It is entirely natural to feel fear and anxiety when mass killings take place around the country…and when terrorist attacks occur in other parts of the world as well as here. We are biologically programmed to “go on alert” when there is danger around us. It’s a natural and protective response. That same response also comes with risk when it does not calm down and keeps up in a state of on-going hyper vigilance. Then it has the power to paralyze us and cause us to make assumptions and generalizations about individuals who are different from us — in appearance or in faith. And further, to restrict the way we live our lives.
So what happens? Our brains get hijacked by fear — and not just physically — also cognitively. We begin to “tell ourselves” things that sync with the physical fear. In other words we begin to make things up. An example: First the truth: “people were tragically shot and killed at a holiday party.” Distortion: “I can’t trust anyone and I have to stay away from large gatherings. Maybe I shouldn’t go to church either.” Distortions are statements that are exaggerated or inflammatory, or include generalizations, and they typically have no factual basis. Depending on the situation or event, EVERYONE does this kind of distorted thinking to some extent. And everyone needs to be better at “catching” the distortion and changing it to a reality.
It would be both foolish and irresponsible to suggest “you shouldn’t be afraid” when there is a threat. The question is two fold: what’s going on in actuality and what’s going on in my head?
Psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman addressed this conflict in the December 2, 2015 Sunday NYTimes: “The message of these attacks is powerful: You are not safe anywhere…..that, after all, is the whole point of terrorism: to subvert our sense of the normal, to make us afraid of improbable dangers and invite us, in our fear, to over-react in ways that are destructive to our lifestyle and that will not make us any safer.”
Friedman goes on to suggest that we need “national cognitive therapy.” I agree!
We also need to embrace the freedom we have, the ability to step forward in a giving, caring, generous way. And if you read or listen to any of the reports on the POSITIVE actions of your neighbors and community leaders, you know we are a people more likely to to do just that — step up and step out. The basic message: Be mindful, and relax, and enjoy, and most of all check your THOUGHTS to make sure they are not eroding your sense of well being…or even your way of life.