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Tina Steele, MA

Tina Steele is a Science and Medical correspondent who will help you to understand the roles of conventional and alternative, or complimentary, medicine in creating and maintaining health and wellness.
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Fear: A Commentary By Tina Steele

We live in a climate of fear; fear of terrorism, fear of illness, fear of running out of money, fear of losing our jobs, fear of flying, fear of the unknown, fear of severe weather, fear of fear. This stressful and all too human emotion is being played upon by forces both within and outside our realm of control, and now could not be a more opportune moment to address the subject, before it gets the better of us. This month, I am covering this same topic on my radio show (www.LadyBugLive.com/well.htm) and some of the commentary will be repeated, but it is such an important issue that I hope to reinforce it whenever and wherever I can!

Another reason that precipitated this discussion is that I live in Florida. As you know, we have just experienced 4 hurricanes in little more than a calendar month. Prior to the arrival of Ivan, and then his sister Jeanne, both of which from their birth out of Africa promised to rival the force and destructive power of that infamous hurricane, Andrew, and coupled with the damage wrought by Charley and Frances, Floridians had already been reaching critical mass in terms of their levels of anxiety and stress - and now, there is a phenomenon that is becoming almost palpable — nearly everyone here seems to be living in a state of abject fear. What is more, their reactions to it are as diverse as they are intense: from ridiculously reckless driving to rudeness not even found in the worst characterizations of ill—tempered New Yorkers. Conversely, some look and act like deer caught in undimming and relentless headlights, others as if they have been bowed by the weight of the world on their shoulders. But, no wonder, for many have lost their homes, their livelihoods and their life savings, and I do not wish to demean or diminish the level of their loss and suffering. What I do wish to address is the whole culture of fear and why it makes people act the way they act, and how fear, which is really anxiety (or vice versa), can negatively affect us in both psychological as well as in physiological ways. It can also win elections.

Here, in what I have rechristened "The Soggy State" (formerly known as The Sunshine State), waiting for the sky to fall upon our heads again and again, we have been seeing an enormous increase in extreme adverse and bizarre behaviors, while others have been exhibiting signs of what can only be termed Learned Helplessness; a condition where a person becomes totally incapable of acting to free themselves of the psychological burdens that imprison them: I am a loser; it is my lot in life. I will always be a loser. Whatever the manifestation of their fear/anxiety may be, it is evident that the vast majority of people are blissfully unaware that they are displaying any sort of aberrant behavior, and until the individual can recognize that they are indeed not functioning within what can be considered normal parameters, it makes it very hard to address. Therefore, I would beg that you ask yourself, am I feeling any of the symptoms that we are discussing here, and if so, take action.

I would be remiss not to take on the political ramifications of this culture of fear. The current administration has kept our country on the edge of our seats, since the horrors of 9/11, with carefully timed and orchestrated reminders that they and they alone are our protectors. When it looks like they are losing popularity, or there is yet more bad press about their political shenanigans, we are suddenly told that there is a new "terror alert."

None of these alerts are EVER substantiated; in fact they are nothing more than nebulous suggestions that things COULD go badly wrong if our political benefactors were not looking out for us. What they actually do is serve as a means of controlling the masses and keeping them in a constant state of fear. The Communists and certain other dictatorships and oligarchical regimes have successfully manipulated their people in the same way, until they were overthrown that is. Not a day goes by when we are not inundated with often subtle, and not—so—subtle, references to Osama bin Laden, for example, Al—Queda, terrorists, terrorist cells, conspiracies, and any number of horrifying and terrible things that could at any moment befall us. It is no wonder that so many of us fear for our lives on a permanent basis.

As the rich have been recently blessed by our current leaders, and gotten so much richer, the shrinking middle class has become increasingly relegated to the ranks of the lower echelons; so many are now only one paycheck away from disenfranchisement; the fear of joblessness, homelessness and pennilessness, has played right into the hands of the powerbrokers; the mortgage and insurance companies, banks, and corporate hiring managers, to name but a few. So much so that wages have gone down, way down, and with the mental whip of possible unemployment ever cracking over their heads, worker productivity has gone steadily UP. Good jobs are almost nonexistent, the rest are scarce and mostly found in the lowest—paying sectors; those of the minimum—wage service industries. Those of us with professional qualifications, and the hefty student loans that go with them, who used to command a decent salary way back when we had a booming economy for EVERYONE, are now either among the unemployed or slaving away at 2 or 3 jobs and still not managing to make ends meet. It is hardly surprising that so many are fearful that they might get fired or pink—slipped for any reason, get some catastrophic illness, or be unable to keep up with rapidly rising prices and interest rates. So, how DOES fear affect us?

Physiologically it can run the gamut from headaches to upset stomach, and much worse, even our breathing can be affected1 — over the long—term effects can become amplified to the extent that they are life—threatening. Insomnia, generalized weakness, palpitations, dizziness, changes in eating habits, muscle tension, tremors, are all symptoms that can befall us, and to add insult to injury can be very frightening,. Feelings of a tightness in your chest, or that you may pass out are common, and are mostly psychological in origin. Thoughts of inadequacy, unusual anger and frustration, excessive worrying, and of doom and gloom are frequently attributable to the emotional impact that fear/anxiety have upon us. There are some easy steps that you can take to control and even overcome your fears, and I heartily suggest that you heed the following advice from a timely press release (COPING WITH ANXIETY DURING HIGH RISK TERRORIST ALERTS — February 12, 2003. No. 03—06) of the American Psychiatric Association:

• Educate yourself about the potential danger. Facts are frequently less frightening than rumors and myth.

• If television or other news reports significantly increase feelings of anxiety and helplessness, don't watch or read them; you don't need to know every last detail. Television news of violence can be frightening to children, especially when it is viewed repetitively.

• Find ways to distract yourself from thinking about the potential for harm. Get involved in an activity that you can control: work in the garden, clean the basement, do volunteer work, take up an old hobby, take a "time out" and go to the movies or a play.

• Take advantage of the weekends to refuel. A day or so away from normal routine—whether spent at home or on a weekend getaway—breaks the cycle of preoccupation with disaster.

• Talk about your anxiety with family or friends; avoid being alone.

• When you find yourself worrying about the unknown, mentally change the subject.

• Avoid or at least minimize alcohol and caffeine intake; caffeine can add to "the jitters," and both disrupt sleep.

• Get regular exercise.

• If you smoke, don't increase your tobacco consumption. While it may seem to ease anxiety in the short run, increased smoking poses significant long—term health hazards.

A factor that is all too often forgotten is that we really are still just primitive beings; we operate on the same level that our cave—dwelling ancestors did, the only difference being that we now have THINGS, stuff, accoutrements. We are programmed to seek to provide ourselves and our loved ones with three basic elements: shelter, food and security. When any or all of these are in any way taken from us, or placed in jeopardy, our primal instincts come into play, and so too fear. There is, of course, the type of fear associated with the "flight or fight" response, which is instinctual to us all - it is, if you would, what we can even call a 'good' fear; the one that makes us swerve out the way of a marauding mastodon, or an oncoming lunatic driver; has us capable of lifting many times our body weight to pull a loved one from underneath a mudslide, or to swim much faster than the shark that is pursuing us. But this type of fear response is not detrimental to our health, only those perceived fears, that gnaw at us over and over, are making us ill, and that is why we must be aware of them.

Another instance when fear can have a profound effect is when our health is threatened. In fact, one of the most effective ways to persuade someone to change a detrimental health behavior is to scare the crap out of them, by telling them all the nasty things that can and WILL happen if they do not stop doing what they are doing. Fear can also act to prevent a person from acting if they instinctively know that something could be or is wrong with them. They will refuse to go to the doctor, and make any and all excuses not to go, because they are fearful that the doctor will tell them that they have some terminal illness. Ironically, all too often, had the person gone to the doctor when they first became suspicious that something was wrong, they likely would have averted the far more serious consequences of leaving a condition untreated, but their worst fear is ultimately realized because it was that same fear that held them back. We HAVE to listen to what out bodies tell us, at all times, may this truly be a lesson to all.

So to round out this discussion, I would like to say that although the fear engendered by things we cannot control, such as the forces of Nature, is something that is difficult to conquer, [after all, hurricanes, earthquakes tornadoes and floods are difficult to stop in their tracks], we can work to overcome our fear, through education, awareness, and action: Taking care of our primitive needs first, be it through boarding up windows, stocking up with non—perishable foods, water, flashlights, batteries, a battery—powered radio and/or TV, something to keep ourselves amused and occupied (such as books, board games and playing cards), making sure that there is a safe place to go if the situation warrants, and ensuring the car is full of gas, can go a long way towards allaying anxiety, and making the realities surrounding us much easier to deal with. For those living in tornado, flood, hurricane or earthquake prone areas, check with your local Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for their recommendations - forewarned IS forearmed.

Also, it is important to remember that never in the history of this country has fear been so manifest nor so played upon by our politicians. What is happening to us is not uniting the nation, instead we are being divided by partisanship and a constant barrage of erroneous and sensationalistic scare tactics — designed to keep us in a constant state of anxiety, and then marginalized if we choose to turn our backs on the status quo. Not only is this egregious in the extreme, these machinations of the few are flat out barbaric. Last I heard we still lived in the Land of the Free, although these days I would say barely, and we CAN and still should so something about it, and that is where you DO have controlÉ.it is time to get out and VOTE, and by doing so send a message to Capitol Hill that we refuse to be manipulated in this way any longer. Say NO to fear!

Tina Steele, MA


Useful Links:

This site provides a good breakdown of symptoms of anxiety, and offers some helpful solutions to dealing with the disorder, in all its manifestations (because it's so long, you may need to cut and paste this link onto a separate page first, before putting in your address bar):


The American Psychiatric Association press release quoted above - search for the following article on this site — copingwithanxietyduringhighalerts021203: http://www.psych.org/search.cfm

This is the Anxiety Disorders Association of America's own website:

Some breathing techniques to diffuse anxiety:

This site is particularly geared to college students, but has some useful tips for everyone:

References: 1. Yuri Masaoka and Ikuo Homma, Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 86, Issue 4, 1329— 1336, April 1999

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Editors note:

We are honored to have Tina Steele's participation and contributions to Pathfinders and look forward to learning of the ways our readers have benefited from her articles and guidance on healthcare.
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