I am an anxiety specialist. Theoretically, I know the inside, outside, and upside-down of fear. I can generate or extinguish panic attacks, help you imagine the worst case scenario, get you to face your biggest fears and come out the stronger for it. And yet – I was surprised by the variety of reactions to last week’s attacks in Paris. Some of the people I thought would be most terrified were completely calm, telling me the statistics of why an attack was unlikely to harm one and in any case, “we can’t give in to the terrorists by living in fear.” Others I’d expected to be more blasé, were utterly overwhelmed, feeling their world-view had been turned upside down.
One person said she was struggling with how to respond if a fear is not irrational. It is one thing to say “I don’t have to check that my door is locked for the 3rd time” and another thing to say “don’t be afraid of getting shot by terrorists.” And yet…we have to live as if we’re not afraid of terrorists, because the alternative is not living. I could bubble-wrap my children, lock us into our apartment, and never go to a communal gathering place again – but to what point? What good is my life if I spend it inside, huddled in fear?
Of course, knowing you “shouldn’t” be afraid is not particularly useful when you ARE afraid. This is where I find acceptance helpful. Yes, I’d be afraid if I were confronting danger, and the possibility of danger is scary too. However, most of the time, danger is either in the past or in the unknowable future – neither of which I can control. So I choose to live in the here and now, hoping things will be ok, knowing they might not be, and assuming that whatever happens I can wait and respond to it then.