Why Are We So Afraid?!!!


I am fascinated by the effect communications has on our ability to perform and thrive. Then, over the weekend, I had the same insight delivered three times. When that happens, I pay attention.

First, my friend Tom LaRotonda were having coffee and exploring ideas when he shared something he had read about Repetition Compulsion. Which is the way people seem to replay the negative and traumatic events repeatedly in their lives. We were pondering the why of that. I mean it was 20 – 30 – 40 years ago why keep reliving it.   I know that there are negative stories that I have had that have kept me stuck. It turns out science has an answer – “Stress induced Analgesia”. We get high. This process can release internally manufactured opioids from the research – “High levels of stress, including social stress also activate opioid systems”.

Second, my wife sent me a podcast with Rollin McCraty, Ph.D and founder of Heartmath Institute. In his interview he was talking about how because of the way humans are wired we respond to fear. Our minds are programed to look for fear and to protect us. The new media feeds this with all of the “Special Alerts” and red banners. And have you noticed that if nothing particularly bad happens today, they will pull out a file from a year, two years or three years ago to rile us up again? It keeps us tuned in and in a state of fear.

Then this morning in an article in Wired Magazine I read that while we used to be afraid that the media was manufacturing consent (The title of a book by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky), today the media is read more and more on social devices. Because the clicks and replies to posts on social media are driven by FEAR and ANGER, guess what we see more of.

As I watch my own reaction to posts on say, Facebook. I note that I often have to pull back and delete a comment or post that I have written to someone I think is ignorant, evil or just plain stupid. Who is to say I have the right answer? Now look at us.

We can easily be manipulated by fear and because of neurotransmitters being released; we can physically become addicted to fear. So much so that we will go against our own interests to keep the fear in place so we can catch the buzz.

Here is the problem with that. When we are in fear we are not thinking clearly. There is ample research that fear actually shifts our blood flow from the front part of our brain where we are creative and collaborative to the reptilian brain where we either fight it, run from it or freeze.

If you look at the ANGER in our news, even our elected officials are afraid to meet with their constituents because they are out in force and they do not like what they are seeing.  This leads to more fear and more reactions from fear and anger, which rarely leads to the outcomes we really want.

We are at an inflection point. We can remain unconscious and stuck, wondering why we are angry and afraid, or how we can stick it to the other guy, or lament on those (pick your “other”

Ethnic group).

Or, we can wake up and realize we have more control that we thought.


Relax – Take a breath (literally take a breath) and get back to our creative space where we can respond versus react. “Great John,” you might be saying, “How do I do that”.

Here are five ways

  1. Yep breathe. For me it helps to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth to a count of four of my heartbeats on each in and four more on the out.
  2. Smile (even if you don’t feel like it) the act of smiling changes your body and your brain will react.
  3. Hug yourself hugging releases dopamine and that can bring a sense of comfort.
  4. Take a walk (getting away from a trigger often helps)
  5. Meditate – The data is overwhelming people that meditate are calmer, they regulate stress better, they have more creative response to stress.

If you would like to learn more about how communication can help your teams align, engage and execute please send me an email at [email protected]

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