When I was six years old, I knew my life was in real and present danger. One afternoon, as I was walking home from school alone, a rugged Jeep crept by. There were two men inside in camouflage jackets pointing long-barrelled guns from the window. I could see they were aiming at me, tilting the gun as I moved. Then the Jeep raced off. I remember being totally short of breath, but I didn’t understand what was happening at that moment.
That was the day anxiety crept into my veins like a sticky virus.
This was North Belfast in 1980, often known as the ‘death triangle’ due to its patchwork of Protestant and Catholic areas. As I grew up, I would witness the warm smell of bomb-blast debris, the panic and chaos of street riots, the drilling sounds of helicopters at night, ghost stories of young men disappearing, a local taxi driver murdered. The intro jingle to the news instilled a shiver of dread every day – the Belfast streets you saw on TV then were the ones I played in, walked to school in. This was my life, my home – a land of fear.
Do you sometimes feel as though fear and terror are approaching us, becoming more intense and more heightened? Do you feel more anxious? Do you scan certain people differently when travelling on trains or planes? Not long after the shocking attacks in Paris last November, a friend of mine was working late in London when she heard loud bangs outside the building. She ran out in panic to find people cheering in delight at fireworks in the sky. This is anxiety at work.
It’s clear that this kind of fear culture is detrimental to your mind and your physical health. In a recent study of more than 17,000 adults, Hermona Soreq, a professor of molecular neuroscience in Jerusalem, discovered that anxiety induced by fear of terrorism is associated with increased risk of a heart attack and stroke.
The chances of you experiencing a terror attack are statistically very low, but the chances of you experiencing chronic anxiety from watching the chaotic events in the world are high.
So what can you do about it? Through my own personal journey, from that momentous schoolday aged six to my life today, I can truly say I have the answers – and they lie within you.
Seventeen years ago I discovered the power of meditation and, with it, a freedom to live peacefully and abundantly in the world, no matter how scary it seems. My journey took a lot of work, risk, and rigorous discipline. Along the way, I was confronted with the ultimate fear as I witnessed my mother dying in my arms when I was 25. It turned out that death wasn’t what I feared – no, what I was afraid of was suffering. And anxiety is chronic human suffering. My quest was to find freedom and stillness in the chaos, not stillness from the chaos, and this has fundamentally guided me in life.
Chris Connors is a creative director, mentor, coach and meditation teacher. Tomorow, we'll look at four insights and practices from Chris that may help in putting your fears into perspective