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Lucy Mangan on why it's OK to feel vulnerable in these dark times

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These days, if I’m really honest, I try and walk on the side of the road with railings in case a car driven by someone intent on hitting pedestrians – and the headlines – mounts the pavement. And where once I was all about the loos and nearest croissant dispensary, I’m now more likely to subtly note the nearest escalator and exits in any new building I’m in. I have friends who quietly gave away concert tickets in the wake of the terrible Manchester Arena deaths, others who can’t always deal with the Tube and one or two who have started wearing trainers to work so that they can run if their commute takes a sudden turn for the worse.

You could argue that these discreet adjustments are a sign of weakness – an erosion of the Blitz spirit that is supposed to course thrillingly through our veins at all times. But as the latest wave of horrors breaks over us – the 59 (at time of writing) people killed and over 500 injured at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, not to mention two women slain by a knifeman in Marseille, and the shocking violence in Spain – I actually think the opposite is true.

Rather than worrying that we’re letting the side down, we should take a moment to consider that we are all doing really, really well. Really, really well not to be screaming in perpetual panic and trying to run in 14 directions at once. Really, really well just to be carrying on with our jobs, lives, families and friends while extremists, racists and terrorists of all kinds try to imperil, destabilise and poison us with their various actions, claims and beliefs.

For we are living in extraordinarily upsetting and stressful times and – even if you are lucky enough not to have been affected directly by any of the awful individual events that have occurred over the last few years – it is really, really hard.

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Volunteers build a memorial to those killed at the mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay hotel, Las Vegas.

It takes a lot of energy just to corral your thoughts and fears and keep acting normally. I didn’t realise how much until the news of nuclear missile testing broke and my immediate feeling was one of relief that – imminent incineration aside – at least I could consolidate all my wandering anxieties into one giant one.

Frankly, expecting to exist alongside such threats and not have the occasional wobble is unrealistic. But crossing the street, catching a bus or slipping on a pair of trainers now and then are temporary amendments and adaptations. We all need to tuck in, put some slack back into our overstretched nervous systems and regather our mental strength now and then. I bet even the people in the Blitz cowered in the deepest, darkest recess of the nearest air raid shelter now and again and swore they wouldn’t emerge until Churchill himself came and gave the all-clear.

What’s important is that we don’t let those moments join up. What began as brief rest mustn’t become a whole new way of life. Those superficial – and really, in many ways quite sensible – adjustments to changing times can’t be allowed to run deeper. Crossing a road to walk behind a barrier is one thing. Crossing it to avoid people we have been told to fear by those keen to stoke paranoia and unrest is quite another.

We need to use the energy saved by doing the former to fight against those who urge the latter. Protect your body, of course, but protect your mind too. Because that’s all that those who seek to harm really want.

Images: Alexandre Godreau / Rex Features

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