Ever had your loved one not come home when you expect? At first, we think they must have just been delayed in traffic, so we call their cell phone and don’t get an answer. Now we start to imagine some pretty creative scenarios; maybe they got in a car accident, or worse. As we dwell on these, we feel our heart beating faster and our mind imagines even more horrific scenarios causing us to worry more. The more we worry, the more real it feels. The more we can imagine it, the more we worry. Then like a bubble popping, they walk in the door and explain they got into a long conversation with their friend and lost track of time and their cell phone ran out of battery. Whew!
Fear is one of the most powerful emotions we feel. It’s not only anxiety about our loved ones but the future as well. When we are assessing risk and uncertainty, we believe that scenarios we can remember are more likely to occur than ones we haven’t heard of. This is called the availability bias. Unfortunately, fear abuses this bias to makes us even more convinced that our most scary scenario is highly likely.
Not only is fear powerful, but it is also contagious. When we hang out with others who feel very afraid, we become more afraid. Think about the power of ghost stories with groups of people. When we feel uncertain, we look to others to see how we should respond. When they are afraid too, it fuels our own fear — mass panic.
Many marketing messages are all about stimulating fear because of its potency. They conspire against us to make us worry about what someone will think if we are wearing the wrong jeans. They usually give us a nice picture to go along with this. The world wants us to be afraid because it’s easier to manipulate us when we are in this state.
The root of fear is uncertainty, so when that uncertainty is addressed, the fear dissipates just as quickly as it came. We look back and can’t even remember why we felt so convinced that our loved one was lying dead in a ditch. The things we worry most about are not usually the things that come to pass — this fights the tendency to make fear more real. Knowing this can keep us sane when we are afraid either for our loved one or for what will take place tomorrow.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:34 [NIV]
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