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Fright or flight

For the month of October when some people celebrate halloween, I have written about fear, which is an emotion many of us have experienced much this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, perceived or experienced threat to life and health, social restrictions and the economic impact of lockdown. I have always wondered how people enjoy scary movies and theme park rides that make you scream, when we have enough ups and downs in life to keep us on our toes. I would happily stand on the side and take photos of my family enjoying the ride! Some might call me boring or unadventurous for this reason, but I can tell you that when it comes to real life situations, I am definitely the one who enjoys the ride with a positive attitude. Scary outfits, horror movies or thrill rides do not make us brave or adventurous, it is what we do when we experience scary life situations that really matters. We cannot avoid experiencing the feeling of fear in the journey of life, especially when things happen that can have serious consequences, or when we feel we have a lot to lose. What matters more is what we do with that emotion, and how much power we let it have over us.

  • Fighters - As a doctor, I see all kinds of reactions from patients when they are worried for their lives or the well-being of their loved ones in the face of serious illness. I always have to remind myself of this fear reaction when I am faced with an angry patient shouting about the treatments or investigations she thinks her relative should have had. People can sometimes respond to fear in illogical, defensive or aggressive ways, because they do not want to feel vulnerable. We need to be understanding of this when dealing with people in difficult situations, but also to understand that we ourselves need to be more careful about our actions and reactions when we feel worried or afraid. Some less thought-out reactions can actually make the problem worse. Remember who/what you are fighting when faced with fear. A husband and wife that start to fight each other when taking care of a sick child will not be doing that child a favour. There is no point in fighting the people who love and want to help you. If you are a fighter, make sure you are fighting the real problem.

  • Runners - The ‘fight or flight’ idea of adrenaline response in our bodies always makes me think of a man facing a lion. Most people will choose ‘flight’ over ‘fight’ in this situation, but even as you flee, you need to have some sort of direction, otherwise you might be running into a bigger problem. The one who, because of fear of the lion, runs into a river of crocodiles has done himself no favour. Fear can sometimes cause us to make hurried decisions, which are not always the best. When we recognise that we are afraid and keen to avoid a bad situation at all cost, it is best to take a moment to think it through, to avoid making terrible mistakes. This is where having wise friends and advisers comes in. ‘I will sleep on it and get back to you tomorrow’ is sometimes a better answer than a quick ‘yes/no’ when you feel pressured to take or make an offer for the fear of losing something. Thankfully, most life situations are not usually as urgent as the lion vs man situation. Someone, such as a friend or professional, who is not directly involved in your problem can sometimes give more objective advice to help you out of a tricky situation.

  • Swayers - I know that fear can be experienced in so many different contexts, such as the fear of losing a romantic relationship, the fear of making losses in business deals, the fear of the unknown when moving house/school, the fear of going back to work and a new lifestyle when you have been off work for months, the fear of finding out after so many years that you did not do a good job as a mother, the fear of losing one’s source of income eg in a recession, the fear of losing a friend who has recently received a serious diagnosis, the fear of falling, the fear of flying etc etc. So many different contexts and levels, but the emotion is the same. Some people try to cope by going with the safest options as they present themselves, making them seem very indecisive. If options change ten times a day, they change their position ten times a day, and no one seems to know what they stand for - like the mother who does or allows for her children whatever the other mothers around her do, or the man who does not speak up against discrimination when with certain friends. Others will sway and stick to the side with least risk, and might live a restricted life because of fear. They may never discover what more they could have achieved, if only they overcame that fear. I had to overcome my fears to learn to drive a car at 30 because I did not want to have my life restricted to public transport, but I do not feel that avoiding ‘scary’ theme park rides is restricting my life too much, so I am happy to live without those. It is worth reflecting to make sure we are not losing out on important things and big dreams, because of fear.

  • Overcomers - Heroes are not people that have no fear - they are the people that do things in spite of their fear. They understand the risk, weigh the situation wisely and decide what they want to achieve because of what they believe. They do not allow the fear of shame, failure, pain or loss stop them. Heroes are not necessarily superman or wonder woman, firemen or soldiers, nurses or missionaries. Loving people wholeheartedly in spite of the fear of them leaving you one day, starting that business in spite of the fear of making a loss, teaching your children good values in spite of the fear of being unpopular, choosing a healthy lifestyle in spite of the fear of a family history of cancer, doing your work diligently in spite of the fear of Coronavirus, praying in faith in spite of the fear of things not happening exactly as hoped for, having a positive attitude in spite of the fear of more bad news in 2020 - that’s an overcomer response. It does not mean things will always happen as planned and that there will be no challenges, but we do not let fear hold us back. I do not enjoy being afraid and I do not celebrate evil - I know that good will always overcome, so we can try to be more positive and refuse to be controlled by fear, as we come towards the end of what has been a very difficult year for many.

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