For years, I had a sign posted above my desk that read, “Worry is the misuse of imagination.” It was a good reminder not to let my vivid writer-imagination run wild during non-writing times… like when one of my kids was twenty minutes late getting home at night. (In that twenty minutes, I could easily come up with at least two dozen horrific scenarios that had nothing to do with the truth…which usually involved spending a little extra time talking with a friend.)
Over the course of four house moves in recent years, that sign disappeared (it was, after all, just a piece of paper I’d hand-printed those words on). But 2020 so far has served up a whole bevy of things to worry about. Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve got climate disasters, murder hornets, a new awakening to racial injustice (along with the inevitable ugly backlash) and, here in the US, a political polarization reaching epic proportions not seen since the Civil War. One hardly needs my “handicap” of an overactive imagination to live in fear right now.
Time to make myself another sign.
Though it takes very, very little imagination these days to turn reasonable concern and caution into outright fear, I still think we should resist making that leap whenever possible. Probably the most effective weapon against fear is knowledge. I find that, for me, the very worst kind of fear, the kind that keeps me awake at night, is free-floating anxiety—that persistent feeling of dread without a nameable cause. In my experience, the best first step to overcoming it is to pin down the cause (or causes) and name it (or them). If I can trace my fear to a specific source, I can work on a strategy to deal with that source. In fact, sometimes just naming that source is enough to reduce or even eliminate the anxiety. Murder hornets? Scary, but… they can’t get into my house and they haven’t even been spotted in my state, much less my county. Plus I have a completely screened-in patio. Covid-19? It’s here, no question, but I know which behaviors to avoid and what precautions to take to dramatically reduce my chances of getting it, things I now do as a matter of course.
So while fear can be a healthy and necessary response to external threats, staying stuck in fear is anything but healthy. Some choose outright denial to escape the fear, but I much prefer confronting it face-on and figuring out what I can do to make myself and my world safer. It’s a course I highly recommend, since I’d like everyone reading this to stay safe, too!