Yesterday, I cycled to a large grocery store to stock up on disinfectant, soap and bleach. It was the first time I’d ventured out to buy anything in the last two weeks and already, COVID-19 is way more widespread than it was last time I was there. Although the store now had rules and extra sanitation in place, and a greeter controlling how many of us were allowed in, I honestly felt I was taking my life in my hands. So this is what it’s like, I thought, to walk through a minefield.
We all get scared sometimes. And we need to be kind to ourselves when we do.
Many different situations can trigger fear. Currently, the coronavirus is our great collective fear, threatening the health and economic wellbeing of the entire world. It will have a profound effect on our human psyche and behaviours for many years to come. And while other concerns may pale beside a pandemic, nonetheless, those anxieties are real and relevant too, whether it’s about being abused, or being in debt, suffering isolation, or whatever else, we should never minimize our feelings.
Humans instinctively experience fear. According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, fight or flight in prehistoric times meant you avoided becoming a predator’s meal. Fear has ensured our survival ever since.
However, living with continuous, overpowering fear can present its own set of health issues, such as stress, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular-related problems.
What can we do, then, to cope with our fears? During these pandemic times and beyond?
For those of you who read my memoir Rag Dolls and Rage, you may recall psychotherapy helped me enormously. I am not a doctor, nor do I pretend to have the answers. But what I can offer, based on my visits to Dr. Beal, as well as readings and life experience, is a short list of strategies that have helped me. Many are informed by mindfulness and common sense. Others by exercise and social engagement. You are welcome to try them. I hope they can work for you too.
Develop a detached response to scary things
This means reacting from a place of observation rather than a place of emotion. It’s something that needs practice, but is what I’ve done in many situations; e.g., What can I do to get myself out of this fix or at least make the best of it? In my case, I’ve had times where I’ve gone into a type of automatic mode: my brain telling my body what to do and when. (I believe I started doing this during traumatic childhood experiences, and the technique stayed with me.) Be aware of your thought patterns during fearful or negative events, because they will in turn instigate physical reactions. You may have an emotional reaction such as trembling, feeling frozen (as is “fight, flee or freeze”), palpitations, nausea, insomnia, rapid breathing and so on. Or you can have a detached reaction—imagine yourself as a tennis judge, sitting on one of those tall seats, high up. From up there, you watch yourself below and direct your body as to what to do. Like I said, it takes practice.
Write down one or two mantras and keep them with you, or else memorize them. Say them to yourself when something scares you. This can help you diminish negative reactions. For instance, I can’t change this situation, so I’ll make the best of it or Stay low key and breath and it’ll be okay. Whatever works for you.
Do something physically soothing
In Britain where I grew up, it’s a custom to “put the kettle on” in a crisis. I find that drinking tea is wholly soothing. For you, it may be a bubble bath, a bag of chips, a book, polishing the car or a walk. Focusing on your physically comforting thing means that you’re living in the moment, which puts apprehension aside. Think of your soothing activities as a vacation from your worries.
Talk to somebody
When we feel scared, it helps to call a person we’re comfortable with for a chat. There are also hotlines for people with anxiety and depression (see my shieldyourself.net site for numbers—although the topic there is bullying, many of the 1 800 numbers are for any person in distress). Talking to people means we’re connecting with our fellow humans. We are, after all, pack animals. We need and support each other. Know too, that you may need to seek professional help if your emotions become too difficult to handle alone. For those of you who read my book, you’ll recall I saw Dr. Beal for a year, and that this psychotherapy helped me enormously. Other professionals include life guides, ministers, social workers and talk-group leaders. Because remember, being scared is sometimes due to past associations, and you may, in fact, be suffering from a form of PTSD, OCD or panic disorder. So, talking to someone can certainly help. If not a specialist, then anyone you’re comfortable with. That’s what friends are for.
Remember, there are many of us who get what you’re going through, because we’ve been there too. You are not alone. I wish you the very best. And in these times of COVID-19, keep safe. You are part of our collective whole and you are an important human being.