Rolling Stone Magazine recently explored the question: Why are Americans so afraid? We are supposed to be living in the best years in history for the average person today. Our life expectancy is higher than ever before, crime is down, air quality is up, and household wealth, longevity, and education are on the rise.
Yet, while we are living in the best times in history, our daily lives are riddled with fear. In a recent study conducted by Chapman University, fear of corrupt government, terrorist attacks, loss of money, identity theft, loss of health care, financial collapse, and the death of loved ones topped the list of American fears. And with 24/7 media streams coming at us through a variety of devices our fear response is in a constant state of “on.”
If you are like the vast number of working Americans today, then you are busy – Slammed. And being afraid makes the Slammed condition much worse. In our book Slammed, we wrote:
“When we are afraid, we make bad decisions. We begin to underperform resist change, close our eyes to new opportunities, reward ourselves with bad behavior and decrease our communication with others.”
Neuroscience shows that when we feel fear, we retreat from our prefrontal cortex to lower regions of our brain causing us to become inflexible, angry, and closed. In short, we become “narrow-minded”. And the more we fight against perceived threats, the less energy we have to create value, improve performance, and accurately perceive the world around us.
We’re Slammed today because our work and our lives demand more from us than ever before. The Slammed condition combined with the constant stream of fear-inducing messages coming at us every minute of our digital existence pushes us into survival mode and a continuous state of stress often associated with trauma.
Now you may be thinking, “Wait a minute! Fear and stress can make people extremely productive – it’s called survival instinct for a reason – it gives us what we need to survive!” And you are right. Our fear response and increased stress serve to temporarily ramp up our cognitive ability, our physical prowess, and our mental focus. We are, for a short time, smarter, faster, better.
But it’s not sustainable. When we operate in a constant state of fear and stress, we move from the temporary benefits to long-term consequences that erode our productivity, health, and happiness.
So, what do we do to reduce our fear?
We can’t eliminate fear or stress, and we don’t want to. Those instincts are there because we need them. But, we also need renewal. Times of calm, solace and stability. What activities help you “reset” yourself? It is different for every individual. Find out what gives you the intermittent rest and renewal that you need and build it into your lifestyle. You will be more resilient, more productive, and more compassionate. In other words, you will be a better YOU!