The Boston bombing has shaken Americans like nothing since 9/11. We're afraid. Who could do such a thing? Are we next? The fear multiplies, threatening to take over our thoughts.
Having lived with anxiety disorder for 25 years, I have what I like to think of as a deeper-than-average relationship with fear. I've been to the emergency room mistaking panic for a heart attack. My agoraphobia has made a walk to the corner store a challenge. Even when I'm doing well, I have to steel myself to take BART or drive over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Talk therapy, drug therapy, biofeedback, meditation -- I've tried them all. I've also read books about fear by neuroscientists, sociologists, psychiatrists. Nowadays, when panic strikes, I understand exactly what's happening -- and I've got the tools to make good decisions despite the fight-or-flight impulses.
The most important of these tools is to face fear honestly and directly, questioning the unrealistic stories we tell ourselves about what we fear. It allows me to realize my heartburn isn't a heart attack.
We could have used tools like these after 9/11. But instead of focusing on the true cause of our fear we distracted ourselves with existential threats du jour like WMDs and the Axis of Evil. Duct tape and shopping was the advice, leaving us the impossible task of both engaging and forgetting our fear.