There is a distinct difference in how humans have evolved our relationship with fear and our relationship with danger. As infants we are instinctively afraid of two things. Falling and Loud Noises. Both trigger startle reflexes and observable (instinctive) anxiety. But look at the definition of fear given by the Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health; Seventh Edition:
[fēr] the unpleasant emotional state consisting of psychological and psychophysiological responses to a real external threat or danger. See also anxiety. Fear is a nursing diagnosis accepted by the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association, who defined it as a response to a perceived threat that is consciously recognized as a danger. Causative factors may include separation from one’s support system in a potentially threatening situation such as hospitalization, diagnostic test, or treatment; knowledge deficit or unfamiliarity; language barrier; sensory impairment; and phobic stimulus or phobia.
Persons experiencing fear may verbalize increased tension, apprehension, diminished self-assurance, panic, or a jittery feeling. Objective signs include increased alertness; concentration on the source of fear; attack and fight-or-flight behaviors; and evidence of sympathetic nerve stimulation such as cardiovascular excitation, superficial vasoconstriction, and dilation of the pupils.
The bold emphases are mine. Notice the contradiction. Real v. Perceived. This is a product of our unique sociological evolutionary state. Many humans have lived the majority -if not all- of their lives in a profound state of overall safety. Daily activity did not involve preparing for assault, attacks from marauders, defending life and property from wild animals, continuous states of war (think 100 Year’s War between France and England).
Relative safety is a social construct and human physiological evolution per adaptation takes time. Centuries or by some models, millennia. This is important. Our hardware is still predisposed to assess for Threat as in actual danger. Walking out your front door to a gang of rattlesnakes sunning on your sidewalk should give you a jolt. This mechanism is alive and well inside humans whether the danger is real or perceived and the response system in your physiology could give a rat’s ass whether or not the danger is real. All it takes is your personal perception and boom – Fear.
And what is dangerous has also fallen into our sociological constructs. If you are of Jewish decent, are you inherently dangerous? There was a time in the not-to-distant past when a large number of people said YES.
Is sitting next to your child in a bench as you rest from a walk in the sunshine dangerous? What about you spouse? Recently a New York City police officer warned a married couple they’d be cited if they didn’t practice social distancing in an outdoor space. This isn’t about the individual peace officer. That job hard-core sucks right now.
This is about how perceived danger and real danger are becoming threads of a single, blanketing tapestry draping across society. Is it dangerous for Vermont to dictate big-box stores must prevent nonessential purchases? Clothing, for example. Who’s to say a child’s shoes are nonessential? If you’ve had tiny humans you know they can literally wake up and put on shoes that fit yesterday only to find today the munchkin has outgrown them. Wearing the too-small shoes will rub sores which can become infected or impact how a child walks, limiting mobility.
Is it dangerous to place yourself in the middle of an active Covid-19 hospital ward? Is it dangerous to go to a home improvement store today? Is it dangerous to take your horse out on a trail? What about sitting out in the sun with your children?
In our fear of the pandemic we are collectively confusing fear for danger.
It is on each one of us to pause. Take a breath. Really.
Notice what your body is telling you. Look out the window. Turn off the news. Engage authentic risk assessment based on the information you can discern as valid. If a situation is considered dangerous, assess again. Do you need to be there? If you answer yes, are you up for the risk? Are you equipped to take useful precautions?
And here is the most necessary question: are you willing to accept your agency inherent in your decision? This is the seat of power. Not what your government dictates.