Since it’s now October, and Halloween is just around the corner, I decided to focus this month’s blog on things that are scary; perhaps not scary in the Halloween-ish “ghosts and goblins” sense, but more like “every day” fears and phobias.
I remember my earliest fears being somewhat irrational: though I rarely admit it, as a child I recall being oddly terrified of the Looney Tunes cartoon character Yosemite Sam as my family now likes to jokingly remind me. Whether our fears are rational or not, many of us are afraid of something. And even though there exist many faith-based perspectives on fear that suggest that individuals “be not afraid,” phobias can be very challenging aspects of life.
Though I’m no longer afraid of Yosemite Sam, I still have some other phobias. Spiders, snakes, bugs – most “creepy-crawly” things are big ones. With a fear of germs and illness, I’m also a germaphobe. I suggest that this is a “moderate” fear that I have, but colleagues and friends might believe this phobia to be more “extreme,” using my pandemic-era behaviors of frequently using hand sanitizer, wearing gloves, and regular masking even though I’m vaccinated as evidence. Although my family and I have not been negatively impacted to the same extent as many others during this pandemic, you can likely appreciate that navigating the Covid-era has been a challenge for me as someone with a fear of germs.
Often, fears can drive behavior. As someone who studies Organizational Behavior, I am fascinated by how this occurs, especially because fear can elicit behaviors that have positive or negative outcomes. As a personal, positive example, because of my germaphobia, I resisted getting a haircut during the pandemic for 15 months. Yes, I became that professor walking around campus with a scraggly beard (albeit mostly covered by a mask) and long hair in a ponytail. I really didn’t like having long hair though. So as soon as my hair got long enough and I was vaccinated, I braved my fear and got my hair cut and donated it to an organization that provides wigs free of charge to children suffering with hair loss. I like to think of this as a positive outcome of my germaphobia. Beyond this example, though, it is not uncommon that individuals work hard to conquer their fears, which can result in positive outcomes and behaviors.
On the other hand, I have also witnessed negative behaviors when fear becomes extremely difficult to overcome. Sometimes fear can be so great that it leads to negative behaviors or even a lack of behaviors, and that absence of behavior could be harmful to self or others. Since I study workplace behaviors, I have seen evidence that having fear related to one’s work can lead to decreased performance, motivation, satisfaction and commitment.
Though difficult, we want to channel our fears into positive behaviors. I have no catch-all suggestions for how to do this, unfortunately. But, I am interested to hear about any techniques that you’ve found helpful in channeling your fears toward positive behaviors.
I’m always excited to hear from you, and I’m interested to hear more about what you are afraid of. How has it impacted your behaviors?
Dr. Mike Urick