a pilgrim was walking along the road to the city and met Death. Recognizing her, he asks: "Where are you going and why?" "I am going to the city to kill a thousand people with the plague." "Well, if you have to, go," the pilgrim replies, slowly heading to the same city. When he arrives at his destination, he finds a dead city, tens of thousands dead, not a single living being anywhere. He goes back the same way and meets Death again. "You lied to me, Death. You killed all the people with the plague." "I didn't lie,” answers the Death “exactly one thousand inhabitants of the city died of the plague. Everyone else was killed by the fear of the plague."
This horrible story illustrates well the destructive nature of fear if we are overwhelmed by it and give up the fight. The instinctive reaction to a threat is not only an attack or escape, but if we evaluate the situation as hopeless, then also paralysis and surrender to a higher power.
This instinctive reaction is exploited by populist leaders – saviors who can frighten a crowd to the point that it gives up its own chances of solving the urgent sense of threat by its own forces and passively places power and salvation in the hands of a manipulative higher power.
Guidelines for Manipulators and Crowd Leaders:
A manipulator will systematically present people with messages, stories, and images that will create and spread a sense of threat, anxiety, and fear in society.
A larger part of society will stop verifying ghostly information, confronting it with a different point of view. They begin to have a great need to clarify and simplify the whole problem. It is enough to help them with the right stickers and directions, which will be simple and logically comprehensible.
Put more pressure on the saw and try to create the feeling that the situation has no solution. After the initial resistance, anxiety, and then resignation to one's own activity will probably come, but there remains hope for salvation from above.
Give them such salvation with a simple instruction – explain to the crowd (yes, at that point, society is mostly behaving like a crowd) that others are incapable, look where they got us, while you are not afraid and have a solution. In doing so, you will only be repeating ideas that you have already pushed on people before. This way, your ideas will seem familiar, logical, and therefore believable to them.
How to deal with the amount of information thrown at a person?
Adequacy, not absence of concern. Realize that worry and fear are natural emotions that have an essential function. They mobilize us, orient our attention and show what we should change to prevent the possible negative consequences of what threatens us. It's not about not having such emotions at all but *keeping them within limits where they don't harm us*.
Mental hygiene is essential! Introduce (and if you do, intensify) important psycho hygiene exercises – intensive movement, physical exercises, physical relaxation (autogenic training, etc.), yoga, meditation, mindfulness exercises, walks in nature, etc.
You can prepare crisis scenarios – and then put them away. If you are overly worried about the possible practical consequences of the current situation for your concrete, everyday life (energy crisis, job loss, financial matters, etc.), do not avoid these considerations, but go through them thoroughly once and conclude.
Specifically: calmly (alone or with another person who is a reasonable advisor) discuss these concerns and devote yourself primarily to planning activities and measures that (then, if they arise) you can take. Think through contingency plans ("what would I do if") and alternatives.
Do it once, thoroughly, when you are in a stable mood. For example, write down all the points on paper. And then hide it somewhere and close everything, both realistically and symbolically. Don't come back to it. If needed, you have plans made.
Remember – feeling afraid, nervous, and upset is normal in times of uncertainty.
The way people react to the news can be influenced by how it's presented. While you want to stay informed from credible news sources, you might need to set limits on your daily media consumption.
Fears from the point of view of human biology
Fear actually has a central location in our brain. The area is called the amygdala, and it is located deep on the sides of our head in a place called the temporal lobe. It gets its name from being almond-shaped. The amygdala serves us well and helps us to avoid fearful and anxious situations in our past, so we don’t continue to make the same mistakes or subject ourselves to dangerous situations. It keeps us on alert when we must be careful.
Your amygdala fires the stress/anxiety/fear warnings based on how you see the world. It is complicated because our brain is complicated, but imagine your eyes see a threat, and messages go throughout your brain telling you to run, fight, flee, or whatever response you might take.
Part of the message goes to your amygdala for many reasons, including the emotional component. The more your amygdala is stimulated, the more easily it can get triggered. When a pandemic has a child or adult in fear all day, the amygdala repeatedly uses minimal stimulus to fire. Everything becomes a threat – and fear and anxiety are everywhere.
First things first, do not let any kind of negativity and hopelessness stop you from taking the necessary actions to care for yourself. Mild anxiety can be beneficial to boosting efforts and achieving a favorable outcome. Excessive anxiety can make it difficult to reason and cause extreme stress. It is helpful to understand what kind of behavior and emotions are normal and which should raise a red flag.
“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows but only empties today of its strength.” — Charles Spurgeon