The Link Between Fear & Resilience
Monday, March 28, 2016
This post is part of the "Counterfear Tools" blog series.
Does Fear Tie to a Lack of Resilience?
I’ve thought for years about resilience, and how to explain it. Explaining resilience can feel overwhelming, because it can be so complex. But, that is because life is complex. When you boil it down a bit, resilience gets simpler. We may well have more fear in areas where we suspect (or know) we are not resilient. This post is about digging into that. This is a tool.
Resilience is about the ability to bounce back.
If we get hit, can we take it?
How ready are we to deal with a hit - of any kind? How resilient will you be if there’s an active shooter? If a tornado strikes? When the power goes out?
How many days can you go without infrastructure? If that happens, how many days before you, or your employer, go/goes out of business?
Will you freeze up in the face of a severe threat? Humans do tend toward "fight, flight, or freeze" reactions in a severe emergency. Any one of those is a natural reaction. Being a bit prepared for a few scenarios may help with taking measured actions in a crisis.
How resilient is your town, or your state? Is your country resilient? Are you sure?
Turns out that my own personal resilience planning and living ended up being a major serious help when I had a major leg break last year. That trauma was not at all what I expected when I was preparing for some generic-to-be-determined emergency, but it paid off. Plus, there’s the living-through-tough-stuff aspect of resilience that you only get by doing it. I was pretty tough before. Now, dammit, I’m even more resilient. Freaking character-building experiences. The darned thing about living is that we’re all probably due for more of those.
Part of fear comes down to our own individual resilience. To our own family’s resilience. Here are some common sources of fear, that may or may not be related to our own resilience level. Take a look at these and see what you think:
- Can you afford a lay-off?
- What will you do if a family member has a major illness, or accident?
- What happens if your relationship ends?
- What will you do if the economy tanks?
- What if there’s a train accident nearby leaking chlorine gas, and you have to evacuate? What if the incident is linked to cascading infrastructure impacts... leading to a power outage and limited cell service?
Fear can relate to our larger perception of resilience. How confident are we that our community is resilient? Fear can tie to our government - and our political leadership. Is our country resilient?
A Counterfear Tool - Try A Scenario
One of the most basic counterfear tools is to dig into these questions, and come up with some answers. Stop the hand-wringing, dig into the fear, and find answers. Let me be clear: I fully recognize that there is a lot of fear that is much deeper and more serious than hand-wringing. I’ve been there. I’ll be there again. But more often than not, fear is not practical. It can keep us from living our best life. It can hold us back. It can make us miserable. And obviously: afraid.
The answers don’t have to be the be-all-end-all; but recognizing the fear and considering some actions will put you in much better shape in the face of future chaos - and present fear. Ask any firefighter, police officer, soldier, or medic. This stuff works.
Sometimes it’s as easy as this. Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that can happen?” Most of us are highly skilled at coming up with worst-case scenarios. Now is a good time to apply that skill.
Write a list. Be honest.
And then: pick out one thing from the list to focus on. Think through it. What would you do? Do a little research; do a little thinking. Keep it simple: don’t get hung up on little tiny details. Do consider big-picture things, like infrastructure, or community. We’re all in this together. Make a few notes as you come up with answers.
Here’s an example, if you’re not sure where to start. These are aspects of an active shooter scenario. Pick the questions that get at your gut:
- What would you do if there was an active shooter… at work?
- At your kid’s school?
- At the mall where you are shopping, in separate groups?
- How would things change if the cell signal is out?
- Do you have a family, group, or office rendez-vous point, or common contact so that you can re-connect?
- How do your personal connections come into play?
Your notes are your rough plan. This is resilience planning: thinking through some things ahead of time, so you’re not caught off guard when they happen. Anyone can do this stuff, but you have to be willing to ask - and answer - tough questions.
You can use the basics of emergency planning (like for an active shooter) to plan for other crises, like losing a job, or having a medical emergency. What are the things you are afraid of? Can you make a “rough resilience plan” for some of the ones that cause the most stress?
You do it by starting with just one. Starting with one keeps you from getting overwhelmed, or finding yourself in deeper fear. Keep it manageable, and be realistic.
If you’re up for it, do this exercise for the thing that terrifies you the most. If you’re not quite up to that (I’m not), pick something on the mid-range with a reasonable likelihood of happening. Perhaps a traffic accident, a power outage, or an unexpected financial impact. Let’s be honest: financial security is at the core for many of us… because it is about our own food and shelter, and/or that of people we love. Love is the reason, the root, the light, and the air.
Okay… sometimes all of that is not so easy, as I suggested it might be. Sometimes it sucks. But thinking through it ahead of time and actually considering what could happen and how you might deal with it can help calm fear. It can give you an action plan instead of a dull, nagging dread. You can even do it with political stuff. It’s multi-functional.
The Turnaround: Vision Work
Worn out yet? After thinking through all of that stuff, you might have some tension. Shoulders tight? Pit in your stomach? Before moving on, check your stress level, and see if you can do anything to release some of that. Take a walk. See some sun. Watch funny cat videos.
Now, want to try something lightening? No, that’s not a typo. After all of that counter-fear-ing, this next bit is more about load-lightening. If you’ve done a huge deep dive into the resilience-building work above, you may want to wait a few days or a week to re-group. This doesn’t all have to happen instantaneously; take your time.
When you’re ready, pull out the list of the “what’s the worst that can happen?” from above.
Take that list, and flip it on its head. Ask yourself, “what’s the best that can happen?”
We’re not always conditioned to do this, so you may need to bring in back-up. The first time I did this, I had a life coach help me out. It was literally a life-changer.
If you have a good friend, a partner, family, co-workers, a class, or other connections - bring them in as reinforcements. More brains = more ideas. Plus, if you are dealing with a family, group, organization, or community “rough resilience plan,” the more people the better. Everyone who is involved gets invested in the vision: instant Team.
So, what’s the best that can happen?
It would be great to hear what you come up with. Feel free to post what you come up with in the comments section below.
For me, the best that can happen is something I always heard from wildland firefighters. I never thought I’d find myself in a place to say it again, after I left the world of fire, but now I’m there… I’m "living the dream."
Bringing it Home
You cannot make this stuff up. I typed this blog at a pizza place. Just after I’d typed most of it, a group of college-aged-kids at the table next to me launched into an intense discussion about first-aid. I’m pretty sure at least a couple of them were studying to be medics, or were serving in a role where they needed to be up on first aid and CPR. There was a lot of worst-case-scenario discussion… for example, what to do in case the victim was having a possible heart-attack, or had no pulse, or had extensive bleeding, etc. The odds of that happening right after I wrote about preparedness are pretty interesting to think about. Being an emergency management person, I notice related conversations around me that use certain key words. Can't say that I've noticed very many worst-case scenario emergency medical discussions ever at an adjacent table. Timing is funny.
The life-savers-in-training at the next table underlined exactly what I said above: we are better at handling the unexpected when we think about it ahead of time. People who are trained to save lives know this, and work on it constantly.
Folks in public safety help keep us alive. They pick us up when we can’t walk. We don't all have to become firefighters and police to do the same.
There’s a metaphor there. Or, not even a metaphor. We don't all have to be professional life-savers to help ourselves - and the people around us - survive.
When we dig into our fear, when we actively counter it... we can thrive.
That is where we find resilience.
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