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Just because you feel afraid doesn't mean you have to act afraid.

If you haven't noticed, fear or at least anxiety is in the air. All you need to do is look deeply into people's eyes — from Jane and John Doe to Presidential candidates — and you'll see it. And the place it is most visible is in the contrast between what you see in their eyes and the expression of their mouths which are trying in vain to cope with it.

Fear usually takes on one of two manifestations or a combination or alternation of both.

FEARFUL AVOIDANCE - This makes sense intuitively. When people feel afraid, they hunker down or bunker in. Their their cheek bones are sunken in and their mouths are downcast. They look as if they'll either run or start crying if you say, "Boo!" to them.

You'll see it in John McCain's face when he knows he's going to be asked a question about Gay marriage by Ellen Degeneres or the economy that is above his head.

You'll see a slightly different version in Barack Obama's face when he knows he's going to be asked a question about Reverend Wright. His look is more one of exasperation as if to say, "Do we really need to go through this for the umteenth time?"

FEARFUL AGGRESSION - This is the confusing one and most discombobulating and counter-intutitive one. It is what show dog's do where they growl when they are afraid. It has to be trained out of them or else they'll never win "Best in Show." In fact we watched several cases of it in the comedy movie of the same name.

In this manifestation, people bare their teeth instead of their neck. The speed and pitch of their voice increases and the inflection at the end of their most substantive statements seem more adamant (or at times strident) than authoritative.

It usually occurs in people who are very controlled, controlling and distrustful. It happens because they have experienced some upset which as caused them to feel vulnerable and in danger. This reflexly causes them to counter attack to prevent a second upset when they are in a vulnerable positon and that second blow threatens to undo them.

Hillary Clinton and intermittently now, Bill Clinton, seem to be demonstrating this mode. It is going so poorly for them because anxiety feels contagious and although they may come across as forceful on the surface, the anxiety the belies this starts to stir up our own.

What can you do if you suffer from fearful avoidance or fearful aggression?

Here are six steps that might help you calm yourself down and prevent you from shooting from the hip and shooting yourself in the foot.

The 6 Steps to Managing Fear™

  1. React - don't deny that you're upset and afraid, instead say it to yourself (vs. acting on it) and give it those names. Matthew Lieberman at UCLA has said that when you accurately give a name to a feeling and say it, it lessen Amygdala activation and prevents that from part of your brain from hijacking you away from you common sense and calm.
  2. Release - after you have admitted it, breathe deeply and slowly through your nose with your eyes closed and let it go. Keep doing this as long as it takes to let it go.
  3. Relax - after you have released it, keep breathing and r-e-l-a-x. This will allow you to begin to regain your inner balance.
  4. Recenter - keep breathing and let yourself go from Defcon 1 back down to Defcon 3 and 5. It may help to say these words as you go through this transition: "Oh f***!" "Oh sh**." "Oh geez." "Oh well..."
  5. Refocus - start to think of what you need to do now and today to make it the best (or least lousy) day under these circumstances.
  6. Re-engage - if you have had your eyes closed up to now, open them and then go back to what you need to do.

(c) 2008 Mark Goulston


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