With my meditation classes suspended and massage therapy on hold until very recently, this last year has given me plenty of time to think, and one thing I have found myself focusing on a lot is FEAR.
It’s led me to read about it, meditate on it, discuss with friends and family and work on processing my own feelings around the various fears I have felt.
Sometimes we need to feel that fear response, of course, it can be a helpful natural response to a dangerous situation.
We’ve focused here before about ‘fight and flight’ and how our bodies respond to it on a physical level (faster heart rate, increased cortisol levels, higher blood pressure etc).
We have also explored the ways in which health can suffer when we get stuck in a ‘fight and flight’ state in everyday life, responding to life stresses as if we are being attacked in the jungle.
Sadly, for many people, that is what is happening right now.
News, information and messaging are at times so harsh and relentless that regardless of actual personal danger many people are now transfixed in a permanent state of fear.
Fear is one of the most basic, and yet most powerful emotions we have. Yet because it is basic, it can be easily triggered, and once we are fearful we are very easy to influence.
Even one minor bad experience can literally change your life forever.
For example, one evening in my twenties, after a night out in town I was walking home alone and there were two men walking behind me, about 100 yards back.
I had no idea of their intentions, they could have just been walking home themselves but in my mind, my danger radar was running.
About halfway home I looked back and they were much closer and whilst they showed no obvious aggression I was in full fight or flight mode.
I sped up as subtly as I could, and as I rounded a corner into a street near my house I bolted.
I calculated that before they rounded the corner I would be within reach of home, and I was soon safe inside but pumping adrenaline.
That was around 20 years ago, yet I can remember every detail to this day and the memory makes my heart pump again.
Nothing bad actually happened to me, and it might have all been my imagination, but the powerful fear I felt did change me.
For a long time, I found myself hyper-focused on my surroundings when I was out and about, even in relatively safe environments. I was always mindful of how aware I was of those around me, who had been following me and for how long.
Even now I instinctively look in window reflections to see behind me, even to the point that I am aware of which way shadows are facing and that if I can see my shadow ahead of me that means I could see someone approaching me from behind.
All this, from one experience that could have been completely made up in my imagination. That is the power of fear, it changed the way I act and respond for the rest of my life.
Now I like to think of myself as a relatively switched on person.
I don’t think I am particularly easily manipulated. I have my own opinion and I like to check information myself before forming an opinion.
Yet one minor experience changed my life forever and I wonder about how this current global crisis is going to have affected millions of people around the world.
The sheer amount of fearful news reports, adverts, social media posts, radio broadcasts, the closure of businesses, the restriction on travel in our own country, let alone abroad is going to have a huge mental health impact which will be felt for generations.
It is not just us and our children that will be feeling the effects of it, but likely future generations as well. Mass fear, just like personal fear, can change the direction of societies.
As a meditation teacher and massage therapist, I have done a lot of work to manage and reduce fear, both my own and that of others.
I like to think I am quite self-aware, but I don’t deny that I too have felt the effects of this relentless barrage of fear-inducing news and information which seems to be beaming down from the world’s greatest powers.
My concern is that whilst I have many coping mechanisms and a lot of support, many other people are less informed, less able to manage their emotions, less knowledgeable about the way fear works and less able to recognise their own physical and psychological reactions to fear.
I see and meet many people who are feeling trapped in a mentally unhealthy place induced by fear.
We will have to wait to see whether subjecting populations to so much fear was justifiable, but