Fear & Anxiety – The Disregarded Factor

Fear & Anxiety – The Disregarded Factor

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The more fear and anxiety we have, the more vulnerable we are and the more irrational we behave. Look at three sentences from an article published by the University of Minnesota ([1]):
“Living under constant threat has serious health consequences.”
“Fear weakens our immune system.”
“Fear … impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways.”

Fear has a nocebo effect. The nocebo effect is the negative version of the placebo effect; placebo is Latin for “I shall please,” nocebo is Latin for “I shall harm.” The neutral formulation of the underlying principle is “one’s thoughts and feelings materialize.”

The placebo effect is known and it is real. See, for example, the article “The Power of the Placebo Effect” published by the prestigious Harvard Medical School ([2]).

In other words: Fear and anxiety amplify the crisis. If this really is about “saving lives,” the insights into fear and anxiety and the placebo/nocebo effect would make it necessary to include fear/anxiety into how we deal with this crisis. It would be important to encourage people sufficiently.

graphic by Clker-free-vector-images on unsplash.com

Clearly, this is a balancing act during the crisis. But the sentence „don’t panic” doesn’t help. It is as effective as the sentence “don’t think of a pink elephant.” 

Fear and anxiety are multitudes more contagious than any virus. A virus needs some form of physical proximity to spread. Fear and anxiety spread without physical proximity. They spread by seeing each other be afraid or anxious; they spread via media; via internet; via telephone.

If in a herd of animals a handful of animals start to flee, everybody flees.

The essence of what we are bombarded with from media is: “Fear everybody else.”

An article published on CNN on Saturday 4/4 fits to this. On the homepage it was shown with the headline: „Bus driver posted angry video about coughing passenger. He died days later.“ ([3]).

The article tells a different story than what the headline suggests. How many people check out the article, how many just read the headline?

Not only in this crisis media outdo each other in horror news and horror scenarios. Media people love horror scenarios and worst case scenarios simply for economic reasons: Bad news sell better.

Therefore, it’s not the “fault” of the media. They just respond to the market. It’s a phenomenon of our society.

We are a fear-driven society. Acting out of fear or anxiety is normal for us, but it is not natural. It develops as we grow up.

photo by Francois Verbeek on unsplash.com

As children we are not anxious. We are passionately curious. We deal with the unknown and explore it. This lets us grow – physically and mentally.

But we copy the fear-driven lifestyle of our parents (see my article “The OTHER Story of the Eagle in the Chicken Coop”). We learn to strive after security. We learn to prefer the boredom of functioning to the joy of growing. I write about this in detail in my book “Curiosity: The Mental Hunger of Humans.”

Naturally, humans would move closer together in a crisis. They move closer in order to protect each other; to comfort each other; to encourage each other. Animal herds close ranks in case of danger.

But currently we are taught to be afraid of each other. We must not behave naturally. We are trapped in a spiral of fear and anxiety that leads to despair.

This transforms a fear-driven society into a fear-driven desperate society.

You may argue that you are not afraid nor anxious and that the tsunami of media coverage does nothing with you.

But:

Media coverage has an effect on everybody. Some people are affected more, some are affected less. But, ultimately, everybody is affected.

And you are affected as long as you live a life as part of the society – or want to be part of it. It’s really about the effect on the masses. And a lot of people are afraid or anxious; and they grow more anxious and, thus, more desperate. If, in a democracy, the majority of people is afraid, fear reigns. When fear reigns, more and more rules develop and personal freedom gets restricted.

Here is yet another sentence from the above-mentioned article published by the University of Minnesota ([1]):
“Other consequences of long-term fear include fatigue, clinical depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder.”

The collective reduces itself to absurdity.

Media could as well encourage people by publishing good news. They could again and again stress that 95% of all infected people have no or only mild symptoms. They could again and again feature people from these 95% and their stories. They could again and again remind us that a healthy lifestyle strengthens our immune system. How can we get them to do so? We could write letters to editors. We could publish success stories; stories that empower; stories that enourage; …

The opposite of anxiety is curiousity. Therefore, curiosity – true curiousity, ie the curiosity we experienced as children – is the only escape from this situation. We can start digging for the truth. (See my article “How to Dig for the Truth.”) The path of curiosity can only be chosen individually. 

I write about true curiosity in my book about curiosity.

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[1] Impact of Fear and Anxiety. (University of Minnesota). https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/impact-fear-and-anxiety

[2] The Power of the Placebo Effect. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-power-of-the-placebo-effect

[3] https://edition.cnn.com/videos/health/2020/04/03/bus-driver-coughed-on-video-dies-detroit-vpx.cnn