Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

These words are a paraphrase of remarks made by Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his first presidential inauguration. Those were difficult times, recovering from the Great Depression and with a World War looming on the horizon. One could argue that back then there was a lot to actually fear.

Aside from how our anxieties affect us at work, school and in relationships, I regularly see how fear plays an outsized role in the realm of physical fitness.

I have worked with many clients with a variety of fears: fear of doing a certain exercise, fear of entering in a 5K, fear of looking foolish in the gym, fear of disappointing their trainer, etc. This can often be paralyzing. It can prevent us from engaging in the fitness activities that can help us to avoid the kinds of injuries and illnesses that we should legitimately fear.

I know that every time I have competed in a race (obstacle course, 1/2 marathon or triathlon), my overwhelming emotion beforehand is fear. I am afraid that I won’t finish the race, or that I might hurt myself, or that I will do so poorly that I will be a disappointment to myself or others. It is irrational since none of these have ever happened, but still it occurs.

As someone who has dealt with anxiety and even panic attacks, I know that this fear can prevent us from living a life of adventure, fulfillment and even love. There comes a time, though, when we have to take an informed and prepared leap of faith. I wouldn’t say that a person should conquer their fear of running a 5K by waking up one morning to do one; it requires preparation and training. The process of getting ready can help give us the confidence to overcome our anxieties.

We should be aware of the crippling role that fear can play in our lives. We must remind ourselves of how strong and courageous and deserving of good things we are. We must also work hard to reach our goals. Accept the fear. Stare it down…and then set it aside. The only thing we have to fear…is truly fear itself.

What Are We So Afraid Of?

fear

I was working with a client earlier today who qualifies as an older adult; she is one of those folks who comes to the gym but says that “it is not really her thing.” She cannot really understand why people do it…and if it weren’t for her husband, I don’t know if she would be there at all. As we were discussing this topic (not for the first time), her husband chimed in, stating that the reason why he works out is to avoid “the walker.”

Older adults who do work out are motivated by a number of factors. For some, they really enjoy it–especially the social aspect of being at the gym. For others, it is just a habit that was picked up earlier in life. And for others, it is motivated by fear. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

A recent study commissioned by the home healthcare company, Home Instead Senior Care Network, surveyed older adults about their biggest fears. The top 3:

  1. Losing Independence.
  2. Declining Health.
  3. Running Out of Money.

Losing independence is complicated, because it can actually be a result of #2 and #3. Other research I have seen shows that the biggest fear is loss of cognitive function; they dread a body that still works and mind that is no longer there. This would certainly result in loss of independence. In any case–especially in the USA–independence is a core value and it is not surprising that we fear losing it as we get older; we do not want to have to rely on others.

Declining health is also complicated. It’s not just about dementia, but about being incapacitated, in pain or greatly impaired. Older adults envision a retirement or later life filled with activity and enjoying the well-earned fruits of one’s labors. It is understandable that we fear that our health may rob us of these things.

Finally, running out of money–also complicated. Many adults have not provided adequately for retirement, even though they think they have. With seniors living longer and longer, what might have been enough money even ten years ago may be underestimated today. No one knows what the status of Social Security will be, but the system is being stressed with more seniors and a declining birthrate. Never mind leaving an inheritance, we worry that we won’t have enough for medicine, food and housing.

So, should we live in fear? The good news is that it is almost never too late to begin addressing these fears. This leads us back to my client; the choices we make today will affect what our later years will look like. An hour or two at the gym can be the difference between independence and having to rely on family, friends or “the system” later in life. While it is true that there are certain medical conditions that we cannot anticipate, many of the health issues in our society are the result of poor lifestyle choices. We can always improve our diet, our exercise, not too mention quitting smoking and limiting our alcoholic consumption. Running out of money? If we take care of ourselves now, we decrease the likelihood that chronic and devastating illnesses will hit us later on; this not only has health implications, but monetary ones as well.

FDR said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Each of these fears can be addressed. We do not need to let them scare us into inaction; on the contrary, they should spur us to the kinds of activities that will help us avoid the things we fear the most.

We are living longer. Let’s not approach older adulthood with fear. Let’s face it with a sense of bold optimism!