A Fear Epidemic

by Johnny Seabright

Recently, a lot of things have me scared. Donald Trump and his infamous proclamation on Monday that there should be a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” has me very scared of the future of our Oval Office, the brief flooding of our school has me concerned over whether or not I need to do my homework every night in hopes that John von Behren will cancel school the next day, and my last ever High School finals next week has me slightly worried.

I recently talked to the always-prophetic John Holloran about his understanding of fear.

John told me that there are two types of fear. There is in-your-face fear, like running into Peter Langley after taking a second dessert, and speculative fear, like imagining running into Peter Langley after taking a second dessert. As human beings, our natural response to in-your-face fear is fight or flight, but our response to speculative fear becomes a little less clear.

A common misconception is that we have complete control in our lives. We assume that if we make smart, calculated decisions, we will always have the best possible outcome. If we study everything we think we should study for a test, we assume that we will get a good grade.

However, if something comes in to throw that perception of control out the window, we can find ourselves confused, lost, and afraid. Getting a bad grade on a test, even if you felt like you were prepared, can cripple your confidence which will affect your performance on the next test. Fear can overcome us if our fiction of control, which seems rational, is proven to be deceptive.

The Twilight Zone, an old black and white TV show your parents probably watched, played on the idea of losing control. The show is meant to be a horror show, but it is never monsters or people being killed that makes the show scary, it is people slowing losing control in their lives. Episodes include things like reliving the same day over and over, or being the only person left on the planet. They’re not really scary, but if you think hard enough about putting yourselves in the shoes of the main characters, it’s pretty frightening.

What’s important if you find yourself “losing control” is to understand that that is a natural process. Everyone feels that way at some point. What can be dangerous is when your speculative fear turns into more speculative fear and sparks a downward spiral of fear.

Let’s talk about Donald Trump for a second.

Whether or not Donald Trump’s words reflect his true sentiments, they are calculated words meant to evoke speculative fear.

When someone is afraid, they tend to latch onto anything that they feel will give them their control back. If your house is broken into, you can feel like your control over the safety in your house is lost. A logical response to this fear is to do something that will gain back a little bit of control over your personal safety like purchasing a gun or installing a burglar alarm.

Trump is playing off these same emotions. He preaches of the “terrible” things happening in our country so that people become speculative and choose to latch onto him (aka vote for him) to get some of that control back. Even his campaign slogan, “Let’s make America great again”, implies that something has gone wrong in American society that you should be worried about and he will be the one to fix it.

The truth of the matter is that the way that most people deal with speculative fear is counter-productive. Isolating yourself or becoming rigid and scared just leads to more speculative fear.

When it comes to finals, the most common thing I hear people saying is, “I’m not prepared for this test at all,” or, “I’m so tired/stressed.” These responses are not very surprising because the reason they are most likely stressed or tired is because they have already had a fight or flight response.

In studying for the test the night before, they most likely were worrying about the test, what grade they would get, or whether they were studying the right material, which raised their adrenaline levels and added to their stress even more.

Instead of getting worked up and worrying that you won’t do well on the test, I urge you to make a study group to get other people’s perspectives on what you need to study.

As I mentioned, stress can cause you to narrow your perspective and during finals week this can mean forgetting about certain things you might need to be studying for.

Don’t isolate yourself, because you can end up missing important things to study for or can get too worked up. Being in a study group can help solve this issue because other people can remind you of what you might have forgotten or not known to study for.

As I’m sure you’ve heard dozens of times, you should also focus on your physical health during finals week. Eating well, drinking lots of water, and sleeping at least 8 hours is incredibly important. Our fight or flight reaction towards stress can cause us to use up a lot of energy and adrenaline while studying for something the night before, so do your best to save that energy for the day of the test.

Fear is a natural part of all of our lives but don’t let it consume you. Also, don’t vote for Trump.

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