Exploring Human Potential

Fear Levels and Health

Posted on | April 30, 2008 | No Comments

What we’re still learning from 9/11In a recent Health Commentary essay I addressed the need for positive leadership in our society, specifically in creating the potential for a unified approach to reforming our health care system. I’ve been interested in positive leadership for many years, have written about it extensively, and believe we are suffering from a terrible dearth of it at the moment.

One of the factors that accentuates the need for positive leadership today is the corrosive impact of fear in our society following 9/11. I have frequently referenced a commencement address that I gave at St. Thomas Aquinas College in 2004 which, in part, addresses this problem. I believe our nation continues to suffer the impact of 9/11, and that in order to recover, we must deliberately direct ourselves toward positive challenges which we might accomplish together.

In this week’s video, embedded with this blog post, I quote from that address extensively (you can also read a full transcript of it – see the link below.) I encourage you to watch the video or read the transcript to find out more about research I conducted after 9/11 that led me to these feelings. In a nutshell, my study of residents of the five boroughs of New York City revealed that in the months and years after 9/11, their anxieties and fears seemed to heal at a surface level — but the reality was that they harbored significant anguish and mental disruption deeper within.

Since 9/11, our fear as a nation – while not as acute, perhaps, as New York’s, has been plainly evident. Fear was and remains now, with events in Iraq and elsewhere, an ever-present companion for many Americans. This is not a theoretical concern but quite tangible in day to day life for many.

The impact on our health? Obviously, a society caught in the grip of lurking anxiety is not optimally healthy – and it faces more of a challenge in fulfilling its health potential. A fear burden on this level has broad societal implications beyond personal health. It undermines worker productivity, safety and security and the level and tone of civic dialogue as a segment of leaders play to the fear of citizens in pursuit of related or unrelated goals.

In an atmosphere like this the last thing we need is leadership based on negativity and exploitation of our fears. A new awareness of the need for fear management needs to be a major priority in our schools of public health, and public servants need to be especially careful about using fear as currency for short-term objectives.

Please watch this week’s video to learn more about the specific findings of my study of fear and anxiety following 9/11 – and tell me how you feel about this topic.

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