Fear is a darkroom where negatives develop. -Usman B. Asif
I woke up Tuesday morning to the news coverage of the bombings in Brussels. As I watched the pictures, I felt myself contracting. I was scared about the state of the world. I wanted to curl up on my couch and watch Jane Austen movies. I didn’t want to go out into what felt like a scary and unpredictable world. But this wasn’t an option.
What can we do in the face of world events that shake us and our understanding of the world? Here are three simple things that we can do to respond:
When we’re afraid, our breathing becomes quicker and shallower. This gets our nervous system ready for action. We need this if danger is imminent. Slow, deep breathing, however, resets our nervous system, and tells our brain that we’re not in immediate danger. After all if we’re being chased by a bear, we will not be taking time for slow, deep breaths.
“Square breathing” is one of the easiest breathing techniques to help slow things down. To try square breathing, inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four. Repeat as necessary. Go ahead and try it now.
2. Focus on the Present
Fear often focuses our attention on the future. Fear asks What if . . . What will happen . . . and on and on. We lose track of what is by worrying about what might be.
Mindful awareness is a helpful way to counteract this future-oriented thinking. This technique, which is used in mindfulness meditation, teaches us to take a moment and focus exclusively on what is happening in this very moment. Not next month or next week or tomorrow or even in the next minute—only now. By focusing on the now, we realize that in this particular moment, we are OK. There is no terrorist bomb or cancer or job loss. In this moment, you are safe.
3. Reach out
Fear can isolate us by encouraging us to retreat into a safe place, whether it be physical or emotional. Reaching out to family or friends is one way to counteract this reflex.
Call a trusted friend or family member and tell them your fears. Having another person listen to our fears, lightens the fear. And if you listen to their fears, you will be helping lighten their fears.
- What was your response when you heard about the bombings in Brussels?
- What techniques have you found to be helpful when dealing with fear?