How to View ‘Fear’ as a Frenemy (And Other Ways to Cope During a Crisis)
I purposely avoid using the words that have been used in the media in this article (just in the title, so you can search and find the resources you need) as it can be a trigger for certain people.
The world is upside down right now.
A picture of O’Hare International Airport shows a swarm of people trying to get back from traveling abroad (don’t Google it; it’s not worth it).
The grocery stores can’t keep enough food on the shelves (again, don’t Google it).
As someone who identifies as a highly sensitive person (HSP) and has acute anxiety disorder, I’ve been fortunate enough to have learned how to cope with my hyper and deep-thinking mindset without the need for medication. But I just popped a half a Xanax, because this shit is real. And you know what — it is what it is.
It’s scary. No doubt about it. We need to respond to the fear, not deny it or be ignorant to it. Fear is a real response — it’s trying to tell us something. In everyday life, if we’re walking through the world with too much fear, our minds tend to play tricks with us (that’s another lesson for another time). We can’t let fear control us, but we should pay attention to what it’s telling us. In this case, it’s how we respond to the fear that matters the most.
Think of a friend that comes up to you and says, “I have some bad news.” For many of us, this would put a chill down our back and trigger some level of anxiousness. But you have two choices here: You can respond by letting the fear control your reaction with defensiveness or look at fear as a flashing red light that’s telling you: “stay alert,” so you can respond effectively.
In this case, we need to look at fear as the red flashing light by doing our part to stop this: washing our hands diligently, staying home, and practicing social distancing rather than going in crowded areas as if we’re invincible to the virus. Instead of trying to suppress our fear, we can respond with compassion by simply saying to ourselves, “thanks for keeping me alert.”
If you’re the type that feels deeply, fear and anxiety will never truly go away, especially in situations like these, but I believe you can find comfort in the fear by responding to it gracefully as the global crisis continues.
If you’re an HSP like me, I’m telling you, it’s going to be hard until all this starts to calm down. Unfortunately, the truth is we don’t know when (I know …). You’re going to feel like you’re being logical one minute and emotionally out of control the next. In my experience so far, this is how I’ve been. Up and down constantly, and it’s exhausting.
Yet, we can’t be effective if we allow ourselves to drown in the fear and absorb our time reading the media. We have to cope in the best way we know how. For instance, if you find comfort in humor, then it’s okay to laugh. Drink that one beer that has the same name in the comfort of your home, why not?
If you’re used to exercising at the gym or with others, it’s still important to keep an exercise routine going, even if that means lifting weights in the comfort of your own home, doing Yoga With Adriene, or putting on an extra layer of clothing to jog in chilly weather.
We not only have to take care of our physical health, but we also can’t let our emotional health suffer. That means managing our emotions in a way that works best for you. All the feelings you’re feeling (as crazy as you may feel at times) are normal. Very normal. But we still need to find ways to continue on without allowing ourselves to emotionally fall apart.
We can emotionally survive this. Together. I have a plan to try and keep my emotional health in check, and I’d love to share it with you, if that’s okay. I really hope it helps:
Be (very, very) kind to yourself
You’re not going to feel like yourself. If you’re the type that likes routine, likes to plan ahead, and likes to have some sense of what’s to come in the near future — you’re going to feel weird and little lost. Now is the time to be very kind to yourself as you cope with feeling angry, scared, confused, disappointed, anxious, depressed, the list goes on. If you’re struggling with managing all the different feelings, you could try philosophical meditation by journaling the answers to three powerful questions.
More than ever you have to show up for yourself as your best friend — it’s time to show self-compassion. You must hope for the best, take a deep breath, and tell yourself over and over again: “I’m going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.” Give yourself a break and embrace all the feels. You have my permission.
One of the best traits of being an HSP is we kind of have a knack for empathy. Put your fear into good use by asking yourself: “What can I do to ease the emotional pain for not just myself but for others?”
For instance, I came across a Facebook post about having kids write to the elderly in nursing homes, since they can’t see or visit with their loved ones during this time. Others are offering food deliveries for seniors who live at home so they can avoid going to the grocery stores.
Find ways that you can support small businesses and restaurants that are going to soon be financially burdened by it all (by a gift card now and use it later), help the elderly so they feel less alone and also more protected, or simply spend that extra quality time with your family or significant other at home (anyone up for Monopoly?).
Practice social distancing, but don’t socially isolate
Even for introverts (like myself), social isolation can take a toll on your well-being. If you live alone, try to buddy up with someone, like a family member or a best friend, and stay home together. Even spending too — “too” being the key word here — much time with the person you live with — whether it’s family, a roommate, or a significant other may also become a bit overwhelming. Schedule virtual calls with friends, family members, and others so you stay closely in touch to avoid feeling isolated. A virtual happy hour with your co-workers as you migrate home to work may also be a good idea.
Plan for today; not the future
If you’re a future planner like me, planning ahead is going to be almost impossible. None of us know how this will progress or when we’ll start to see some relief. And of course, there are going to be long-term effects. What you can do instead is try and shift your mindset into thinking “what can I do today?” because right now, that’s all we can do. It’s time to get creative and focus on how we can make the best of what we have instead of trying to plan for the uncertain.
While you wait, why not pick back up on a creative project you’ve been putting off. Write that book, paint that wall. Create something. Make something. Build something. Despite all that’s happening, despite how you’re feeling, at the end of the day, you still have your beautiful mind.
It’s going to be okay.