Untangled: Why are we so scared?
by Maram Behairy
The whole world has anxiety nowadays. Even before the pandemic, I often found myself imagining scary events at the supermarket, at the playground, at a traffic light, on and on and on…My mind was doing its job, preparing for the worst-case scenarios.
Fear makes sense for survival. In the world before Publix and the police, humans had to hunt for food and protect themselves–the law of the jungle or the African plains. Imagine a gazelle running from a lion. Her fear pushes her into high gear to escape the threat. Once the threat has passed, she shakes her body and moves on with life. Maybe that’s why we tremble in fear? Actually, shaking is a therapeutic method to release trauma.
We often feel like that gazelle. In reality, no lions are chasing us. Yet, there are many lions in our mind—constantly showing us possible ways we can get hurt. While it’s natural for our mind to strategize survival, it is not entirely natural to be so scared all the time. The problem is that we are over-informed about the absolute worst of humanity. It’s no longer the village grandma spreading local news. The result is we have an imbalanced and overly negative view of reality.
Living in a constant state of fear has a cost. Some people go on the offensive when scared. Others become hermits and hide. Either way, fear hinders creativity and productivity. We cannot thrive when we are trying to survive.
But we aren’t gazelles. We aren’t meant to just survive and propagate. Allah SWT created us to build and improve this earth, which is the essence of our purpose as a “khalifa.”
وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَنْ يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
When your Lord said to the angels, “I am placing a successor on earth.” They said, “Will You place in it someone who will cause corruption in it and shed blood, while we declare Your praises and sanctify You?” He said, “I know what you do not know.” (Quran 2:30)
So we have to figure out how to get to the thriving part. Our minds are wired to exaggerate the threats and minimize the positive experiences. To thrive in our current world, we need to do a little extra work to program the good in humanity to rebalance ourselves and our world. In the next post insha’Allah, I will share some practical tips on rebalancing our negatively-inclined brains.
Hadith for supplication for anxiety:
Blog post on overcoming negativity bias:
Article about physical shaking to release trauma:
About the Author:
Maram Behairy is a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and heads the writers’ group of South Florida Muslim Federation
‘I like to understand the bigger picture, deeper reasons, and nuanced connections. I have always been more interested in the roots under the ground than the fruit above. I complicate and explore in order to find the simple, deep truths. I live those with conviction. My dream is to use my gift for words to inspire and guide others to live with purpose and greater ease. So as I experiment on myself, I will share what I learn along the way. My roles in life (by default my areas of exploration) include being a Muslim, woman, wife, mother, writer, and youth mentor.’
Have a question for the author or want to reach her? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.