When Fear and Panic Is Around Us, Let Practice More L-O-V-E!

February 10, 2020

Recently, I celebrated my Birthday, but I have to admit that celebrations took a somewhat low-key tone. Because of the obvious Elephant in the Room World.

The world we live in seems to be facing more challenges. If anything, the negativity has been magnified by social media creating an echo chamber where the emotions of fear, anger and shame is propagated.

As I made my birthday wish, I reflected on my wish for the world to come together to tide through difficult times. You can call me idealistic, but hey, it’s my birthday wish after all, and we all deserve to make wishes as we desire!

I wish for an antidote to the negativity and fear around us, and I confess that I must first administer a healthy dose of this antidote on myself.

Here, in the Acronym L-O-V-E, I present the antidote I wish for the world:

L is for Listening

I believe that as we face challenges, we are bound to feel feelings of fear, anger, shame, loneliness, angst, etc. However, we respond to adversity by buying new things, overseas holidays, more food, seek more connections with others, etc. However, such actions are external-focused, and as a result, we numb ourselves from our own feelings, and therefore we do not become more skilled at dealing with them. When negative external world events happen, our negative emotions are triggered and we “act out” in fear, panic, or in shame of ourselves, of humanity. In many cases, we react by judging others and making them wrong.

In listening, I believe that it must begin with listening to ourselves – our inner thoughts and feelings. Listen to our negative feelings, perhaps there are lessons there for us. Listen to our heart, because deep down, it already knows what we want.

Only when we listen to ourselves, can we become better listeners to others.

One night a couple of years ago, I had a friend who reached out to me on Facebook Messenger with a message like this:

Immediately concerned, I got on a quick call with him, we ended up having a conversation. After spending some time listening to him and empathising with how he felt, I took a risk and made a bold statement, “I do not know you very well, but I am going to guess that you don’t really want to die, do you?”

The reason I made the assertion was that I went through similar experiences, and from my experiences, people who really wanted to kill themselves would already have done so. Any efforts to communicate that desire is less a declaration of intention, as much as it is a cry for attention, connection and hope.

To my relief (not really surprised), he relaxed after what I said, probably because he has been heard and understood, or I had “called his bluff”! He opened up even more about how he felt, and together, we brainstormed ways of how he can channel his strong negative emotions into more resourceful endeavours to improve his situation. After being satisfied that he is in a much better place, I bade him goodnight and went to bed.

The next morning, I was surprised to see this Facebook Post he made:

People, at their core, really want to be seen, heard, understood and appreciated. Some people may be suffering in a silence, and they may just need a listening ear, someone who listens without judgment. You will never know the power of listening and the impact it can have on others, so seek to be a better listener.

O is for Opening the Heart ❤️

Just recently, the government of Singapore announced that the DORSCON, or the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition, has been raised from Yellow to Orange. This is just one level below Red. This was in response to the spread of the Novel Coronavirus, nCoV2019 virus, with more cases of people infected with the virus.

Within a couple of hours following the announcement, people in Singapore rushed to the supermarkets to stock up on basic supplies like rice, noodles and even toilet paper. In social media, people respond with sarcasm, shame and judgement, branding people as “stupid” or selfish for rushing to the supermarkets to hoard supplies.

If we take a step back from judging, and look at such behaviour with objective eyes, then we’ll see that it is not really a Singaporean reaction, it’s a human reaction. I believe that if we’re really honest with ourselves, when we see such behaviour, we also feel a tinge of anxiety inside us. “Is it really that bad? Can it really become THAT bad?”

When people are consumed by fear, our fright-fight-flight response is triggered, what psychologist, Daniel Goleman called the “amygdala hijack.” The amygdala is the emotional part of the brain, which regulates the fight or flight response. When the amygdala is triggered, a rush of stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline floods the body, giving it the energy to take flight or to fight. Unfortunately, this survival mechanism also causes a strong emotional response that precedes more rational thought.

Instead of judging other people’s behaviours, or to react with sarcasm, let’s open our hearts and treat each other with Empathy. Judgment, shaming, derision has never changed behaviour.

V is for Vulnerability

After opening our hearts, the next step is Vulnerability. One of the strongest needs of human beings is Emotional Safety, and nothing builds that more than feeling a sense of BELONGING.

Everybody wants to be loved, however, not everybody is good at receiving love. We have all heard the common motivational quotes, “You deserve to be loved for who you are”, “In order to receive love, you first have to love yourself.” Yes, you must be thinking “I know that in theory, but it is just so hard to practice!”

I get you!

One of my recent realisations is that I have always believed that I needed to “earn my love.” As a result, I would push myself to work harder, to constantly improve myself.

I have an unconscious belief in my head that sounds like a sound track that goes:

“In order to be loved, I must be more ________”

(Yes, you can think of a million things to fill in the blank, charismatic, capable, intelligent, kind, successful, productive, funny, giving, conciliatory, sweet, handsome, pretty, slim, etc.)

Such a belief locks me into always flying into action, to prove myself (often more to myself than to others) that I am worthy. However, this is not sustainable, and I found myself breaking down from fatigue, and a sense of haplessness. It is in moments like this that I realised I just had to surrender to the fact that I am vulnerable and I don’t have all the answers. This is best illustrated by Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer:

I endeavour to practice more vulnerability by saying things like:

  • “I am not perfect, I am a work in progress.”
  • “I need help in _______.”
  • “I am not comfortable with _______ (a thing or a person).”

This gives people the opportunity to “fill my cup” with love, and to serve me.

It is by our shared vulnerability where bridges are built, and closer bonds are forged, that we can together, get through whatever difficulties we have.

E is for Equanimity

The human mind is pre-disposed to the negative more than the positive. If you’ve ever had mixed results in your school examinations, you would remember that you’d tended to focused on the failures and what you got wrong than where you did well. It’s not the fault of the mind, its purpose is to keep us safe, hence the negative focus.

For the recent corona-virus scare, the fear and negativity that’s circulating among people is drowning out positive news. We often forget that there have been bright spots. Just recently, the Star Newspaper in Malaysia reported a third case of FULL successful recovery from the 2019-nCov Infection.

Shouldn’t these bright spots inspire hope in us that we can really recover if we have a strong immune systems?

I am not a doctor, but based on recent research by Jennifer Graham-Engeland, an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University, frequent exposure to negative emotions may have an important impact on the functioning of the immune system. This is backed up by Clinical immunologist Leonard Calabrese of Cleveland Clinic, who shared that stress decreases the body’s lymphocytes — the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are for viruses.

Instead of spreading messages of fear and negativity, which actually makes us more at risk, shouldn’t we focus on what really matters – fortifying our immune systems and taking precautionary measures?

There is enough negativity going around, let’s aim to practice equanimity by having a more balanced and rational approach towards protecting ourselves and our love ones.

Let’s make things better by spreading L-O-V-E

I don’t deny that I feel a degree of fear and uncertainty about what’s going on around me. I do not claim that what I proposed can solve the problems we are facing. I am just encouraging us to share solidarity with fellow human beings and build stronger bonds, because now, more than ever, this is what we need. Humanity in history have faced tremendous difficulties, with 2 World Wars, the Great Depression, the Plague, and we have survived as a species.

And I say it, we shall survive this, and we can do it together.

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