I just got off a flight from Geneva where I sat across the aisle from a guy who reminded me of a lab rat that had been shocked one too many times – terrified to move, to touch anything, not eating and staring watery-eyed at the tiny screen in front of him for eight hours. A paper mask smothered his features and cut him off from any interaction. Neosporin glossed his hands every hour or two from a tube on his tray. The same guy, once out of the airport in the safe cocoon of his car drove home, likely texting his wife as he did so, narrowly missing an oncoming garbage truck, or maybe plowing into a cyclist.
Remember SARS, or the Bird flu? How about the deadly Ebola virus?
Did you worry about them? Did your body shift into a fight, flight or fear mode when you heard the news or read something about an outbreak?
How did Ebola fear drive behavior compared to a more likely threat? The highly publicized 2014 outbreak caused 11,250 deaths. Of the 7.5 billion people on the earth .00015% were killed in a tragic and horrific manner. That guy texting on his way home from the airport has a 1% chance of dying in a car wreck. That’s about 6,000 times more likely death by texting.
Do you know the third most prevalent cause for hospitalization in the United States in 2018 for adults 20-50 ?
Almost 50% of US residents report having some mental illness in their lifetime. Much of those problems we can control, if we choose to.
How many millions of people stream a low-level of cortisol (the stress hormone) through their veins when they read outbreak news online? Did you create anxiety eating away at healthy cells, stressing your body as if it was in real danger?
The fear of a rare, devastating diseases does much more harm than the illness ever will. It is only since real-time, global communication in this millennium that our efforts to inform and protect ourselves have increased our suffering and left us less safe.
Fear creates untold illnesses through toxic stress.
Our policies against terrorism, diseases, and crime designed to protect our population and economy have increased inequality and diminished investments in critical public needs. We’ve spent money on cameras and bomb detectors, not playgrounds and public transportation. Most ironic, the battle against deadly rare diseases has made us a more unhealthy and a more stressed society. We over use antibiotics. We scrub every piece of gym equipment with a ultra-potent cleaners that strength viruses like staph infections. The germaphobia of Howard Hughes has gone mainstream.
If we lived back in the 1950s or 60s we wouldn’t know about every horrible event in the world. We would focus on our community. Many kids are afraid to go cave exploring because a collapse in Chiang Rai Province. My nephew waits in high school on edge that someone will flip out and shoot him because the school practices live shooter drills and has said it’s a real threat. We’ve taken fear too far. The real threats to health and happiness – like texting and driving, obesity and diabetes, disappearing coming-of-age-experiences and overbearing helicopter parents – proliferate.
It’s time to shut off the world news, and be present with your community. Let’s build a society that harkens back to FDR’s message – the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Find love, find joy, find purpose in finding courage. For every horrible story that leads the news you can find ten stories of new innovation, of amazing discovery, or of unselfish acts of kindness.
Don’t fear the Wuhan virus – fear the fear that eats away at your health and happiness like a buzzard ripping meat from a carcass.
Fear the fact that you are more afraid of dying than you are dedicated to living your biggest life.
Fear your loss of happiness.
Fear poor health because of anxiety.
Fear the fear itself.
Then learn how to use fear as fuel, have the courage to enjoy the moment you are in. Have the confidence to know that your life will be great. Have the wisdom to worry about those things you can control. Live big.
Creating Courage Takes Practice
When you read news or hear horror stories from around the world try this: Think of 5 or 10 amazing things from your world.
What made you happy this week, or proud, or gave you hope? Have you been a month without caffeine, did your kid score the winning goal, was your daughter’s violin recital perfect? Have you amazed yourself with the photos from your new iPhone? There is so much more reason for hope and celebration but we never hear about it. Come back to your life and find some fuel for courage, hope and happiness. Make your world better.
Share whatever gave you hope this week in the comments below!