It sits in the back of Prince Harry’s mind.
Lurking. Languishing. Lying dormant. How could it not?
He will always live in fear that he and his wife, Duchess Meghan, will face the same fate as his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a car accident following paparazzi chasing her limousine in 1997.
So when Harry and Meghan say they, too, were in a car chase recently in New York, everyone paused and wondered. Was this the moment? Was “history repeating itself,” as Harry worried in an interview with Oprah Winfrey several years ago?
We don’t know many of the details surrounding the Tuesday evening incident, nor do we know how Harry and Meghan may be impacted by it going forward.
“Experiencing trauma is one thing; experiencing your worst fear is another altogether,” says Miranda Nadeau, licensed psychologist. “When you believe your worst fear is coming true, the distress and overwhelm can be on another, more intense level even compared to trauma. Seeing our worst fear becoming a reality can shatter our sense of safety and stability.”
Mental health professionals say even just thinking your worst fear is coming true is traumatic, and therapy and mindfulness can help cope in situations like these.
Prince Harry, Meghan, cars and paparazzi fears
Harry has been very open about his mental health and the trauma he’s faced in the wake of his mother’s death. He’s also been actively litigious against tabloids for attacking him and Meghan in the press. But confronting what can feel like a threat to one’s safety is another endeavor altogether.
“When confronted with a perceived threat, like in Harry and Meghan’s experience, our brain activates the amygdala, which plays a significant role in processing fear and triggering the body’s stress response,” Nadeau says. “Research on the psychological consequences of traumatic events suggests that an appraisal of an event as one’s ‘worst fear’ leads to even higher levels of distress and more severe anxiety and depression than a trauma that wasn’t one’s worst fear.”
Such trauma may lead to intense worry in everyday life.
“If a person experienced a traumatic event firsthand or vicariously, they may struggle with anxiety, stress and intrusive thoughts about it reoccurring,” says Chase Cassine, licensed clinical social worker. “Because the trauma they witnessed or experienced serves as living proof that the worst case scenario can happen and could potentially be a sign that the traumatic event may happen again.”
‘A sense of impending doom’
Staring down your worst fear specifically may send sharp shivers down your spine. “It may lead to a deep sense of helplessness, despair and a loss of control,” Nadeau says. “You can also experience a sense of impending doom, restlessness, difficulty concentrating and even physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating or trembling. These reactions are part of the body’s natural fight-or-flight response to perceived danger.”
No two people will react to trauma the same way. “Some people might avoid the fear, which might leave them inside, away from cars or heavy traffic, and away from the public,” says Shavonne Moore-Lobban, a licensed psychologist. Others may confront the fear in an effort to gain control.
“Sometimes, some people find the focus and strength needed to act accordingly and successfully navigate a precarious situation; think of a time you navigated a crisis with calm, courage and precision,” says Cecille Ahrens, a licensed clinical social worker. “It is a complex chemical process, however since our nature is to try to ‘survive’ a dangerous environment, we will do what we believe we need to do in order to protect ourselves.”
Trauma and the role therapy can play in healing
Therapy may be the right answer for some people who want to work through their trauma. While we can’t know what will happen in the future, we can prepare our minds and bodies to process anything that comes our way.
“The goal is to help the person be able to emotionally and psychologically ‘unpack,’ feel the emotions in a manageable way and put the event into perspective, one that is personally meaningful to the person and supportive to their healing and recovery,” Ahrens adds.
Nadeau notes no one-size-fits-all approach exists, and that self-care, too is a viable option, “like mindfulness meditation and restorative yoga, or engaging and activating practices, like physical movement and hobbies that bring you joy.”
Harry himself has previously discussed using EMDR to cope flying into London (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), a popular tool therapists use to help patients dealing with trauma.
Talking about feelings is an important first step; the trauma won’t heal overnight.
“Healing and moving forward after your worst fear is realized takes time and patience,” Nadeau says. “It’s essential to be compassionate with yourself throughout the process and allow yourself to grieve, heal and rebuild at your own pace.”