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You worry too much about Ebola

I was commenting on a shared article on Facebook yesterday about how flight attendants don’t want you using your mobile devices during takeoff and landing because your phone becomes a dangerous projectile if something bad happens to the plane. I said:

If something has happened to cause phones to become projectiles, then I’d say the plane is probably breaking up at that point and it doesn’t really matter if it’s your phone or the rear end of the plane flying past you down the aisle…

Back in early January 2001 I was flying back to New Zealand from a holiday in London. There was a lot of concern around that time because of hijackings and attempted hijackings in the UK and around Europe. This was before 9/11 so we hadn’t got to that stage of airline paranoia yet, but it was bad enough.

I was asleep, with earplugs and eye mask, when I was woken from my slumber by some kind of commotion that managed to make its way through the earplugs. I took out an earplug to listen, and listened to someone loudly complaining to a stewardess that they were worried about strange behaviour from a person with a turban near the back of the plane. I sighed, stuck my earplug back in, and went back to sleep.

See, I figured that if a bomb was going to go off, or the plane was about to be hijacked, there was nothing I could do about it – so there was no point worrying about it. I went back to sleep and woke up as we were coming into Bankgkok. Still alive. Amazing.

The Serenity Prayer
The Serenity Prayer

You want to know what’s really amazing? That so many people get so worked up and panicked about the worries that exist only in their mind, about things that are ultimately outside of their control. That’s amazing.

I know that the news and media doesn’t help. They want people all worked up and panicking about things they can’t control, because the worries and panic helps the news and media companies make more money. The more worried and panicked and outraged people are, they more they buy in to the news that only adds fuel to their fire.

Ebola is the current craze.

There’s nothing to panic about with Ebola in the western world, because it only affects the ignorant and the uneducated, in countries that don’t have the resources to change that. But you know what they’re NOT telling you? They’re not telling you why you shouldn’t panic. They want you to be uneducated and ignorant too, and to panic more.

Here’s what they’re not telling you.

You can only catch Ebola if you come into contact with someone who is bleeding from their orifices because of it, or who has died from it and you’re still living with their dead and bloodied corpse in your house.

But the media isn’t shouting that out on their front pages, are they. No, they’re giving you all the reasons why you should panic. They’re shouting about all the people with ‘Ebola-like symptoms’.

Did you know a common cold has ‘Ebola-like symptoms’?

We’re seeing a lot of news stories lately that are presenting otherwise unrelated events as ‘Ebola scares’, although the only thing that’s really adding to the Ebola scare is the media itself. But people are panicking now, and buying into the news so they can stay informed on how Ebola is threatening the world.

If you’re buying into that, you’re worrying too much. But it’s understandable. The things we worry about are, obviously, driven by our fears of things actually happening, and that makes us worry. I’ve called them mind dramas.

Last year I wrote Stop worrying about things that haven’t happened. In it I said:

Mind dramas are insidious. They get in the way of joy and happiness and contentment. They cause stress and anxiety and even paranoia. They’re our fears talking to us, making themselves real in our mind before making themselves real in our life.

Every time you worry about something that hasn’t happened, it’s real for you, right now. But it’s not actually real. It’s just in your mind. And because it’s not real, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Ebola isn’t something that affects your life, but you worry that it will. In your mind you can see people hemorrhaging blood from their eyes and ears, and that creates panic and anxiety, which is only exacerbated by news stories that enhance your panicked feelings.

If people were really hemorrhaging blood around you, you’d be taking action. You’d be either quarantining yourself in your house so you don’t come into contact with them, or you’d be leaving the city and getting the hell out of there! Which is essentially the same thing. But at least you could be doing something to deal with the things going on around you.

But your worries exist only in your mind. There’s nothing you can do about them, because they’re not real, and that only adds to your worried feelings of helplessness.

Ebola isn’t the only thing people worry about, of course, but it’s one of the biggest stories on the news at the moment. It’s creating a lot more worried people out there. And worried people do stupid things.

There’s so many things that people worry about. You can see a list of our 30 biggest worries over at PsychCentral, along with the ‘most common effects of worry’ which include:

  • Sleepless nights
  • Arguments with partner
  • Poor performance at work
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Paranoia

The best way to overcome your habit of worrying too much is to repeat the Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Turn it into a mantra. Meditate on it. Think about it all the time. If you know you can’t change something, then just accept it. Deal with what’s real in your life, not what’s imaginary in your mind.

You can certainly take action to minimise risks in your life if you know that your worries have the potential of becoming real. It’s called preparation. For example, you might be worried that your area is subject to earthquake or storm, so your worries will lead you to take adequate preparations, just in case something bad happens. You might stock up on food, water and medical supplies. Just in case. And that’s perfectly fine.

If you’re worried about Ebola, you can read up on it and understand what the risks are. You can understand that the only way to catch Ebola is to come in contact with the bodily fluids from a current Ebola sufferer. So as long as you don’t touch a guy who’s hemorrhaging from his eyes, nose, ears and mouth, you’ll be fine – that’s the only way to catch Ebola.

The more you learn about what worries you, the less you’ll be worried, because you’ll come to understand that 1) your worries are unfounded, and 2) what you need to do to minimise any real world risks.

Accept the things you cannot change. Have the courage to do what you can to change the things you can change. And develop the wisdom to know the difference.

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