Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1933 inaugural address said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This seems to be something that we probably take too lightly. Over the years reflecting upon this quotation, it becomes increasingly meaningful. Fear prevents us from fulfilling our potential (fear of failure is completely paralytic) and moves us away from a state of tranquility and peacefulness of mind and spirit. Consider what happens when a child sees a puddle of water on a cool autumn day. They run to it to stomp and play with carefree abandon. As adults, we think about our feet getting wet and cold, damaging our shoes, diminishing the immune system and getting ill. So, we avoid the puddle in any way possible. Ah, now we are safe, but did we miss the joy of allowing the child within us to enjoy the moment? So, I wonder, “How healthy is that decision?” Fear robs us in many ways, which diminish are ability to live life to the fullest.
One can become a master of building fears into our everyday existence. Years ago, someone shared the acronym for FEAR, False Evidence Appearing Real. How often do we allow fear to become an unnecessary negative emotional drain? About a year ago, my computer system “lost” all my professional e-mail files. This sent me into a weekend long panic until I could see our campus technician. Well, that was an unfounded fear, for he quickly resolved the problem on Monday morning. But, the amount of negative emotional investment I made over this situation was enormous. Reflecting on that weekend, I can remember all the dread I had about files that “I could not live without” causing my body and mind undue stress. By Sunday night I had considered all the ways that this permanent file loss would adversely change the course of my professional and personal life, False Evidence Appearing Real.
When we are fearful, it causes other changes not just intrapersonally but interpersonally as well. Intrapersonally fear helps us build a barrier to confine our hopes and dreams, limiting our possibilities. Our sense of self diminishes, and we lose confidence in the value of who we are and what we could become. Fear acts as a natural antagonist to hope. As we look at the origins of illnesses or recovery from illness or accidents a sense of hopefulness enables more favorable outcomes. Fears negate this positive effect of hope. Fear also causes problems for us interpersonally. Fear can influence our behaviors, which diminishes our ability to interact effectively with others. Reflecting on the weekend described above, I know that my fears caused anger which was displaced to those around me. Fear will result in an emotional state which can negatively influences our relationships. Our first step, is to recognize the origin of the fear and then to develop a plan to neutralize unwarranted fears. As we do this we “short circuit” those negative behaviors that were caused by fear.
So, what if we develop a new acronym? Consider, Freedom, Affirmation, Inviting change, Trust & Healing. First, freeing myself from unnecessary fears, I must first become of aware of these unfounded fears. Identify how many times fear creeps insidiously into our minds and how it influences our decisions. We are not meant to be slaves to fear. Acknowledging fear is the first step toward freedom. Positive affirmations need to replace our negative ones. The more we think or talk about the fear, the more powerful it becomes. These negative reflections are like throwing gasoline onto a small fire, we feed the fear and it grows. Positive affirmations extinguish the destructive fires of fear. Life gives us the opportunity to make choices about ourselves and our situations. We need to invite change. Being open to a new way of looking at a situation as an opportunity for growth, or as Phyllis Quinlan so aptly calls it, “going through boot camp”. These challenges provide us with emotional amour to grow through difficult times and becomes stronger. Trust that we are created for something wonderful and important. There is something better coming. Watching a small rabbit during a severe storm recently, this animal took refuge under a large tree. There he quietly watched the storm and patiently waiting for it to end. This small creature showed no fear, trusting that the storm would end. We need to trust that our current circumstances will bring us to a better place where we can grow and thrive, as we have an important purpose in the universe. Lastly, consider the healing process. Fear is future oriented, creating a scenario which invites us to fabricate all that can possible go wrong in the future. The only thing that is truly real is the here and now. Yesterday is a “done deal” and tomorrow, well that could bring anything, we have no control. But, today, right now that is where we can make things happen. To heal, focus energy on that which we can do right now. Take a small step forward. Consider the power of a small ray of sun, concentrated over a piece of paper. Despite the narrow ray of light, when focused it can burn through that paper. Use your energy of today to keep your light shining, eradicate those fearful dark places. Eliminate FEAR with FAITH.
Carolyn Jones, best known for her socially proactive photographs and documentary films, shares what makes nurses not only an invaluable asset to us as patients, but also as a society.