Anxiety vs. threat
As an anxiety therapist, the first step I take with my clients is to help them to determine whether the fear they are experiencing is a threat or anxiety. During this global pandemic, that determination has been difficult to make.
There has been so much confusion about which situations are or are not a threat. As a result, our primitive defenses of “fight or flight” have been chronically activated. And once our threat detection system has been turned on, it can be very difficult to turn it back off again.
The main point of confusion has been the uncertainty about the virus itself. It has taken time for scientists to understand the virus better and its effects on humans, both individually and at a population level. Then there’s the politics. I probably don’t need to say too much about that, but we all know that power, political identity, and conflict have described the response to the pandemic.
Finally, media coverage of the pandemic has emphasized worse-case scenarios. And public health authorities, in the interest of impressing upon the public the importance of vigilance, have over-emphasized the risks to younger people, making it seem that everyone is equally at risk of hospitalization or death.
I believe that this hesitancy to trust the general public with accurate risk assessments for younger people, or the likelihood that vaccinations protect from transmission of the virus to others, has painted an unnecessarily alarmist picture that fuels anxiety and distress.
Once we as humans are in “fight-or-flight” mode, our primitive defenses of avoidance, attack, and worry set in. This makes it difficult to expect good outcomes or regain a sense of security and hope.
At this stage of the pandemic – when vaccination rates are increasing, and more is known about managing the virus – what we need most is a sense of security and hope. In order to do that, we need to be able to discern threat from anxiety. We need to be able to consciously make decisions based on objective data rather than fears of “what-if.”
This is especially relevant in regard to the re-opening of our schools. Teachers are having difficulty recovering from the anxiety of the past year. Since many of them have been able to stay out of the classroom, they haven’t had to face their fears and find out what actually happens when they return to the classroom. As a result, they are still overestimating the actual threat.
One thing to remember about anxiety is that it is never satisfied. You can never do enough to feel “safe.” Because anxiety is not based on real risk, but a fear in your mind and body, any efforts to avoid just make it worse.
I witnessed this process in action at the last school board meeting I attended. The assistant director of public health, Dr. Frankovich, presented to the school board about the actual risks of COVID transmission in the schools. She communicated that the risks are quite low when properly managed, and that enough is now known to recommend a return to in-person instruction, even before the full vaccination of teachers.
She also addressed teachers’ fears of infecting their families by showing evidence that family members are more at risk in the community than any exposure to schools, as well as encouraging vaccination of especially vulnerable family members.
By the time she had finished her presentation, I hoped that this would finally allay the fears of the school district board and staff and lead to prompt action. Despite this, they delayed for another month, deciding that teachers needed to be fully vaccinated before returning to even minimal in-person instruction, contrary to the evidence.
The teachers’ and school board’s resistance and denial makes sense from an anxiety perspective, since there will never be enough evidence to convince our anxiety that a situation is safe. In fact, a school board member said that she wanted the teachers to “feel” safe. I would argue that “feeling” safe is not the issue – actually “being” safe is.
The quest to “feel” safe has led teachers’ unions to further argue about ventilation systems, frequent testing and other factors that the CDC has said are recommended by not required.
We won’t make progress in re-opening schools until we acknowledge that anxiety, not threat, is driving these decisions. There is a cost for such avoidance. For every situation we avoid, we back away from an important value. In this case, the value we are abandoning is the care and nurturing of children.
The teachers and school boards, in labeling their anxiety as a valid threat, are endangering the values of their profession and the well-being of our children. As the parent of two young children who have been home for a year, that saddens me.
I am angry and disappointed that the adults – whose job it is to protect and nurture children – are choosing avoidance and self-protection instead of courage. Our children need to go back to school. Please, teachers and school boards, do not fail them.
Portland fact & fiction
It takes a certain amount of hubris to insist that seeing something on TV makes one more knowledgeable than people who were actually present! (Letters to the Editor, Feb. 17.) I stand by the points I made in the previous letter (Letters to the Editor, Feb. 10), points which were factual and accurate.
The rioters APPROPRIATED symbols from BLM and antifascists – which is not the same as identifying with or supporting “the Antifa (or BLM) cause” (whatever Mr. Dillon meant by that). Again, people who actually WERE antifascists and BLM left before the destruction started – and unlike Mr. Dillon, this letter writer actually is in a position to say that.
The inclusion of the shooting that took place in August (not October, as Mr. Dillon inaccurately claimed) was particularly upsetting. You see, the shooting came at the end of a violent, ISIS-style truck rampage through the city in which the man who was shot had participated.
That came a week after a violent fascist rally downtown where a good number of citizens had been injured. Neither of these events were covered by the national media who reported the shooting as if it occurred in a vacuum.
This is what happened that day: A truck caravan got together at a mall in a different city. There were around 200 people, mostly men, in large, jacked-up trucks with the license plates taped over, flying pro-Trump and American flags.
The people wore T-shirts and caps with trumpista, fascist and neo-Nazi symbols. Many of the trucks had additional people in the beds. These people were armed with guns, pipes, knives, and other visible weapons. Very likely there were also concealed weapons.
They roared off the freeway and into downtown. Once downtown they drove directly to and through a busy mixed residential/retail area, with people walking to the grocery store, sitting at outside bars, walking their dogs.
They ran red lights in attempts to run people down, they shot people with paintball guns (frozen pellets), yelled sexually violent things at women, jumped out of their trucks to physically attack anyone who verbally disagreed with them, brandished their weapons and threatened people. And they laughed while they did it.
And what were the police doing while all this lawbreaking was going on? They stood by and did nothing, even threatening a local reporter with arrest when she tried to file a report on a truck that had struck someone – in full view of a police officer.
This, by the way, is the exact same thing the police had done at the violent rally the week before. Is it surprising then, that a mentally damaged person shot one of the attackers in a confrontation later that afternoon? (And please, don’t pretend that I am “excusing” the killing.)
I would not presume to put out a letter insisting that I know better than a Humboldt local about things that happen here. It absolutely boggles my mind how many people are happy to do just that about Portland.
Two weeks ago I wrote to say our family farm was one of three families being annexed into the city without consultation, notification or our approval. The Creek Side Homes annexation jumped from 21.6 acres to 76.7 acres, all privately owned farmland, in secret.
It would help if the City Council objected to annexation without their knowledge. The letters I have received from councilmembers say that our annexation was not a secret... they just were not told. Lots of reassurance that things would be fine. I have heard no outrage from them about their power being usurped by pro-development bureaucrats in the city employ or pro-development PlanWest acting as freelance county staff. Neither the former Arcata mayor or the current mayor knew they were circulating an EIR to annex us... yet we should relax.
Last night I participated in a “Visioning” meeting for Arcata. Community Development Director Loya, who initiated our secret annexation, explained to us about how community participation was the base of the pyramid with the plan at the peak. His words seemed empty given that he hid our annexation from the council and the landowners and elected officials for eight months.
One participant called for halting development until issues like “road annexation” were addressed. Because of our recent experience I heard it as “rogue annexation.”
The first and only notice we received did not list our properties and provided an illegible map in black and white. The new notice has the same illegible map in color, yet the notification language does not list the annexed parcels – not by street address or APN. This is illegal – a legal notice of annexation must list what parcels – and yet it’s also repeated.
This does not comply with legal notification rules and we object once again and ask for accurate notification to be sent.
I heard citizens at the Visioning caring about supply chains, sustainability and waste, yet our Tule Fog Farm is threatened with development, and we’re the ones taking Tofu Shop, Los Bagels and Pie Store pre consumer waste food for our pigs. So who is listening to the farmers? Who is even asking them? Nobody at the city, it would seem.
Please speak up.