Fear is the greatest obstacle to overcoming any of life’s challenges, and it always has been. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used those ennobled words in his first inaugural address - “…the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In the dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.” - he was not minimizing the pain, suffering or potential for catastrophic disaster. He was saying, this is going to be tough, but if we remain positive and work together, we’ll get through it and be stronger for our efforts. The British motto coined in the face of World War II said it even more succinctly, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading national public health institute of the United States, literally the organization that teaches the rest of the world how to deal with pandemics, says that stress created by fear and anxiety makes people more vulnerable. They make the following recommendations to minimize stress:
1. Moderate watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media, relating to the virus. Over exposure can be upsetting and warp your perspective.
2. Keep yourself healthy. Exercise, eat right, get plenty of sleep and avoid tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.
3. Take time to unwind. Enjoy your family and things you like to do.
4. Communicate with your family and people you trust about your concerns and feelings.
5. Reassure everyone that people are looking out for them.
6. Keep up with regular routines and schedules as much as possible.
7. And, my own personal recommendation – Stay the hell away from politics!
I don’t support these recommendations blindly. I support them as someone who personally understands what stress and fear can do to a person. I support them as someone who has made all the mistakes myself. And, I support them because it just makes good sense.
When doctors tells you, your child will not live long, or that your children will face life or death challenges that could end his life at any time, fear becomes palpable. When that happened to me, I did not follow the guidelines. I isolated myself. I tended to be overly dramatic and made everything about me. I obsessed about what could go wrong, and how it could go wrong. I literally made myself nuts and had to check myself into a mental health facility for “rest.”
When my son eventually did die, all the things people warned me about, which perfectly mirror the CDC recommendations, were put into perspective. I finally got the point. I realized that in many ways, the fear of him dying was more destructive than the loss itself.
A couple of months later, I was asked to address the Autism Speaks National Law Summit in Mobile, Alabama. My message then, as my message now, is do everything you can to prepare, but keep the totality of life in perspective. You can’t get back the time you waste on fear. You destroy vast portions of your life and the life of your family. You damage everyone around you and make your own life miserable. No one can know God’s plan, or nature’s will if you prefer, but there is essential wisdom in what the CDC prescribes. I wish I would have understood the point much sooner.
Photo courtesy of knowyourmeme.com.