By Yvonne Rheinschmidt PhD LPC & Scott Rheinschmidt MA LPC
Yesterday, I was asked by a medical doctor what my thoughts were on how people are reacting to the Coronavirus. She shared with me that one of her patients came into her office wearing a mask and gloves. In seeing this everyone in the office feared the worse. The patient stated that she was not there because of the virus. She was just trying to be cautious. This incident is a reality of how the messages in our brains are filtered into thinking the worse. In Psychology, we refer to this process as the negative bias. Negative bias can strongly affect our emotions and behaviors then in turn distort our decision making and even destroy our relationships.
The negativity bias is as old as what I call “the Cain and Abel Syndrome”. We naturally see our cup half empty than half full. Our thoughts get fixated on such issues as our past mistakes, hurtful comments and negative events. Thus, the negativity bias naturally directs us to think the worst in others and the worse in every situation. Pope Francis once said that fear causes illness in people and in the church too; it causes paralysis and selfishness, and in the end, spoils the air of a community.
So, the question comes down to how to overcome the negativity bias. God gives us the answer through his Word: 365 times the Bible states “fear not”. The beauty of such a statement is that we can start every day with “fear not” expect leap year, of course on February 29th. Good news is that day has already passed this year! Jesus tells us directly how to overcome fear.
Peace, I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubles and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
Many of you have heard me say that emotions are God given. The emotion of fear has its rightful place in keeping us alive. Fear needs to be managed by the wisdom of our mind. Yes, we do need to look both ways before crossing the street, however we need to cross the street to move forward in life. Caution is a fear-based word, but it enables us to use wise judgment such as washing our hands and remembering the hygiene our parents taught us in order to prevent the spread of viruses.
Using the breath of life, we can calm ourselves when fear is present. Then we can use the wisdom that God gives us in order to deal every situation with proper judgement and ultimately live a more peaceful life. Pope Francis stated that the path to peace has to start with reconciliation which entails renouncing our desire to dominate others and learning to see one another as persons, sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters.