Californians are buying up potassium iodide tablets. The Chinese are hoarding iodized salt. Russians are stocking up on dosimeters (instruments that measure how much ionizing radiation you've absorbed), seaweed, face masks and vodka. Europeans who were exposed to fallout from Chernobyl are suffering with double their normal level of anxiety. Facebook is filled with recipes for detoxing radiation.
It seems that the only thing that spreads further than radiation from a nuclear disaster is the panic it produces around the world.
As the Japanese fire fighters and military struggle valiantly to prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and as hundreds of thousands of evacuees sit patiently in chilly shelters with minimal supplies of food and water, the rest of the world watches with baited breath the direction of the winds that blow the plume away from Japan. The Japanese people who are most at risk for any real problems from radiation seem remarkably calmer than those who are thousands of miles away.
Nuclear experts say the risk to China, Russia, Hawaii or the West Coast of the U.S. is minimal, and explain the amount of radiation that is necessary to cause any toxic health effects. But fear has displaced rational thought, and fear itself has consequences. Fear makes us vulnerable. Fear throws us off balance. Fear can make us take irrational risks. Most importantly, living in a state of fear can actually draw sickness to us, as the stress and anxiety wreak havoc with our immune system.
Are you feeling panicky about potential exposure to radiation? Are you checking the news multiple times a day to see if the wind is blowing in your direction? Are you thinking of rushing out to buy iodine pills?
Here are five tips for releasing the fear you're feeling before it escalates:
- Limit the amount of time you spend watching the same horrific images over and over again. How often have you seen the waters sweeping away the same boat and cars? How often have you shuddered at the pictures of smoke rising from the damaged reactors? Click around if the same images repeat.
- Connect to the earth. Fear pulls you out of your body. Standing with your eyes open and your knees bent, visualize a cord going from your sacrum deep into the earth. Take a few minutes and go outside and walk in a park or on the beach. Spot a crocus pushing up from the snow, or hug a nearby tree. If you live in a warm enough climate to take off your shoes, stand barefoot on the ground. It will make you feel safe and supported.
- Laugh. It's one of the best ways to counter fear. Change the channel and watch a rerun of your favorite comedy. It's hard to think about radiation while Kramer is making one of his spectacular entrances into Seinfeld's apartment.
- Move. Go for a walk, play golf, shoot a few hoops or take a swim. The endorphins released through exercise counteract anxiety.
- Circle the wagons. Fear is limiting; love is expansive. Call your friends. Talk to your family. Go out to dinner with a friend. There is safety in numbers.
And listen to the wisdom of the Hopi elders in their message to us all: "In this time of change, we ask all the people of the world to return to a more balanced way of life ... a return to connecting our heart with the heart of the path to the future."