MANAGING FEAR DURING THIS PANDEMICMarch 29, 2020
PAUSE whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath (or several)! This will help calm your body and expand your window of tolerance for all the unknowns we are absorbing right now. The feelings of fear and worry you may be experiencing around this pandemic are normal, especially as news continues to flood us. And while we don’t have control over what information continues to come our way, we have complete control over how we RESPOND to the feelings we experience.
In order to respond effectively, we need to first PAUSE and TAKE DEEP BREATHS. This helps activate our parasympathetic nervous system so we can move through our day with the best parts of our brain (pre-frontol cortex) in the driver’s seat and ready to roll.
Practice this skill of pausing all throughout your day. Interrupt negative thought/behavior patterns by simply slowing down.
2. Calm your mind by taking charge of your THOUGHTS.
The feelings of fear or worry activate more primitive parts of our brain, like the amygdala, and shut down the higher order functioning parts of our brain, like the prefrontal cortex. So, when we let these feelings and thoughts of fear take over, we are letting go of one our biggest assets – the rational and logical part of us! It’s important for our brains to stay “online” during times of high stress as our emotions and catastrophic thoughts try to convince us we can’t handle what’s in front of us.
Here’s the deal though – WE CAN handle it! Tell yourself this over and over. We do hard things all the time and we find people who love us and support us through those times.
When worry or fear shows up, thank it for trying to protect you, but remind yourself of the following TRUE statements:
This might be tough but we will get through this.
I have control over how I treat myself and those around me. And I choose grace and kindness.
Nothing lasts forever.
I am strong and can handle this.
We’re safe. Keep calm and carry on.
Find what works for you by playing with a few statements. REPLACE the narrative of worry and fear with these helpful statements to interrupt unhelpful thought patterns.
3. Calm your mind by taking charge of your BEHAVIORS.
While we cannot control many things happening around us or how this pandemic unfolds, we CAN CONTROL OUR BEHAVIORS. When you notice yourself getting lost in the news, drowning in worry or feeling helpless, think of ALL that you do have control of:
Establish/keep a regular routine.
Shower and get dressed for the day, even if you’re teleworking.
Go for a walk if possible (maintaining your distance from others, of course).
Implement an exercise routine that can be done in your house. The internet is filled with endless ideas around this. Maybe instead of scrolling the news, find some stretching routines!
Eat balanced meals and drink plenty of water. Avoid increased caffeine and alcohol intake.
Find activities that activate your parasympathetic nervous system: adult coloring books, reading, writing, puzzles, painting, doodling, baking/cooking, giving yourself a foot massage, taking a bath, cleaning, etc.
Practice mindfulness by:
Doing one thing at a time
Observing your surroundings. You may be surprised by the things around you that go
unnoticed in the busyness of your day-to-day.
Hopping off the worry train – imagine that each thought you have is a car of a train that is passing by. Some of those thoughts are positive, some negative, and some are neutral. Decided what “thought cars” you want to get on and what ones you need to just let pass. We are not our thoughts or feelings; they are just parts of us and they will pass if we don’t engage with them.
Look outside yourself – often times when we are consumed with fear and worry, the world we live in gets really small and we become the center of it. Step outside that unrealistic world and think about how you can give to others who may be in even greater need than yourself.
4. EMPOWER yourself.
Be responsible and smart. Then relax. Cultivate GRATITUDE and SHARE it with others.
Follow hygiene guidelines provided by the CDC.
If you need to go outside, keep your distance and be smart about it.
Don’t allow fear to take over your mind by using replacement statements and self soothing skills. Imagine your thoughts are on a train – some just need to pass through town.
Go on a news fast. For real! Avoid news digging. Check the CDC periodically for updates but resist the urge to stay glued to the TV or your phone and distract with more fulfilling activities.
Put on music. Do something creative. Cook something delicious and feed those you love. Creativity and enjoyment can shift your mood from overwhelm to happier and more hopeful.
Connect with your loved ones, both those you live with and those at a distance. Research shows that connection is an effective antidote to stress, both in its effect on our mood and our physical well-being.
Practice a body scan meditation to better understand where you may be storing your stress.
5. Choose LOVE instead of fear.
One of the worst things we can do during this time is let our fear threaten our capacity for compassion. Instead of letting fear drive our thoughts, feelings, and actions – ACT OPPOSITE OF FEAR by extending love and grace.
Call your family and friends to spread love and compassion.
Set up group video calls with co-workers you normally would grap coffee or lunch with.
If you go to the store, ask neighbors who are self-quarantining if you can pick something up for them.
Talk as a family about how you can make a contribution to keeping everyone healthy by supporting health care professionals and people who are vulnerable.
When you notice that you’re feeling afraid, develop a positive habit to empower yourself. For instance, send loving thoughts to someone in the world who needs compassion at this moment. Will they feel it? Maybe. It can’t hurt to try. And you will definitely feel it. Studies on Loving Kindness Meditation show that when we feel love, we feel happier and less anxious. Our bodies relax, allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to take over, and optimizing our immune response.
Say a prayer
Write a letter or e-mail to someone you’re thinking about.
Be kind to yourself – both in your words and actions!
6. Stay CONNECTED.
While we all may be keeping our physical distance from each other right now, WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER. Remember, whatever you are feeling and thinking – you’re likely not along. Reach out to others via phone or e-mail. Connect over common interests and hopes/goals not just the dread of what you’re feeling now. Schedule in times to stay engaged with one another, even from a distance.
Use this time as an opportunity to engage in new games or creative endeavors with your partner or family. You may be surprised what you still have to learn about one another.
Connect with local churches or organizations who may be working together to support those in highest need during this time. Combat a sense of powerlessness in this time by doing something meaningful and impactful for others.
7. Practice GRATITUDE.
And finally, it’s important to remember that the reality is that someone is likely in a worse situation than you. Maybe as a result of this pandemic they’ve lost their job or even worse, lost a loved one. Practice GRATITUDE right now by writing out all that you feel like to have in this moment. Do this daily.