This Year’s Flu: How Do We Manage the Fear?

The statistics are everywhere: 42 people in California under the age of 65 have died this year; 32 in our state in one week; a local boy has died; another is fighting for his life in the ICU.  Many doctor’s offices are out of the flu vaccine.  It’s staggering and very scary!  I’ve seen social media posts from parents considering keeping their children home from school.  Posts about how to protect ourselves.  Posts about questions about the flu shot.  This year, flu and fear seem to go hand in hand!

So how do we not let the fear overcome us? How do we maintain that delicate balance between protection and peace?  To achieve this, we must start with examining our thoughts.  The common belief is that how we feel is due to things that happen.  But the truth is, there is something that occurs between an event and our emotions, and that is how we THINK about the situation.  To demonstrate this point, imagine if it started pouring down rain right now, how would you feel? Some may say happy, another sad, maybe someone else angry.  These emotions are all different for the same rain.  Why is that? It is because of how each individual thinks about the rain.  For the person who is happy, the thoughts may be, “I love the rain and we really need it.”  The person who is sad may think, “I really wanted to be outside today and now I won’t be able to.”  The person who is angry may think, “Darn it, I just had my car washed.”  Their individual thoughts are what causes the different emotional state.  This example may seem juvenile, but when we begin to apply it to other situations, we can quickly begin to see what a difference how we think about things can make.

When it comes to something outside of our control, like rather we get the flu or not, we need to examine our thoughts.  When we focus on something that is not within our control, this is an irrational thought, even if it is a “true” thought.  The reason it is irrational is because of our inability to control it.  It causes nothing but negative feelings for us, but does not change the situation (because, by definition, the situation cannot be changed).

Let’s apply this concept to this current fear of contracting the flu.  If we are consumed by thoughts such as, “what if I get the flu?”, “what if my baby gets it”, “we could die from this flu!” it will cause only one result: fear and worry.  It will not change if we or our loved ones get the flu.  And another important thing it will stop us from doing is focusing on what we CAN control.  Fear is crippling.  It makes us feel helpless.  These thoughts make us feel helpless.  So we need to change them, possibly to: “I can’t control if I get the flu, but I can make sure to wash my hands often and get the flu shot”, “I can’t stop my baby from getting the flu but I can limit his exposure by not going to some of the high-risk areas and by making sure everyone who holds him is healthy and has washed their hands.”  We can say, “most people do not die from the flu, so even if my family gets it, the chances are extremely high we will be just fine.”  Once we give up this focus on things outside of our control, we can take appropriate measures to protect ourselves, we can make rational and informed decisions about how we want to proceed, if we want to keep our kids home from school, if we want to avoid the play area, if we want to get the flu shot, etc.

The truth is, knowledge is power, but if we are making emotionally reactive decisions, then we are not using that knowledge to empower us.  If we reduce our anxiety and emotional reactivity, we can achieve the goal of balance between protection and peace, we can control what we can and let go of the rest.   We can learn not to let this flu have power over us anymore!

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