How to Combat Apocalyptic Thinking

How to Combat Apocalyptic ThinkingWhat makes apocalyptic literature and television so compelling? Surely none of us glamorize the end of the world (we’re too attached to our wi-fi). I venture it’s the way that catastrophe brings people together in an intensified way. After the virus or the vampires decimate the population, those who remain, usually of different backgrounds and ideologies, are forced to bond to survive. And what does such unlikely bonding bring? The reminder that we are all human and, therefore, “in it” together.

“Every time you feel the anxiety returning to your body, find a phrase or a visual you can pull to your mind instead. My massage teacher used to visualize a blooming red rose in times of stress. Now, when I see or hear the word “ebola” I say this mantra: Thank you for my health.” When news that ebola was spreading began in earnest, I’ll be the first to admit a jittery panic followed by obsessive hand washing ensued, despite being thousands of miles from any victims. Several trips by plane were on my calendar though, which kept me awake at night imagining my end in a yellow quarantine tent. The media feeds these fears and thrives off them. Whether or not we intentionally follow the news, it infiltrates every aspect of our lives (there’s even a TV loop on at the gas station pump!). Since I come from a long line of anxious hypochondriacs, I knew I had to intervene upon my own overblown panic.

First step? You must turn away from the source of your fear, be it a pandemic, insult-slinging politics, or a negative family situation. To stop fear, you have to cut off the fuel. Walk away. Turn off the device. When you feel that tight-muscle, throat-constriction of anxiety, your body is offering you a reminder to relax. Every time you feel the anxiety returning to your body, find a phrase or a visual you can pull to your mind instead. My massage teacher used to visualize a blooming red rose in times of stress. Now, when I see or hear the word “ebola” I say this mantra: Thank you for my health.

If you’re like me, your fear is most likely centered in a future or past event (or Hollywood movie). This is important to acknowledge because in the present moment, you might have nothing to be anxious about. To get you back into the present moment, try a meditation technique used for anxiety and PTSD called “mindfulness based stress reduction” (MBSR). Introduced by author and anxiety-reduction expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, MBSR is “moment to moment awareness” in which you focus solely on what is before you—be it your breath or a simple task of washing dishes—while letting your negative thoughts drift to the wayside.

“Every moment is an opportunity to live, breathe, love, and effect change. Fear shrivels in the face of connection. Helping others and connecting with friends helps you by raising your natural oxytocin…Ask a grocery store checker how he or she is doing. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Offer to help your cantankerous but elderly neighbor with her leaf-cluttered gutters. And yes, tell your mother you love her.” Next? Once you “press pause” on your sense of doom, don’t wait for a catastrophe. Go straight to bonding. Every moment is an opportunity to live, breathe, love, and effect change. Fear shrivels in the face of connection. Helping others and connecting with friends helps you by raising your natural oxytocin, known as “the love molecule.” Start simply: Ask a grocery store checker how he or she is doing. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Offer to help your cantankerous but elderly neighbor with her leaf-cluttered gutters. And yes, tell your mother you love her.

The other day, after living on the same street for five years, the son of neighbors we have never spoken to came outside with a cage of bunnies. This seemed a good opportunity, so I brought my six-year-old son over to talk with the boy and admire his pets. His parents soon came out.

“I’m really not anti-social,” I told the man. “We just get so busy and I bury my head in the sand.” And I’ve foolishly assumed certain things about you.

I realized that I had been allowing judgments of these people I’d never talked with to keep me from getting to know them. They drive big trucks and keep loud dogs, and shout loudly on the weekends.

He laughed and said, “Hey, we could have come to talk to you, too.”

And in that moment, suddenly we were talking, laughing, sharing stories of our kids. “If you ever have an emergency, or need your car fixed let me know,” he said. “That’s what I do.”

I walked away feeling less alone, more connected. My son’s hand in mine, wind hushing through trees, my mind far from fear, I was planted firmly in the present moment in which everything really is okay.

Click here to see Rose’s tips for healthy and happy relationships

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