The roots of fear and helplessness
mentally and physically beaten up, easy prey to the scare-mongering
tactics of multinational vested interests: that's how you feel when you
live in fear. Michael Corry has some ideas on how to deal with it
Wave a wand,
take away fear and its travelling companion helplessness, and
depression would virtually disappear. The fight or flight response is
the most primitive and ancient of all survival responses, dealing as it
does with the matter of life and death. The degree to which this is
aroused is dictated by the threats we face, and their severity places
us along a spectrum between fear at one extreme, and safety at the
other. To spend extended periods of time at the fear end, teetering on
the edge of panic, with no possibility of controlling it or disengaging
from it, has to be one of the most dis-empowering and excruciating
states a human being can experience.
is the demon of peace, compassion, acceptance, spontaneity, love,
happiness, health — life itself. Bertrand Russell, the philosopher
and mathematician, described those who live in fear as “already three
parts dead”. Living in fear is lonely, energy-draining and depressing.
It's a tortuous juggling act running parallel universes: trying to
engage with the world of work, family and friends while at the same
time grappling with frightening images and feelings. This
adrenaline-driven state of arousal is recognisable to all of us in its
milder forms as the butterflies in the tummy, sweaty palms, trembling,
and worrying thoughts of things going wrong.
TOOLS TO FEEL SAFE
► control fear by learning adrenaline-lowering techniques such as abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation
► confide your worries to someone trustworthy
► manage your boundaries — learn to say no
► make your environment a calm one — manage stimuli such as noise, traffic, toxic people, media wind-ups
► get your thinking right — seek out evidence-based information to replace catastrophic projections
► practice a simple meditation technique
► seek help with creating a stronger sense of who you are and where you're headed
► sleep is nature's balm, take measures to maximise it
► keep the locus of control within yourself — don't hand it over to a disease label
is difficult to imagine what it must be like to be under the skin of a
person living with the more extreme versions of fear, on red alert,
where the body and mind can at any moment be swept away by the
adrenaline cascade which creates the symptoms of high anxiety or
a panic attack: shortness of breath, pounding heart, dizziness, wobbly
knees, nausea, feeling spaced out, and the catastrophic thoughts that
predict death, madness, and loss of control. The aftershock of such an
experience leaves one feeling wrecked, mentally and physically beaten
up, terrified of and feeling helpless to prevent the next attack. An
added burden is the struggle to summon up the energy to re-engage with
For many, this is a secret
existence sealed by fear of ridicule and stigma. There is a profound
sense of desperation and helplessness when our life feels taken over,
and we feel powerless to stop it spinning out of control, with
perceived disastrous consequences.
to live a life in this helpless, hopeless state, preoccupied and
hyper-vigilant, mistrustful and paranoid, battling with poor
concentration, memory lapses and burnt-out resources, renders the
simplest of demands a Mount Everest to deal with. Unable to help
ourselves and disapproved of by others, feeling trapped, de-motivated,
and weighed down by life, we withdraw into our shells, becoming
defensive, emotionally unavailable, irritable, losing patience with
ourselves and others. Misunderstandings flourish, fuelling further
alienation. The formulation of the belief that “nothing I do makes any
difference” ushers in the emotional state of depression.
is not commonly realised is the fact that people already living with
high levels of fear become easy prey to the scare-mongering tactics of
multinational vested interests currently shaping our personal and
collective thinking. We are constantly being goaded by scarcity
consciousness; there is not enough to go around, defend what you have,
‘they' will take everything from you. Your only defence is to be
watchful, to be vigilant at all times. With the terrorists now under
the bed, that great global tribe of ‘they' is ubiquitous.
all know the localised version of ‘they'. It comes in the form of how
we are perceived by others: the Public Gaze; what people think of me.
And it starts in childhood. There is possibly no greater power that
shapes us than the pressure to conform. Status anxiety. Everything has
to look right. The camera is under the bed. Your appearance, partner,
career, car, house, holidays, all have to meet the standard. We are
constantly looking over our shoulder.
is the order of the day. We compete for college places, a place in the
spotlight, our rung on the career ladder, relationships, money, power.
The emphasis is on achieving, and surrounding ourselves with the
objects and symbols of success. The food chain has been replaced by the
status chain. With such a prevailing dog-eat-dog mentality, there are
winners and losers. The air of triumphalism is pervasive: “Look at me,
I've made it, you haven't, you're a loser.” We are constantly bombarded
by the parade of the successful and the celebrated. If you're not a
winner, you have only two options. Either you try harder, which
involves more fear; or, helpless to change things, you give up. This is
the essence of depression: “something I value has been taken from me,
and I've been unable to prevent it, so what is the point in trying”.
has many faces. There are those individuals who reflect a sensitivity,
a delicacy of personality, a lack of certainty about their role in the
greater scheme of things. In contrast to the competing group, their
camera is in their own head. Their orientation is different. They are
focussed on existential meaning-of-life questions such as “Who am
I? Why am I here? What's it all about? How does everyone else
seem to know what they're doing and I don't?” They feel as if
they've landed on the wrong planet and the natives aren't friendly.
They know they don't fit. There are few people with whom they can share
their inner world. If they fail to meet like-minded fellow travellers,
fear levels rise, and helpless to change things, they drift into a
state of alienation, which can be experienced as depression.
most vulnerable in society are those with serious physical disabilities
(upwards of 70,000 in this country), and the population is growing as a
result of road traffic and other accidents. Add to this the many
suffering from chronic illness, both young and old, who are dependent
on over-stretched services and home carers, and the numbers suffering
daily levels of intense fear, and helplessness become obvious.
fear is the demon to a meaningful and engaged life then safety is the
antidote. Everything most be done to move ourselves to the safety end
of the fear-safety spectrum. If we feel peaceful inside we
automatically feel empowered, authentic, non-critical,
compassionate, and giving. The prerequisite of all change, particularly
with respect to psychological healing, is acceptance of exactly
the way things are. Wishing things were different changes nothing.
Acceptance is the most radical position a human being can take as it
creates a starting point; a new beginning. In the words of the Serenity
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.