Fear Makes You Ineffective

In the last two days, South Africa has been turned upside down. Scenes that would have appeared impossible to a rational mind are unfolding before us, and it is hard to make sense of it all. Looting, burning, anarchy and lawlessness are the order of the day, and it doesn’t seem that our government, and law enforcement are able to deal with it.


As human beings, we are programmed for sense making. We are also very fine tuned to pay attention to threats around us and come up with potential scenarios to prepare. These survival instincts have ensured the continuation of the human race and have stood us in good stead. However, the ongoing stressors of Covid-19, lock-downs, loss of people we know, and now the threat of violence, could have put many of us in the state of flight, freeze or fight. According to neuroscientists, this is when our rational thoughts dull, and we no longer question the negative information that is coming in. We are also ineffective and unable to make choices in our daily lives that will lead to a better future such as exercising, eating well and attending to our work priorities.

It also means we no longer think of others and finding solutions to the problems at hand. Our focus is narrowed down to ourselves and what is right for us. This may manifest in different ways, according to our conflict sequence (as measured by Core Strengths’ assessment tool). In stage 3, we can present to the world in different ways, and these are: Exploding for no apparent reason, complete withdrawal, ending of a relationship, or surrendering completely and not having an opinion about anything (passive aggression). None of these reactions are productive in terms of problem solving and strengthening relationships.

Returning to calm

How do we ensure we do not reach this irrational point at a time when so much is going on? First, we need to acknowledge what is going on around us, and that it is having an impact on our ability to think clearly and effectively. When you feel like everything is too much and you are frozen in time, ask yourself what you can do in the present moment that would be most beneficial to you.   Here are a number of suggestions:
  • Take a walk
  • Call a friend (avoid going into a frenzy with them about the potential stories that could play out)
  • Do some deep breathing
  • Exercise
  • Take a nap
  • Meditate and still your mind
  • Create something – whatever takes you into a flow state
  • Deal with something on your to do list that you would enjoy doing or feel great at having completed.

Taking action

Once you are in a calm and relaxed state, focus on the present moment again. Determine what you can do now to manage the situation outside of yourself. Here are some alternatives:
  • List the scenarios that could play out and identify different actions you could take should they arise. Develop a plan of action
  • Tell a loved one how you feel about them and how important they are in your life
  • Acknowledge a co-worker and how they have impressed you
  • Question some of the stories you have created in your head about what is going to unfold, and see whether they measure up to your reality, and if so, is the worst that can happen as a result. Notice your attachments and what triggers your fear.
  • Think how you can help those around you and create a sense of community

Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvellously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.

—Thich Nhat Hanh