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Fear Factor

Posted 01/09/2008

Readers of this newsletter regularly hear about the dangers of stress to their health. We experience the emotional and physical reaction known as stress whenever we’re in a situation where we can’t control the course of our lives. The minor stresses (late for an appointment, a botched recipe) are unavoidable, part of life and no big deal, healthwise.

But these days many people seem to be in a state of constant fear, and the result is making us ill.

Two fears that have beset humans for thousands of years–having shelter and enough to eat–aren’t primary fears for many of us. The third universal fear won’t ever go away: you worry about your kids. That’s life.

It’s the dozens of other fears that are chipping away at the quality of our lives. The real irony is that the vast majority of these fears are manufactured and artificial, either non-existent or so remote that they shouldn’t be affecting us. But they do.

The government diligently fuels our fears every day, solemnly warning us about terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, foreign travel, axis of evil countries, immigrants, child molesters, and bombs on planes. Their logic is that if they frighten us enough, we’ll vote passively (or not at all), a nation of deer in the headlights.

Our insatiable appetite for media keeps us worrying about our physical appearance, relationships, crime, psychopaths, big cities, and other alleged dangers everywhere. The surge of interest in anti-aging therapies is at its heart a response to our fear of growing old and dying. And the insurance industry happily sells us policies for each of our fears.

Doctors aren’t helping much, wagging their fingers if our cholesterol or blood pressure is a little too high, we chow down an occasional pizza, or feel less than enthused about a colonoscopy. Patients are prescribed medications for every ailment imaginable and then worry about side effects.

So what’s the point of this? Franklin Roosevelt’s “nothing to fear but fear itself” remains completely accurate after almost seventy years. You’ll never solve completely each of your fears: life is too much like the “Whack-A-Mole” game at a carnival (intellectuals may prefer the comparison to Hercules trying to slay Hydra). Get rid of one mole/head, and two more appear.

What’s needed is a major attitude change. Here’s a start:
List everything in your life that worries you or that you believe is stressing you. Circle the four-star stressors and look at these first. Interestingly, there’s a downloadable computer program called VoicePrism that tracks your voice pattern to affirm what really stresses you as you read a list of stressors.

Then, shift your attitude from fear-based to one of mild irritation. When an animal fears something, it cowers helplessly; when it’s irritated (as in hungry), it moves to action.

So that “I’m afraid of terrorists” becomes “I think I’ll read extensively about the world situation and see if my fears are justified or if this is just a sham.” Maybe you’ll learn that the odds of a terrorist affecting you at a shopping mall are about the same as winning the lottery.

The “I am afraid of being unloved and alone” becomes time for a serious reassessment of yourself, maybe some temporary psychotherapy, or an exploration of spiritual paths.

The “Do I have cancer?” becomes “time to schedule a check-up and a talk to my doctor.”

Shift the overall mantra of your life to: I will not allow fear to rule my life. Period.

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Here’s a special invitation for patients of Dr. Kelley who are currently being treated for Lyme disease. Dr. Kelley’s new, four-week Lyme Academy starts on October 4, continuing over the following three Tuesdays.


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