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Another Epidemic – The “Fear” Flu

The swine flu has arrived.  News outlets are providing valuable information about this potentially fatal virus and how to minimize the risk of catching or spreading it.  We hear reminders to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and sneeze into your arm or elbow instead of your palm, along with recommendations to boost your immune system with plenty of rest, a good diet, and exercise.  Whether adults or children should stay home from work or school when flu-like symptoms arise is hotly debated.

Making wise choices regarding disease risks is important.  Taking responsibility for our health and the health of those around us demonstrates maturity and compassion.  No one wants to catch a debilitating, possibly fatal bug and miss precious days at work, or days spent looking for work, as so many people are doing now.  I’d like to mention another “virus” going around these days; one that you may not have realized is also “catching”.

I believe we are facing many different crises on a global or collective scale.  It’s not only financial, it’s personal.  People are being confronted with problems and challenges in a more pervasive and widespread way than I’ve ever seen before.  These times are difficult for everybody, whether they are struggling financially or not.

Parents are having problems with rebellious adolescents, people in recovery are battling addictions they thought they’d conquered, and others have become obsessed with doing everything as perfectly as possible to reduce any negative risks.  People are also experiencing physical health crises, whether from chronic or acute disease, pain, or disability.  Ask almost anyone if they’re struggling with something, and you’ll be surprised what you hear.

There is a tremendous spirit of fear spreading through our country now.  Go to the grocery store, the gym, the doctor’s office, the coffee place, and you can feel the anxiety in the air.  People are scared, and their anxiety creates a fog of fear that almost anyone can feel and absorb.

I experienced this recently when I had lunch at a restaurant where I’ve eaten for years.  The owner is an old friend and her business has gone down precipitously in the last few months.  She can’t afford the rent anymore.  Most of the other tenants in the shopping center where she’s located have gone out of business, so foot traffic is down and she’s fighting for survival.  While I had been hoping over lunch for a brief mid-day respite from helping people in panic mode, I willingly listened as the owner shared her pain over her fear of losing the business.  She shared the intense conflicts she’s having with the landlord

You guessed it – my good friend has a bad case of the “fear” virus.

How can you avoid the “fear” virus?  Along the lines of the recommendations for the swine flu, here are a few of my suggestions for avoiding this nasty bug.

1.  “Wash” your mind frequently

With my friend, the restaurant owner, I started by encouraging her to shift her mind out of the anxiety that she’s feeling.  I saw how fear was aggravating a chronic situation for her, a situation for which a solution won’t happen right away.  She’s not just concerned, she’s worrying.

The difference between concern and worry is that with worry we imagine and anticipate the worst.  We get ahead of ourselves, anxious over next week or next month, becoming overwhelmed, discouraged, and despairing.  These negative thoughts are completely useless and destructive and can make us emotionally and physically sick.  When fear and anxiety start to set in, use mental discipline to “wash” them away.

2.  Avoid contact with worry “germs”

It’s hard not to pick up the spirit of fear from the people we meet – or even just sitting around the dinner table.  Don’t let someone else’s anxieties take up residence in you..  Instead, choose to feel concern.

Concern, as opposed to worry, can be positive. With concern, you deal with what you’ve got on your plate today.  You do the best you can with the difficulties that you’re facing without getting too far ahead of yourself, and you give it your best shot.  You live for today, open and receptive to new opportunities, doing what you can to survive and do well.  None of us knows what tomorrow will bring.  The idea that we might be able to come up with a perfect plan to create complete security is an illusion.

3.  Be careful where you “sneeze” your negativity

In other words, think about what you’re sharing. I encourage you to relate to other people by sharing your pain and struggles without being a fear-monger.  Make it a priority to relate and share empathy and compassion with everyone around you.  Don’t spread doom and gloom; don’t be Chicken Little.  Many of us have found that times of crisis are profound opportunities for transforming our lives.

And save a little compassion for yourself, too.  Again, as with the swine flu, get as much rest, good food, and exercise as you can.  Take care of yourself and the people you love.  While there’s no way to stay immune to our “fear epidemic”, compassion and caring may just be the antidote you’ve been looking for.