Understanding and Managing Fear

November 2002

This month, I have thought a lot about fear, and it’s impact on my life and my work. Many of us living in Maryland and Virginia recently experienced an unusual degree of fear, due to the terrible, random sniper attacks in this area. My heart goes out to the victims and their families, and I am glad that the sniper suspects are now in custody. 

What I am left with, personally, is examining how fear can shape my thoughts, actions, and beliefs. One thing I observed during the past several weeks was a sense of constriction, not just physically (for example, I canceled an outing to Washington, D.C. during the attacks), but also mentally and emotionally. I thought out (and curtailed) routine activities such as getting gas, shopping, and walking. I slept less soundly, and felt uneasy and restless and on edge. 

Yet danger is always around us in this world. When I realized that much of my fear was due to the way that I was processing my thoughts about the tragic and highly-publicized events, I was able to better understand and manage my fear. 

First, I recognized the fear, and allowed myself to feel it. Then, I labeled my feelings more specifically: concern for my personal safety, worry for my children, sadness for the victims and their families, anger at the sniper, impatience with the media, etc. Once I did that, I was able to take actions (plan my activities, pray for the community, call my sons, etc.), or examine my feelings more closely (anger, for example), or try to increase my understanding (learn more about ballistics, select a news program with more professional coverage, try to fathom inter-state criminal jurisdiction rules, etc.). That helped.

What this experience taught me is that fear can take on a life of its own. It can become huge in our minds, and distort rational thinking. It can dictate our movements and cloud our understanding. Through this, and other life experiences, I am learning that only by facing fear, and changing that negative energy into positive thoughts and actions, can we release the powerful grip it can have on us. All of us wrestle with various fears in our lives, in the workplace, in our communities, and at home. Thank you for allowing me to glimpse some of your fears, and support you as you confront them. You are certainly not alone, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn alongside you.

Sharon Keys Seal

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