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Posts Tagged ‘Managing fear’

When to Worry…and Why

Monday, July 25th, 2011

With our cultural mindset about “getting older,” it’s easy to become more fearful as we age.  But it’s not something you want to buy in on.  Fear serves an important purpose in our lives when used properly.  Too often these days, what we’re worrying about isn’t the right stuff.

With so many media alternatives, many of the messages that make us worry come from something external—TV shows that warn about an infinitesimal cancer risk as if succumbing to it is inevitable, insurance companies that want to sell you long-term care insurance, etc.

Start weeding your fear garden by getting rid of the things you’re worrying about that came from people who tell you about the “danger” so they can sell you something.

Next, look at how much your assumptions about aging are feeding your fears.  The notion that you will unavoidably become a victim at some point simply because you’re getting older is baloney.  No one has to be a victim.   But the cultural expectations around getting older make that look like the only option.  It’s not.  You can stay strong and active as long as you choose but you’re going to need to put some effort into it.

Once you get rid of all the garbage other people encourage you to be afraid of and all the stuff that you can make go away just by looking at the life you have room to live more realistically, you have a more manageable set of fears to deal with.  Embrace them.  Fear is part of life and the gateway to new adventures and achievements.

It’s good to be afraid sometimes.  Fear in its effective form engenders one of two reactions—fight or flight.  Either you take action to repel the source of danger or you take action to get away from it.  Just stewing in the fear instead, worrying but not taking any action, isn’t healthy or useful.  Don’t do that.  If it’s not something you can do something about, being fearful of it will just stress you into being sick.

So that’s your last bit of “weeding”–do something about your remaining fears.  My mom used to use the phrase “What’s the percentage in that?”  What she meant was “how likely is that to happen?”  Figure out how likely what you’re worrying about is to happen.  Once you know that, it’s easy to let go of the ones that aren’t very likely.

If you can’t find a way to confirm how big what you’re worrying about really is, get some help. Ask your doctor, lawyer, accountant, minister—whoever would have the relevant insight–to help you decide.   If it is a big deal, the next step is to define effective action to either avoid it now or deal with it when it happens.  An example of the first is spending less to be sure you have enough to live on later.  And example of the second is identifying a lower-cost living arrangement—like taking in a roommate or living with a family member—that you can resort to if it does happen.

Too often our fears come from failing to look at all the options that are really out there.  You may be right to think you won’t be able to keep up your two acres of gardens and five-bedroom house when you’re in your nineties.  But do you need to worry?  Will you even want to keep living there then?  Or living there alone?

Fear has another important benefit besides avoiding danger.  When you do something you’re afraid of, you increase your self esteem and expand your world.  Eleanor Roosevelt was onto something when she advised “Do at least one thing every day that scares you.”

It helps to start small.  When you conquer your little fears, dealing with the bigger worries becomes doable.  Once you start doing this, your new adventures will reawaken your excitement in being alive.

It’s not a case of never being afraid.  Be authentically afraid. Courage comes from doing the things we are afraid of.  (Not being afraid of things that really should engender fear is a mental health issue, not courage.) Manage what you let yourself be afraid of.  Use your fear to help you go places you haven’t gone yet and do things you still want to do.  Ignore the fake fears that come from people who want to sell you stuff.  Take action (fight or flight) rather than just sitting in you fear.  Your life will re-blossom.

After a while, you might even have trouble finding that one thing to do that you’re afraid of every day.