A Commentary By Tina Steele
live in a climate of fear; fear of terrorism, fear of illness,
fear of running out of money, fear of losing our jobs, fear of
flying, fear of the unknown, fear of severe weather, fear of fear.
This stressful and all too human emotion is being played upon
by forces both within and outside our realm of control, and now
could not be a more opportune moment to address the subject, before
it gets the better of us. This month, I am covering this same
topic on my radio show (www.LadyBugLive.com/well.htm)
and some of the commentary will be repeated, but it is such an
important issue that I hope to reinforce it whenever and wherever
Another reason that precipitated this discussion is that I live
in Florida. As you know, we have just experienced 4 hurricanes
in little more than a calendar month. Prior to the arrival of
Ivan, and then his sister Jeanne, both of which from their birth
out of Africa promised to rival the force and destructive power
of that infamous hurricane, Andrew, and coupled with the damage
wrought by Charley and Frances, Floridians had already been reaching
critical mass in terms of their levels of anxiety and stress -
and now, there is a phenomenon that is becoming almost palpable
nearly everyone here seems to be living in a state of abject
fear. What is more, their reactions to it are as diverse as they
are intense: from ridiculously reckless driving to rudeness not
even found in the worst characterizations of illtempered New
Yorkers. Conversely, some look and act like deer caught in undimming
and relentless headlights, others as if they have been bowed by
the weight of the world on their shoulders. But, no wonder, for
many have lost their homes, their livelihoods and their life savings,
and I do not wish to demean or diminish the level of their loss
and suffering. What I do wish to address is the whole culture
of fear and why it makes people act the way they act, and how
fear, which is really anxiety (or vice versa), can negatively
affect us in both psychological as well as in physiological ways.
It can also win elections.
in what I have rechristened "The Soggy State" (formerly known
as The Sunshine State), waiting for the sky to fall upon our heads
again and again, we have been seeing an enormous increase in extreme
adverse and bizarre behaviors, while others have been exhibiting
signs of what can only be termed Learned Helplessness; a condition
where a person becomes totally incapable of acting to free themselves
of the psychological burdens that imprison them: I am a loser;
it is my lot in life. I will always be a loser. Whatever the manifestation
of their fear/anxiety may be, it is evident that the vast majority
of people are blissfully unaware that they are displaying any
sort of aberrant behavior, and until the individual can recognize
that they are indeed not functioning within what can be considered
normal parameters, it makes it very hard to address. Therefore,
I would beg that you ask yourself, am I feeling any of the symptoms
that we are discussing here, and if so, take action.
I would be remiss not to take on the political ramifications of
this culture of fear. The current administration has kept our
country on the edge of our seats, since the horrors of 9/11, with
carefully timed and orchestrated reminders that they and they
alone are our protectors. When it looks like they are losing popularity,
or there is yet more bad press about their political shenanigans,
we are suddenly told that there is a new "terror alert."
None of these alerts are EVER substantiated; in fact they are
nothing more than nebulous suggestions that things COULD go badly
wrong if our political benefactors were not looking out for us.
What they actually do is serve as a means of controlling the masses
and keeping them in a constant state of fear. The Communists and
certain other dictatorships and oligarchical regimes have successfully
manipulated their people in the same way, until they were overthrown
that is. Not a day goes by when we are not inundated with often
subtle, and notsosubtle, references to Osama bin Laden, for
example, AlQueda, terrorists, terrorist cells, conspiracies,
and any number of horrifying and terrible things that could at
any moment befall us. It is no wonder that so many of us fear
for our lives on a permanent basis.
the rich have been recently blessed by our current leaders, and
gotten so much richer, the shrinking middle class has become increasingly
relegated to the ranks of the lower echelons; so many are now
only one paycheck away from disenfranchisement; the fear of joblessness,
homelessness and pennilessness, has played right into the hands
of the powerbrokers; the mortgage and insurance companies, banks,
and corporate hiring managers, to name but a few. So much so that
wages have gone down, way down, and with the mental whip of possible
unemployment ever cracking over their heads, worker productivity
has gone steadily UP. Good jobs are almost nonexistent, the rest
are scarce and mostly found in the lowestpaying sectors; those
of the minimumwage service industries. Those of us with professional
qualifications, and the hefty student loans that go with them,
who used to command a decent salary way back when we had a booming
economy for EVERYONE, are now either among the unemployed or slaving
away at 2 or 3 jobs and still not managing to make ends meet.
It is hardly surprising that so many are fearful that they might
get fired or pinkslipped for any reason, get some catastrophic
illness, or be unable to keep up with rapidly rising prices and
interest rates. So, how DOES fear affect us?
it can run the gamut from headaches to upset stomach, and much
worse, even our breathing can be affected1 over the longterm
effects can become amplified to the extent that they are lifethreatening.
Insomnia, generalized weakness, palpitations, dizziness, changes
in eating habits, muscle tension, tremors, are all symptoms that
can befall us, and to add insult to injury can be very frightening,.
Feelings of a tightness in your chest, or that you may pass out
are common, and are mostly psychological in origin. Thoughts of
inadequacy, unusual anger and frustration, excessive worrying,
and of doom and gloom are frequently attributable to the emotional
impact that fear/anxiety have upon us. There are some easy steps
that you can take to control and even overcome your fears, and
I heartily suggest that you heed the following advice from a timely
press release (COPING WITH ANXIETY DURING HIGH
RISK TERRORIST ALERTS February 12, 2003. No. 0306)
of the American Psychiatric Association:
Educate yourself about the potential danger. Facts are frequently
less frightening than rumors and myth.
If television or other news reports significantly increase feelings
of anxiety and helplessness, don't watch or read them; you don't
need to know every last detail. Television news of violence can
be frightening to children, especially when it is viewed repetitively.
Find ways to distract yourself from thinking about the potential
for harm. Get involved in an activity that you can control: work
in the garden, clean the basement, do volunteer work, take up
an old hobby, take a "time out" and go to the movies or a play.
Take advantage of the weekends to refuel. A day or so away from
normal routinewhether spent at home or on a weekend getawaybreaks
the cycle of preoccupation with disaster.
Talk about your anxiety with family or friends; avoid being alone.
When you find yourself worrying about the unknown, mentally change
Avoid or at least minimize alcohol and caffeine intake; caffeine
can add to "the jitters," and both disrupt sleep.
Get regular exercise.
If you smoke, don't increase your tobacco consumption. While
it may seem to ease anxiety in the short run, increased smoking
poses significant longterm health hazards.
factor that is all too often forgotten is that we really are still
just primitive beings; we operate on the same level that our cavedwelling
ancestors did, the only difference being that we now have THINGS,
stuff, accoutrements. We are programmed to seek to provide ourselves
and our loved ones with three basic elements: shelter, food and
security. When any or all of these are in any way taken from us,
or placed in jeopardy, our primal instincts come into play, and
so too fear. There is, of course, the type of fear associated
with the "flight or fight" response, which is instinctual
to us all - it is, if you would, what we can even call a 'good'
fear; the one that makes us swerve out the way of a marauding
mastodon, or an oncoming lunatic driver; has us capable of lifting
many times our body weight to pull a loved one from underneath
a mudslide, or to swim much faster than the shark that is pursuing
us. But this type of fear response is not detrimental to our health,
only those perceived fears, that gnaw at us over and over, are
making us ill, and that is why we must be aware of them.
instance when fear can have a profound effect is when our health
is threatened. In fact, one of the most effective ways to persuade
someone to change a detrimental health behavior is to scare the
crap out of them, by telling them all the nasty things that can
and WILL happen if they do not stop doing what they are doing.
Fear can also act to prevent a person from acting if they instinctively
know that something could be or is wrong with them. They will
refuse to go to the doctor, and make any and all excuses not to
go, because they are fearful that the doctor will tell them that
they have some terminal illness. Ironically, all too often, had
the person gone to the doctor when they first became suspicious
that something was wrong, they likely would have averted the far
more serious consequences of leaving a condition untreated, but
their worst fear is ultimately realized because it was that same
fear that held them back. We HAVE to listen to what out bodies
tell us, at all times, may this truly be a lesson to all.
to round out this discussion, I would like to say that although
the fear engendered by things we cannot control, such as the forces
of Nature, is something that is difficult to conquer, [after all,
hurricanes, earthquakes tornadoes and floods are difficult to
stop in their tracks], we can work to overcome our fear, through
education, awareness, and action: Taking care of our primitive
needs first, be it through boarding up windows, stocking up with
nonperishable foods, water, flashlights, batteries, a batterypowered
radio and/or TV, something to keep ourselves amused and occupied
(such as books, board games and playing cards), making sure that
there is a safe place to go if the situation warrants, and ensuring
the car is full of gas, can go a long way towards allaying anxiety,
and making the realities surrounding us much easier to deal with.
For those living in tornado, flood, hurricane or earthquake prone
areas, check with your local Emergency Operations Center (EOC)
for their recommendations - forewarned IS forearmed.
it is important to remember that never in the history of this
country has fear been so manifest nor so played upon by our politicians.
What is happening to us is not uniting the nation, instead we
are being divided by partisanship and a constant barrage of erroneous
and sensationalistic scare tactics designed to keep us
in a constant state of anxiety, and then marginalized if we choose
to turn our backs on the status quo. Not only is this egregious
in the extreme, these machinations of the few are flat out barbaric.
Last I heard we still lived in the Land of the Free, although
these days I would say barely, and we CAN and still should so
something about it, and that is where you DO have controlÉ.it
is time to get out and VOTE, and by doing so send a message
to Capitol Hill that we refuse to be manipulated in this way any
longer. Say NO to fear!
site provides a good breakdown of symptoms of anxiety, and offers
some helpful solutions to dealing with the disorder, in all its
manifestations (because it's so long, you may need to cut and
paste this link onto a separate page first, before putting in
your address bar):
American Psychiatric Association press release quoted above -
search for the following article on this site copingwithanxietyduringhighalerts021203:
is the Anxiety Disorders Association of America's own website:
breathing techniques to diffuse anxiety:
site is particularly geared to college students, but has some
useful tips for everyone:
1. Yuri Masaoka and Ikuo Homma, Journal of Applied Physiology,
Vol. 86, Issue 4, 1329 1336, April 1999