By Dr. Freidman Schaub
The recent acts of terror in the USA, Turkey, Egypt and France have left many of us in shock and disbelief. We can’t fathom the ruthless violence against innocent people, who just returned from a vacation, went shopping in the market or enjoyed a fun night out. Considering that these are only a few of the most recent terrorist attacks, we may start to wonder if the world is no longer safe.
Some react with anger and call to force and retaliation. Others with grief and a sense of hopelessness. But the majority of people feel more anxious and afraid. Vacation plans get cancelled, since traveling abroad seems too risky. People of different faiths and cultures are eyed with great suspicion. And some even demand to shun the hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees that are fleeing from the terrorists themselves.
Of course it is understandable that fear and worry are running rampant these days. But let’s not forget that this is exactly the agenda of terrorism – to make us feel small, powerless and unsafe. To quote Salman Rushdie “To prove terrorists wrong, we must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons.”
Tragic events can make you worried, vigilant and guarded to keep yourself safe. The problem is that constant fear and anxiety drain your energy, cloud your judgments and diminish your confidence, which is the opposite of helping you to stay safe. Here are a few tips that can help you overcome your fears and anxieties and regain a greater sense of calmness and centeredness.
Stop the negativity spiral Making assumptions is one of the major anxiety triggers. Any thoughts starting with “what if” should give you a clue that you’re about to venture off into a fictional reality. You can get lost thinking through the consequences of terrible disasters or painful losses without realizing that they’re all based on one, frequently unrealistic “what if” assumption. Although you may know that the likelihood of dying in a car crash, drowning in your bathtub or being struck by lightning are significantly higher than becoming the victim of terrorist attack, your mind makes generalizations, ignores certain facts, and over-interprets others, all to concoct stories that are detrimental to your inner peace and well-being. Instead of spiraling into an anxiety triggering negativity spiral, take a deep breath and ask yourself the following three questions: Is this thought true? Does this thought make me feel good? Does this thought help me reach my goals? Each question acts as a reality check and will help you appreciate that entertaining the thought is not only hurtful, but it’s also getting you nowhere.
Counter-balance negative thoughts I am sure you agree, that your mind is in general active and likes “to move,” which is why stopping a negative thought isn’t enough. What works best is to re-direct the mind with at least three counter-balancing thoughts, that shed light on the opposite, positive points of view. For example, if your negative thought was Something bad will happen, counterbalances could be: Right now I am OK. There’ve been many times I was worried and everything turned out well. I have the strength and abilities to handle anything that comes my way.
Positive counterbalancing is training your mind to search for and find uplifting and empowering perspectives for any given situation. However, rather than starting your own inner debating club, engage your heart in the process. For this, consider the source of your anxiety as a vulnerable inner child that just tries to keep you safe. You will notice how much easier it is to speak in a calm, reassuring, and comforting way when you visualize addressing an inner child. By counterbalancing your negative thoughts with kindness and compassion, you automatically shift your consciousness and attitude from “I’m powerless” to “I’m taking charge.”
Keep perspective and your heart open The mind, especially the subconscious mind, can’t easily distinguish between reality and fiction. This allows you to get completely engrossed in movies, books and daydreams about the upcoming vacation. On the flip side, when you are glued in front of your TV, following every “breaking story,” your mind may also perceive you in the middle of a war zone or as victims of a disaster. Therefore, limit your time watching the news to a minimum, and try to stay more present with your immediate environment.
Times like this can put life into perspective. Rather than getting upset about minor imperfections or sweating the small stuff, you can take this opportunity to remember what and who is truly important to you. Make spending time with your friends and family a priority. Embrace even the smallest moments of joy and pleasure, such as a delicious cup of coffee, a warm hug or soft bed. Appreciate the daily blessing of your health, your home and your loved ones, which you may at times just take for granted. Show your humanity and reach out to those who are lonely or need a helping hand. And practice forgiveness and compassion, especially with those you disagree with.
I believe the best way for us to respond to those, who seem to have no regard for life, peace and freedom, is to stay calm, centered and not let anxiety and panic dictate our lives. Or to quote Salman Rushdie again: “Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.”
Credit: Friedemann Schaub MD, PhD is the author of the award-winning book "The Fear and Anxiety Solution." His Breakthrough and Empowerment Program has helped thousands of people worldwide to overcome their struggles with fear, anxiety and depression and to build a stronger foundation of confidence and self-worth. Dr. Schaub works with clients worldwide via Skype or the phone.