Are you nervous about the coronavirus? Maybe you’re beyond nervous. Maybe you’re anxious, and maybe you’re flat terrified. Whether or not we’re willing to admit it, most of us are, at the very least, a bit unsettled. Even as a therapist, I know I’ve felt unsettled, nervous, and even anxious during this time. I’ve had to remind myself what I tell others so often. There are no wrong emotions. They all belong and they will make us stronger when we listen to them. And, if I’ve learned anything in this work it’s that when we try to deny or stuff our emotions, they begin to own us, and will eventually come out in some way or another. We may as well learn to listen to what we’re feeling, lean in to the emotions, even when they don’t feel good, and ask ourselves how we can best respond to them.
Fear, though… We’re taught to fight fear. We’re taught that fear is the opposite of trust. We’re taught we’re weak when we feel fear… Fear has a way with us, doesn’t it? What do we do with fear? What do we do with the fear we feel related to corona and the impact corona has already had on our lives? I’ve been thinking a lot about this, as it relates to me as a wife, a mom, and a leader at Care to Change, and I’ve thought about the people we serve and our community and how we’ve all been responding. What is our best response right now, when fear runs wild in the news, at the grocery store and on social media?
First, maybe it’s best to begin with knowing that fear is not necessarily a bad thing. That’s right. Fear actually acts as an indicator light that alerts our senses and warns us that something dangerous may be ahead. The key is what we do when we notice that indicator light. We may not be able to control when the feeling of fear emerges, but we are definitely in charge of how we respond to it. Let me say that again. We may not be able to control when we feel fear, but we have a choice with how we will respond to it.
Let’s pause and take a moment to remind ourselves what happens when we feel fear. We’ve all heard it before – without a thought, our brains urge us to fight, to flee or to freeze. What might that look like related to corona? Fight might look like over functioning, white knuckling our way to finding solutions, making plan after plan after plan, and yes, even hoarding toilet paper. Flight might look like endless hours of mindless activity such as facebook, instagram, or Netflix. Without a thought we’ve landed on the couch, hands greasy from buttered popcorn and melted candy we’ve been eating like the day before a diet begins. And freeze may look like immobility, difficulty making decisions, or loss of desire to use the quarantine time productively. Where has the last two weeks gone anyway?
So what is the best way to respond, and how do we prevent fear from getting the best of us? First, we need to decide who and what we’ll listen to. It’s difficult to turn on the television, have a conversation, or open social media and NOT see something about corona. Trouble is, most of what is presented is heresay, paid news, and subjective reasoning. Early on I taught my children the concept my kids now refer to as “GIGO” – garbage in, garbage out. If we add it to our minds, our minds eventually turn it into feelings, and in this case, that feeling is fear. Let’s do our minds a favor and limit how much time we allow ourselves to read articles and watch news, but more importantly, let’s be mindful of where that information comes from. If the information doesn’t come from the CDC or local health department, it might be best to skip it all together. Our emotions will follow our thoughts. Let’s practice taking our thoughts captive so that they don’t produce unnecessary fear in us.
Let’s ignore the hype, the speculation, and the scary stories. Instead, let’s listen to reason and to those who are studying the issue directly. They’re out there and they’ve been providing sound information to help us understand this threat so we can protect ourselves and those we care for. Let’s pay attention to their guidelines and take their recommendations for what we need to do.
Second, let’s focus on the things we can control instead of allowing ourselves to become fearful of what’s outside of our control. We can choose what we read, what we watch, who we listen to, and yes, even what we eat. Let’s resist the temptation to go on social media and get worked up by the nonsense people who don’t know better are sharing. Instead, let’s pick up a good book or relax to some of our favorite music. We can also control our attitude. We can have a mindset of generosity. We can control what information we post and share, and we can also control the amount of grace we give to ourselves and to others who might be acting out of fear. Let’s focus on what we can control and the choices we do have.
Third, it’s never a good idea numb fear with alcohol, drugs, food, or other substances. They may offer what seems like temporary relief, but it’s not true or lasting assistance. It’s a trick that brings only momentary relief, and it’ll be even worse after the moment passes. Trust me. We’ve seen the impact of the numbing on families and it’s never positive.
Instead of numbing, let’s be brave enough to answer fear. Pause for a moment to recognize it and call it by name. Pause long enough breathe fully, focusing on the outward breath. Ground yourself as a reminder that some things don’t and won’t change. Then, stare fear straight in the eye and tell it you’re going to move forward anyway, with grace, dignity, and calm. And when you need help doing so, phone a friend or your counselor so they can remind you of things that remain the same in the midst of the rapidly changing situation we’re all facing. Remind yourself you’re not alone in this. Remind yourself to look for the helpers, because we’re out here waiting for you. And remind yourself that as scary as it feels, you ARE making it through this. One day at a time.
When you take those steps and move forward in positive ways, something unexpected begins to happen: Fear gives way to resolve. Anxiety calms in wake of grounding and striving pauses so that you can breathe again. Before you know it, you’re fully present, recognizing the beauty of the moment, noticing that spring is emerging in the daffodils. You’ll begin to hear the lyrics to your favorite song, and you might find yourself singing again. And, you may even find yourself enjoying the reprieve from the all that hustle felt just a few weeks ago.
One last note that I’d be negligent if I didn’t add. If you’ve been trying to get ahead of those fears and feel that you’re falling short, you may benefit from a conversation with one of our professional counselors. Care to Change is available via video or tele-health so that you can find ways that work specifically for you and your situation related to these trying times. We are all in this together, so please take care of you so that we can be a stronger us.
April Bordeau is the Director and a therapist at Care to Change. She has been helping families overcome challenges for over two decades. She specializes in trauma care and is a leader of the Hendricks County Mental Health and Wellness Coalition. Care to Change can be reached by calling or texting 317-790-9396 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.