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  • Resilient Practice

Calming Collective Fear


“Collective fear stimulates the herd instinct and tends to produce ferocity to those who are not regarded as members of the herd”

– Bertrand Russell

 

Over the past few years, humans have been in a state of collective fear.

 

As Eckhart Tolle explains, fear arises when we sense that we may lose something. Media reporting of the pandemic led to our feeling fearful of losing our health, loved ones, livelihood, life purpose, status, sense of security and safety, and much more.

 

The crisis has passed, only to be replaced by further political and financial emergencies and the reporting of them is always rooted in evoking fear.

 

Fear sells.

 

The individual human response to stress is known as ‘fight or flight.’ When we are faced with an immediate threat, we experience a rise in adrenaline and cortisol which enables us to physically respond. This happens to us whether the threat is real or not. We only need to perceive a threat to unconsciously invoke this response.

 

Men are disturbed not by things, but the views which they take of them – Epictitus 100 AD

 

What additional negativity befalls us then, when the stressor appears to be global, and we are responding with fear as a collective?

 

This is the phenomenon of Social Contagion.

 

Social Contagion was first described by Herbert Blumer, a twentieth century American Sociologist.

 

It is defined by studies at Stanford University as ‘the spread of affect or behaviour from one crowd participant to another.’

 

Aside from our behaviour as individuals, it is natural for societies to operate as a whole and for each of us to interact in ways that benefit the wider community. In our family and job roles, we each play a small part that makes up a whole, larger system. This also applies in extended families.

 

Agreements are made, consciously or unconsciously as to what part each will play to benefit everyone.

 

We can see that the purpose of collective fear may be an evolutionary phenomenon that has developed to preserve our safety. In a large crowd, where only the people at the front can see a threat, the fear response passes from one person to the next until the whole group is on high alert and poised to act. Only a select few people, have come face-to-face with the threat, but remember that an imagined threat invokes the same physiological response as an experienced one. We do not need to see it to respond.

 

During the pandemic, fear spread throughout the world faster than Covid 19 itself. Not only fear of contracting and passing on the virus and the existence of ever emerging new variants, but that of socioeconomic disaster, and personal loss. There is also now, widespread fear about the use of vaccines. The speed of the spread and nature of the fear is greatly influenced by the media.

 

Recent political developments, the advent of the solar eclipse and various predictions pertaining to it, and advances in the world of applied physics have aligned themselves this week to contribute to a rise in self-perpetuating global fear which seems to have taken on a life of its own. The whole thing has been felt by us and reported by our patients as exhausting.

 

But it can only exhaust us if we engage in it.

 

Not only are we responsible for how much time we spend watching the news and looking at social media, but also for what we make of its contents. If we are nor conscious of our responses, then what we read will ultimately affect how we think. This does not constitute coming face-to-face with any given threat, but it allows us to imagine every possible facet of it. This repetitively, negatively affects our body chemistry which, in turn leads to chronic levels of stress.

 

There has never been a more important time than now, to look after our own mental health.

 

How can we recognise when we have been drawn into a situation of Social Contagion?

 

There are undeniably a very real threats all over the world, but unless we are directly involved, our only source of information will be the media and the interpretation of reported events by those around us.

 

The media has the premise of catching your attention. There would be no point in reporting anything without an audience. The media are skilled in presenting many different angles to a story and so can cleverly influence the way that their audience responds – if their audience does not pass the information through some filters of discernment. If we allow ourselves to become fearful or upset about a situation that does not involve us directly then we have given our power to the situation or the one who told us the story. It is possible to remain informed about world events without giving our power to the media and to the collective.

 

There are many ways to mitigate the effects of outside influences on our responses. We would indeed be able to consider ourselves to be resilient if we were able to show up in the world in the presence of all of our triggers – and not be triggered at all. That way we could take responsibility for our own wellbeing rather than giving that responsibility to an external environment over which we have no control.

 

 

Try this:

 

Set the intention to become fully conscious of your responses to whatever comes into your awareness.

 

This means, as always, stepping into the shoes of your Observer Self - the part of you that is able to bear witness to your thoughts, emotions and behaviours without doing the thinking, feeling or doing.

 

This is the first step towards consciously choosing your responses.

 

When we are upset or triggered by something we have moved into a position of fear. Remember that this is not because of the thing, but because of the view that we have taken of it. This means that by taking a certain view, we have made the unconscious choice, that it is scary. We have in fact told ourselves a frightening story to support the facts. That story invokes an unpleasant body chemistry (fight/flight) which feels unpleasant and so we act unconsciously with an automatic behaviour (reaction) to make it all go away. This might include being aggressive, being submissive, being defensive, apologising for everything, fixing everything, running away or overthinking. All of these reactions have consequences and because they are automatic, they are not a choice, which meets the outcome is not of our choosing either. This leads to further feelings of being at the mercy of our environment. When we press pause and notice our responses – we can choose what we do, and ultimately influence what happens to us.

 

Once you have moved into a position of observation – you can appreciate that you are not the thought, feeling or behaviour – these are simply the survival mechanisms that you have been employing up to now.

 

You can challenge the thought or reframe the narrative. You do this by finding evidence for and against your tale and ultimately deciding what is true. Replace the negative thought with clearly worded truth. For example, ‘the world is such a violent and unsafe place’ is replaced by ‘my family and I are currently safe.’

 

You can consciously mitigate negative body chemistry with deep belly breathing, mindful exercise, music, comedy, engaging activities, or connection with a trusted ally. When you choose your ally, choose well so as to avoid discussing events in a way that is likely to stir up further fear.

 

You can consciously choose your behaviours to mitigate unconscious responses. When you are engaging in behaviour that feeds your fear such as excessive googling or expressing your fearful narrative to others, press pause. You can examine how engaging in these behaviours has affected how you feel. You can select behaviours that restore balance to your psyche and explore alternative subjects such as hobbies and interests.

 

One option is to switch off the news and choose only to pay attention to those things that directly affect you or that you can control. This is not for everyone, as some people feel a moral obligation to stay updated. If you feel that you must stay informed as to what is happening in the world cultivate the habit of passing everything you see, read and hear through a protective filter. Remember that most of what you see, read, or hear will be contaminated in some way. Carefully select your sources. Keep an open mind. Know that you can never possibly know all of the truth. Know that feeling emotions on behalf of others in tragic circumstances rarely helps them and is not good for you either. If you want to help, help, but do not throw your own wellbeing into the donation jar along with your good will.

 

For more insights and a host of tools and techniques for exploring the Self and improving your

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1 Comment


therabbi
therabbi
Apr 13

This has really blessed my heart in recent days..."Inner peace begins the moment I choose not to allow another person or an event to control my emotions!" I hope this blesses your readership. 💟

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