Learning to live free in a fear-inducing world
LEARNING TO LIVE FREE IN A FEAR-INDUCING WORLD
By Rod Campbell | MAMFT, LPC-S
As I sit down to write this article, the nation is still reeling from the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The very first news story I saw this morning was about a terrorist attack in a foreign country. The second story was an interview with a survivor of the Florida shooting. At this moment, two political pundits are debating some issue (does it really matter which one?) with all the requisite eye rolling, name-calling, the sky is falling, ratings producing hysteria they can muster. And I haven’t even finished my morning coffee.
I literally get at least one call per week from parents with children who suffer from anxiety. Probably once a week or more, a client wants to talk about some fear-inducing current event. The constant bombardment of negative news about tragedies, accidents, and crises, both real and invented, can certainly take its toll. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves fearful that the boogeyman is hiding around every corner and that “something bad” could happen at any moment. That’s a hard and heavy burden to carry all day, every day, especially for those of us who feel responsible for the safety of our loved ones.
Here are a few specific things I encourage people to do in order to combat fear that stems from events out of our control:
1. Guard your heart and the hearts of your kids.
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, the news was presented to us in the evening, complied into short clips, and we could go on to read a little more in the morning paper. But now with the 24-hour news cycle we live with, we are constantly bombarded with information, upsetting images, and differing opinions. Some of these stories are uplifting and hopeful, but many are not. Studies show that people react more quickly and more powerfully to bad news.1 With that information, I strongly encourage my clients to carefully discern their news sources and the amount of news they allow themselves to consume. It is often full of images and sound bites literally designed and edited to have the biggest negative impact possible. Continually shepherd your heart and the hearts of your family.
2. Vet your sources.
Take the time to make sure you’re getting news as free from spin and ideology as possible. Whether your news source is the local paper, a printed news magazine, or a website, be sure to check their sources and be willing to do the work of making certain that what you’re reading is factually based and fairly presented.
3. Search out the good.
We read in Philippians 4:8 to focus on things which are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. As you go through the day, intentionally choose to notice and share the good things you come across. Provide for yourself and share with others the reminders that really great things are happening around us all the time. In your town, someone is making life better for the underserved or disadvantaged. Someone is living out the gospel by sacrificing for others. Read these stories. Share these stories. Be a source of light in your part of the world.
4. Begin and end your day with a dose of good medicine.
It is as important now as it has ever been to fill our minds and hearts with the promises of God and with His Word. Beginning and ending your day focused on God’s provision for His people, His power over evil, and His sovereignty over all things will help inoculate us against the onslaught of negativity we are likely to face throughout the day. Listening to Christian music and podcasts, sermons, or other faith-based programming is a great way to keep your focus on things above, and not on things of this earth.
5. Be consistent.
Like antibiotics, we must complete the course of treatment in order to get the full effect. Because of the psychological effects of negativity, it might take days or a few weeks of doing all these things in order to fully detox. Studies indicate that long-term exposure to negative news can have a dramatic effect on our moods and can even cause symptoms similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder!2,3 This type of stress engages the emotional centers of our brain, and the longer this persists, the more our brains become wired to seek and perpetuate this emotional cycle. When we start to change things, even for the better, our own neurochemistry can seem to fight against it, returning to the cycles we’ve established for so long.
So unplug from the negative, check your sources, seek out good news, fill your mind with God’s Word, and repeat this process faithfully. It won’t take long to notice that your fear and anxiety will start to subside. Living a life as free as possible from all the negative influences around us requires intentional living, but freedom is worth it!
Rod Campbell is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling, a sister ministry of Alabama Baptist Children's Homes and Family Ministries. He presently serves clients in the Oxford, Ashville, Pell City, and Birmingham offices.