“Fear does not prevent death, it prevents life”
A state of fear
I was brought up in a state of fear. It was not a communists state or facist regime but the dictatorship of my own family of origin. Headed by my tyrannical father I lived in fear of punishment, rejection, ridicule, shaming and a host of other abusive behaviours.
Physical chastisement could come out of nowhere. Despite begging for mercy and clinging to the bannisters there was no escape from the smacks, bedroom confinement or terror. My mother arrived in this marriage anxious. Mixed with fear she easily became triggered into not coping, which signalled trouble for anyone in her path. Neither parent was safe or reliable.
As a consequence I was troubled by physical ailments and mental ill health issues for years. Eventually, therapy helped me understand the impact this had on my wellbeing. Later on, the symptoms called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome became my greatest teacher of all. This showed me how deeply the fissure of fear had run in my life. The limiting beliefs I formed to survive my childhood coloured everything. They stopped or comprised my enjoyment of life and had ultimately led to ill health.
I’m not saying this so you can feel sorry for me. Please don’t. The I, that I am today has healed much of that trauma. I have become a stronger, more capable and indeed a much happier, healthier and more joyful person as a result. Infact, it is those experiences, and my recovery from them which, I believe, offer my greatest qualification for the work I do as a therapist.
I am saying this to illustrate that I know about fear. I know about it from a personal and a professional viewpoint and I believe it is a highly dangerous weapon of choice to control and manipulate people.
We are creatures who adapt to survive. We form beliefs about difficult or threatening situations in an effort to prevent something similar happening to us again. These patterns of thought and behaviour can cause us a multitude of problems in the future. They devastate lives, wreck relationships and cause deep harm to our health and wellbeing. Long after the original events have stopped we are still controlled by the fear.
I am concerned about this panic-demic. The use of terror and dread alarms me. By using fear to control us, these parental figures in our Government have behaved in ways which I believe have engendered unnecessary alarm. We have now reached the point where despite reality, the majority of the public remain frightened.
The Guardian recently reported that “the government messaging has successfully scared Britons into staying inside, so successfully that we are now too afraid to ever go outside again.” This was evidenced by a MORI poll showing that the UK is now the most frightened nation as regards Covid-19. This is an absurd, tragic and deeply disturbing situation.
Some people have cause to be frightened. They fall into vulnerable groups where they may risk death if they encounter the virus. The vast majority of us will not. The Chief Medical Officer in the UK, Chris Whitty recently explained 46mins into this briefing, that,
“A significant portion of people will not get this virus at all, at any point in the epidemic….of those who do, some of them will get the virus with no symptoms at all. Of those who get symptoms the great majority, probably 80% will have a mild or moderate disease. It might be bad enough to go to bed for a few days, not bad enough to have to go to the doctor.
An unfortunate minority will have to go as far as hospital, but the majority of those will just need oxygen and then will leave hospital. Then a minority of those will end up having to go to severe end critical care and some of those sadly, will die. But that is a minority, 1% or possibly even less over all.
Even in the highest risk group, it is significantly less than 20%, i.e. the great majority of people, even in the very highest risk groups, if they catch this virus, will not die.” (my emphasis)
Afraid to live
Despite this reality, people are now afraid to go outside, afraid to hug, hold or shake hands, afraid to do normal human things. They fear going back to work or travelling on public transport. There is an invisible attacker out there contaminating everything, leading to fear about touching or handling everyday items. The list goes on.
The Government and media reactions have highjacked our physiology, activating our fight/flight/freeze responses. This causes a myriad of hormonal and chemical reactions to occur, preparing us to confront or escape from the perceived threat. When we can do neither, we freeze. This can create what we, in my profession, refer to as a trauma capsule.
Part of us gets frozen in time. It encapsulates all the information relating to that event including the beliefs we formed, smells, tastes, colours and much more. It is a mechanism for when we feel helpless, unable to do anything but try to survive. Like the antelope who falls down as if dead our freeze reaction may just save us.
In this frightened state we cannot think straight, the blood supply to our frontal lobe is reduced as the body gears up and prepares for physical action. We do not need to consider or mull over the situation we must act. This primitive reaction connects us back through our evolutionary history to our reptilian beginnings.
If the threat is considered sufficient enough i.e. our life is in danger, the mammalian or thinking mind is bypassed in favour of survival at any cost. Our brain stem rules the roost and directs the show. We literally can’t think clearly or sensibly.
In addition, the fear engendered now may be activating old fears held in the trauma capsules we carry. Because our minds and bodes are interconnected we will react to present events based on beliefs formed during past intense emotional events. Our minds and bodies remind us of that time in order to help us survive the current perceive threat.
We may experience thought patterns, physical reactions, and emotional responses which we don’t understand as our body/mind gears up.
I had a taste of this earlier on in the crisis. In this video I made about a month ago I explain how I was triggered by seeing others being frightened.
Talking to friends and colleagues I know I am not alone. A multitude of past traumas have been reactivated by this lockdown.
If you recognise this is happened to you do, whatever you can to calm your nervous system. Current events may have triggered past troubles and sent your nervous system into over-drive. By using calming, soothing, gentle practices you remind your body that right now you are safe. This will help enormously.
Nothing to fear
And remember, there is nothing for most of us to fear except the fear itself.
“Courage is knowing what not to fear.”