Today's reactions to reports of the swine flu virus include: school closings, threats of borders closing, people being told to stay off planes and trains, high school sporting events canceled.
The natural response to fear is to contract. This contracting behavior shows up in all types of animal species, from armadillos to tortoises to human beings. Right now, contracting behavior is showing up everywhere: the job market, the auto industry, the housing market, the stock market. 2009 could be called "The Year of The Contracting Human".
The irony is that there are two ways to go through life: from love or from fear. Fear contracts, love expands. Many people spend their entire lives in fear, no matter what strain of flu is being reported or what the markets are doing. And some choose to live from love, in spite of what the mainstream media is reporting this nanosecond.
So how do we combat the natural reaction to fear (contraction) when that's not always the right decision? We don't want to be naïve or take unnecessary risks. How, then, can we make more informed choices without succumbing to mind-numbing fear?
1. Get the facts.
It's true: the swine flu virus is affecting people across the country. Will it affect you or someone you know? As of today, the facts are that the chances are very small that it will.
One of the fundamental problems with fear is that it renders everything in black/white, all/nothing, life/death polarities. That's when reasoning and logic go out the window. Of course, we should all take proper precautions, such as washing your hands and not going to a pig roast in Cancun right now. Realize that the facts in this case are on your side. But you have to get past a lot of noise to reach them.
2. Put a "stop-loss" order on your fear.
Fear is like a boulder crashing down a mountain: awfully hard to stop once it's started. We put a stop-loss order on a stock so that if it falls below a certain price, we sell, take the loss and realize that it's better to lose a little than lose a lot. In the same way, put a "stop-loss" order on your fear.
Mark Twain said, "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of which never happened." Again, this is not to minimize or make light of a serious situation. It is to realize that we often pay far too high a price for the worry and fear we place on things that will never happen to us.
3. Look at history.
"The world has always been in the throes of agony, civilization has always been tottering on the brink. The pages of history fairly shriek with tragic tales of war, famine, poverty, pestilence and man's inhumanity to man. After reading history for an hour, I realize that as bad as conditions are now, there are infinitely better than they used to be." - Roger Babson
It's natural to look back and see history through rose-colored glasses. We idolize people, events, and experiences in our individual as well as our nation's past as if those were "the good old days". But if you remember clearly, you were probably worrying about something else back then, too. As Billy Joel wrote: "The good old days weren't always that good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."
4. Establish a media-free zone.
You've heard that misery loves company. So does fear. It's easy to get swept up in the blow-by-blow accounts from every media outlet, each trying to outshout the other. Here's a crazy idea: turn off the TV for a while and connect with real people.
The media exists for one purpose: to sell you something. That's why they try to keep you hooked, and fear is one of the easiest hooks to catch humans with. Realize that they're just doing their job, which is to keep you watching/reading/listening.
Give yourself permission to unplug. Not to bury your head in the sand and become uninformed; but it's doubtful that anyone reading this right now could be considered uninformed. In fact, you're probably over-informed. That's precisely why to give yourself a media-free zone.
5. Make friends with fear.
Fear is a natural emotional response to the expectation of pain. All living organisms have developed the fear response to ensure the survival of the species. For example, you'd be quite right to feel fear if you were leaning off the edge of a tall building, because every instinct in you would be screaming, "Hey, a little mistake here could make me dead!"
We experience fear when we perceive that we're not in control. Fear is the emotional effect of absence of personal control over your situation. Therefore, there's an inverse relationship between control and fear. The more control we have over our situation, the less fear we feel.
There are things you can control, and things you can't. As the sporting philosopher Mickey Rivers said, "Ain't no sense worrying about things you got control over, because if you got control, ain't no sense worrying. And ain't no sense worrying about things you got no control over, because if you got no control, ain't no sense worrying."
Knowledge is king and awareness is power. The positive actions you take to face any situation in life give you control over your behavior and emotions. That's how to fight fear and make it work for you.
Noah St. John, Ph.D. is the author of The Secret Code of Success: 7 Hidden Steps to More Wealth and Happiness (HarperCollins) and inventor of The Afformations Method.
He helps people get rid of head trash and get better results faster, easier and with less effort. Read a free book excerpt at SuccessClinic.com