Viewpoint: Fear is normal and natural 

By Andrew McMullan 

Are you scared? I am, and that is a good thing. 

Fear is a natural reaction in all humans, indeed all animals, when confronted with danger. If you are scared right now about the pandemic, that is a normal and appropriate response – it means you have a very strong desire to live. When threatened, we instinctively react with a flight or fight syndrome; adrenaline rushes, blood pressure increases, etc., to defend us against a threat to our lives. Normal and Natural. 

A Navy flight student was on a solo training flight in his A-4 Skyhawk when his only engine quit. He was on downwind in the landing pattern and bravely “dead-sticked” it into an emergency landing rather than ejecting. Fellow pilots went nuts at the Officers Club bar that night, buying rounds of drinks and congratulating him on his heroism. The commanding officer of the training squadron convened a Field Naval Aviator Review Board, as is customary following an aircraft accident/incident. Their verdict: NAFODNo apparent fear of death. The board determined that this inexperienced student pilot was not sufficiently scared, and he was washed out of flight training.  

As a retired Naval aviator with 296 carrier arrested landings, 101 at night, I know a little bit about managing fear. A study performed by some Naval flight surgeons on carrier pilots during the Vietnam War found that a carrier pilot’s blood pressure was even higher when preparing to land aboard their aircraft carrier than during the actual combat mission over North Vietnam. Flying a safe and precise carrier landing is primarily a matter of concentration, moving one’s eyes and hands rapidly and correctly to ensure success. Over time, I learned to harness that nervous energy into better performance. 

In these dangerous times, it is perfectly normal to be scared – we all should be. Let us try to turn that apprehension into improved performance as far as our exposure to COVID-19. Take the fight vs. flight response and diligently improve our defenses as per CDC guidelines. Be acutely aware of your surroundings when venturing out of your house. For instance, we no longer frequent a local convenience store because not all staff/customers are wearing masks. We consolidate shopping trips and try to go early in the morning, etc. Turn your fear into improved vigilance. We are our brother’s keeperwear a mask. 

Be safe, be well and it’s OK to be scared – that can make you safer. 

Andrew McMullan is a Lieutenant Commander of the U.S. Navy Reserve (retired) and lives in Bass Harbor.                                                                                                                            

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