A Sunny Focus

What you focus your attention on matters

What to do when the evening news seeps into ordinary life

Like it or not, we live in a global society. In a place the size of the entire world, bad news happens every day. And no matter how large the world, the law of averages says not all catastrophes happen halfway around the world.

Consider this idea from one of my friends on Facebook. When I asked what people wanted to know about mental wellness, she replied with, “What to do to support my own mental health when the news cycle is not helping.”

Following the San Diego shooting, my temples religious school thought we needed to come up with an active shooter plan. And we couldn’t come to agreement, but after discussing scenarios, my anxiety is now resting at an 11.

Rebecca Operhall

This is a question well worth exploring. How is it possible to stay emotionally healthy when you must consider the possibility of disaster in your own life — perhaps if you’re planning for an active shooter situation, as my friend is?

First and foremost, remind yourself that you are hearing about and/or planning for the worst case scenario.  

According to articles on Education Week, in the 2015-2016 school year, there were a combined total of 132,853 public schools in the United States — In 2018, there were twenty-four shootings at public schools.

Is this too many? YES! Of course, any is too many. And yet, this is .01% of the schools. This is not to suggest that we brush off the fact that this is happening. These people who died matter no matter what fraction of the population they represent. 

The point of presenting these numbers is simply to ground you in the difference between disaster preparedness and the disaster itself. 

Think about the presentation given at the beginning of every flight. 

You don’t board a plane expecting the plane to crash, but IF IT DOES, you know what to do. That is the difference.

Next, remind yourself of the source of the information on which you are basing your thoughts, feelings, and decisions.

Following the news keeps you informed, but you mustn’t forget that news media are businesses. The more people they reach with a story, and the longer they keep your attention with it, the larger their profit margins. You might not think of horrific news stories as glamorous and yet, consider the definition of glamour:


glamour glam-er ]

noun
the quality of fascinating, alluring, or attracting, especially by a combination of charm and good looks.
excitement, adventure, and unusual activity:
the glamour of being an explorer.
magic or enchantment; spell; witchery.

In order for something to be deemed newsworthy, it will encompass some part of that definition. It will be exciting, fascinating, or unusual.

A news station will probably not get a lot of traction with a story about a normal school day where the most exciting thing that happened was that Richard broke his arm and his two-year streak of perfect attendance. There will be no film at eleven because the potential audience is far too small.

To cut “newsworthy events” even more down to size, direct your attention to the words enchant, fascinate, and allure.  These are all words that have mystical roots.  They all involve changing your perception so that you are drawn in. 

This is what it means when something has been glamorized.  It means it has been transformed from its original state into something designed to attract and captivate you. 

“So the Daily Prophet exists to tell people what they want to hear, does it?” said Hermione scathingly.
Rita sat up straight again, her eyebrows raised, and drained her glass of firewhisky.
“The Prophet exists to sell itself, you silly girl,” she said coldly.”

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I understand the fear. We lived on a military base overseas when the Twin Towers went down.  We lived right off the flight line.  Before I was treated for PTSD — before I even knew a person who wasn’t in actual battle could even have PTSD — I was sometimes literally paralyzed by fear. 

If a plane was in the sky, I would freeze and couldn’t continue until it was out of sight, fearing that I was about to witness a transport vehicle becoming a bomb.  Each time, I saw it in my head like I had seen it on the news on September 11th, September 12th, and so on.

The fear is real, even when what you fear is unlikely.  It is an emotion, almost an independent entity, that feeds on anything that makes it grow.  It isn’t effective to pretend that your fear isn’t a real thing. 

What we need isn’t more people telling you there is nothing to be afraid of.  What we need is to learn how to get fear out of the driver’s seat. 

The first step is to remove the glamourie — Lift the spell by reminding yourself that if it made the news, it’s out of the ordinary.

via GIPHY

Ground yourself by paying attention to everyday life. Take note of the behavior of the people around you. Absorb what’s normal. Spend some time deliberately living your life the way you usually do.

If at all possible, take some action that gives you control over the fear. If you are worried about school shootings, for example, volunteer to do some work at the school. Get yourself into the environment and teach your brain that schools DO NOT EQUAL shootings.

Facts and figures can help the rational part of your brain deal with fear, but experience tames the emotionally driven part much faster.

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

Dale Carnegie

On September 22, 2001, my best friend from high school got married. She and I had agreed, at the tender age of twelve years old, to stand for each other at our weddings.

I could either take the scariest step of my life and board a plane from Germany to D.C., or I could let my fear steal this moment away from both of us. Make no mistake, I am not an overly brave person. Adrenaline is not my drug of choice. I don’t like roller coasters, people.

I boarded the plane. The deciding factor was the knowledge that every time I avoided the scenario that triggered my fear, the larger the fear would grow.

If you do you find fear creeping into your life, try taking it as a call to action. Do whatever you can to make life into what you want it to be. There is no certification required; glossy business cards, flashy suits, and fast cars neither help nor hinder your ability to improve the world.

No matter what our particular job, especially in our world today, we all are called to be Tikkun Olam—repairers of creation. Thank you for whatever you do, wherever you are, to bring joy, and light, and hope, and faith, and pardon and love to your neighborhood and to yourself.

Fred Rogers

Rebecca, my friend from above, has this step covered. She lives up to her bio on Facebook, which is as follows: Trying to be a source of good in the world as a mom, librarian, friend, neighbor, and human being.

The key to overcoming fear is to realize we are not powerless against it. We all have the power to be repairers of creation.

That power is simply this: to put as much “joy, and light, and hope, and faith, and pardon and love” into the world as we can at any instant.

Brightest blessings to you, Sunny


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