Living in a World in Fear

As seen in APeeling in November 2020

The city noise penetrates my sleep and I wake, alone, feeling a foreboding, an unease, a fear deep in my gut. Flashes of incomplete thoughts play in front of my mind’s eye scaring me. The feeling in my gut gets worse as its knots tighten growing the fear.

Rent is Due

Tasks not done

On my own

Failures play out

It takes time for the cobwebs to clear. For the generator to turn on and kick start my conscious mind. As my consciousness comes back online and my eyes begin to focus, I stretch and my tummy rumbles - I’m hungry

Our primal minds are all about survival and when it feels uncomfortable, it spins out of control to get us to act. It feels something is wrong deep down in our gut and it wants the feeling to go away, so it cycles through problems, stressors, and regrets to try to determine the threat causing the feeling.

When we consciously analyze the situation. Break it down. We discover the situation is not as scary as we thought and nowhere near as stressful because it is under our control to act on a solution, so why is our society filled with so much fear?

A poll by the US National Mental Health Association found that 85% of Americans believe that the USA will experience a terrorist attack in the near future and 41% said they feel fear (Widmeyer Research & Polling, 2004). There are countless polls and studies proving we are living in a time of heightened fear.

One of the reasons is our daily dose of media consumption, whether it is traditional media outlets or social media. To increase viewership news media makes stories sound as dramatic, threatening and urgent as possible. The result is 24/7 drama and danger, “contributing to what George Gerbner called ‘the mean world syndrome’—the sense we have, based on a steady supply of frightening and threatening news, that the world is a riskier place than it actually is.” (Gerbner & Gross, 1976). We carry our news in our hands and talk about it on our screens. It is everywhere and the media has profited from a decrease in censorship and an increase in news consumption.

The news used to only be reported at 6:00PM, then the early news, the morning news, and CNN brought 24-7 news into our homes with images of war, crime, and dangers from around the globe. Something happens in New York, suddenly we think it could happen down the street from us. It’s a possibility but is it a probability?

Censorship used to ensured kids did not see images on TV. Today, everything is available to kids online and on their TV screens.

Children no longer feel safe. After Columbine, the number of school shootings has increased and the safety features put in place to ensure their safety, makes the fear all too real for them. In my day, we had fire drills. Today, schools have lock-down drills in case of a shooter in or near the school and too many of them have experience real lock downs. Not to mention the schools with metal detectors and armed security guards telling kids everyday, school isn’t a safe place.

Now with Covid, schools are monitoring temperatures, which means everyday these kids are faced with a test to see if they are sick. It brings the reality of the possibility home every day.


The Covid Pandemic is killing over 1000 people a day on average in the USA and over 5000 a day globally. It has affected the lifestyles of everyone on the planet as government bodies try to balance the economic needs of the country with its public health safety.

Extremists use fear-based arguments to make their cases for and against the need to wear masks, shut down businesses, and stay home. These opposing views create an environment of confusion, mistrust, and fear as people try to understand what the real threat is. For example, a person living in Manhattan logically has a higher risk of catching Covid than a person living in a small town in Northern Canada, however, one only needs to look to Social Media to see the perceived fear of infection for some is just as high in the small town as it is in the city.

Social Unrest

Around the world cities have experienced violent protests, ideology murders, and terrorist attacks. From Hong Kong to Poland protesters are clashing with government law enforcement and protesters on the other side of the issues. The images and stories streaming into our homes from around the world can make it seem like the world is on fire and we are all in danger of losing something. If not our lives, our livelihoods, our savings, our future dreams and we become scared of these forces outside of our control.

Ideological revolutionaries and rebels have used attacks on citizens to gain support throughout time. Whether it was the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the IRA, the Cuban Revolution, or the Arab Spring, ideological divisions have resulted in violent attacks to insight fear in the populous and gain support.

Unlike in the past, today’s social protest movements are global and widespread with news outlets bringing the stories into our handheld devices.

Fear Mongering Politics

The biggest political election has just taken place and the fear of uncertainty is still high.

Fear mongering by political leaders is nothing new, one only has to look to history to see how leaders use fear to get what they want. Throughout history, if one upset the Pope, the King, or the Dictator, the consequences were dire.

The 20th Century brought a new kind of fear to the populations of the free world – story of fear. Propaganda was perfected by Goebbels, Hitler’s PR guy. After World War 2, propaganda in both the western world and the USSR planted seeds of fear of nuclear annihilation into every citizen, no matter how young. After the fall of the USSR, terrorism became the new threat.

Is the threat real?

When faced with a fear-based message or situation we must ask ourselves, is the threat real or is it smoke and mirrors?

In his article The Consequences of Fear, written for the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, David Ropeik looks at how perceived fears of modern society affect our health.

He mentions a study by Sapolsky which found “constant fear causes a weakened immune system, increased cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems, fertility issues, brain damage, and a list of other health issues.” (Sapolsky, 1998) His articles goes on to include a study by McEwen which found “we naturally adjust to the conditions of everyday life, including the fears we face. However, with the constant barrage of new threats and hazards being reported to us on a daily basis we don’t have time to fully adjust before a new threat puts us off balance again resulting in an allostatic load on our bodies.” (McEwen et al, 2002)

Regardless if a threat is real, our fear of it is causing health related issues making it real. You think you may be run down by an ideological terrorist, so you take precautions to ensure your safety. However, the stress from the constant fear is killing you by adversely affecting your health. You may never get run down by a terrorist, but you’ll die sooner than you should have because you lived in the fear of the possibility.

Mental Health

According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 in 3 of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. Between 2007 and 2012, anxiety disorders in children and teens went up 20%.

When we sat glued to our screens watching school shootings, the towers fall, the Afghan and Iraq wars, Terrorist attacks in Europe, and the threat levels going from yellow to orange, our children saw it too. As a parent we don’t always see everything we are doing or watching, but our children see it. They notice and if they were born after the turn of the 21st Century, they have been inundated with fear-based stories, images of terrorism, war, and crime.

Decision Making

To gain control someone who reads that GMO food will kill you will suddenly start questioning the produce people at the store about where the vegetables come from and won’t believe they are really organic. A person may choose to drive instead of fly because of the possibility of a terrorist or a plane crash. Others will claim the pandemic is a lie, a conspiracy to control the populous and go out without masks, attend large group events, and berate those who listen to the health organizations. A person may run to the doctor’s office to ask if they have cancer because they saw a new study that says they are at risk for one reason or another. These are all examples of how constant fear affects our ability to make rational decisions.

A constant irrational fear is not a modern problem. Aristotle defined this fear as, “pain arising from the anticipation of evil.” It focuses our attention on an unknown future possibility.

What you can do:

Understand the threat, what you can control, and what is really happening in your immediate environment. Do your research. go to reputable sites for the facts behind Covid.

Question the story you are telling yourself. By honestly questioning the story you are telling yourself, your rational mind can assess the real risk and take measures to reduce it.

Keep a journal and write out what your fears are, what you can control, and how likely it will occur. By writing you will be able to rewrite the story you tell yourself. If we understand which threats are real and which are perceived, we can start to react in a healthy manner to what is occurring in the world around us. Turning off the news is an idea. Taking it day by day and not thinking about the what ifs of the future can help.

Stay busy. If you start getting scared, do something to refocus your mind on a different topic. Watch a comedy. Read a book. Bake a cake. If you are too busy doing something, you won’t be able to think up stories to be scared of.

Be present. Take a close look at the world around you and ground yourself into your reality. Focus on the moment you are in and not in the future or the past. The only time you can control is the moment you have right now. What is happening right now is real, everything else is possibility or in the past.

Act. Whatever you are scared of do it. Stare it in the face and act. If you are scared to go outside because you’ll get Covid but you need groceries, then mask up and go to the store. By doing it you will remove the possibility with reality and when it is real you can reduce the risk by protecting yourself and control your response by being mindful of what is happening.

We live in a world of perceived fear. You can choose to live in the emotion of fear or to take the steps to become more mindful and rational about what is really happening in your world.

Shannon Peel publishes the digital magazine, APeeling. For more information go to

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