Fear and the Coronavirus: Why You Should Not Be Afraid

In a time of heightened uncertainty and fear, keeping our stress levels at bay will come down to the small, intentional ways we react to the news around us.

By tommaso79/ Shutterstock
By tommaso79/ Shutterstock

We all know the coronavirus is real and spreading, and causing a lot of people great distress.

Should you be informed and cautious? Yes, of course! Should you be afraid? No.

Fear does no good for you or anyone. Being afraid does not and will not change the course of the coronavirus, other than possibly creating greater susceptibility by weakening people’s immune response and psychological well-being. 

Fear sucks up your energy and takes you away from being present, from being productive, from affecting what you can affect. Fear confuses you, blocks positive energy, feeds paranoia, and obscures clear thinking. And it doesn’t feel good, nor is it good for you. 
You do not need fear to make decisions about how to protect yourself, or to motivate yourself to take precautions. To assess, decide, and take action, you only need awareness and clarity. 
Social distancing, country-wide quarantines, declaring national emergencies – these responses do not require or justify fear. Even if you are in the role of a policymaker, a CEO, a healthcare provider, etc. fear does not serve. It is neither helpful or necessary. 

The truth is you can still be responsible and make wise choices, without being caught up in the mania of the coronavirus. You do not need to join in the fear frenzy to be a good citizen, a good parent, or a good leader. You do not need to read every email and listen to every breaking story about COVID-19 to be informed.
And… it’s not easy.

Here are five tips to not get caught up in the pandemic of fear:

1. Stop obsessing: Actively choose to not obsess about the virus. If you notice you are, use “interruption” behaviors to break the cycle, like taking a deep breath, saying STOP, clapping your hands, changing what you’re looking at, doing jumping jacks, shaking like a dog, stretching your body, etc. Do something that involves movement in your body. 

2. Switch thoughts: Have in mind several good-feeling thoughts or images you can immediately switch to, in order to shift out of a fear state. Could be your last vacation, getting a massage, a great meal, a furry friend, or thinking of a person that always uplifts you. Rehearse these replacement thoughts and images often so you can cue yourself to move to them very easily.  

3. Set limits: Allow yourself to check headlines, say three times per day max and limit each to, say, 10 minutes. That is plenty to keep you informed and up-to-date. Turn off notifications that show you news automatically. Use your phone’s timer and other reminder tools to cue you when to stop and switch topics. Limit how much time in conversations with others is spent on the virus.

4. Self-observe: You probably know what fear feels like — a tightening up, restricted breathing, feeling clammy – and what it triggers you to do — lashing out at others, shutting down, becoming suspicious or paranoid, etc. With so much panic around us, it’s hard not to get caught up in. Notice when you are and name it: “Oh, there I go getting on the fear train. No need for that.” Then use the interruption behaviors and thought switching to change states. 

5. Self-love: Be compassionate with yourself. These are trying times, no matter your perspective. Forgive yourself for the moments you may get caught in fear, and congratulate yourself for all the times you move out of fear, or never even go there. Then spread the love. A simple smile can do wonders. 

While you can’t totally control whether you get infected by the coronavirus, you can totally control whether you get infected by the fear virus. It may not be easy to ward off, because fear is so seductive, and the energy of so many people being in fear can trick you into thinking you should be too. You should not. Fear is not your master, nor does it serve you. Choose where you put your time and energy wisely.

Every day, every moment is a gift. May you be grateful for all the good, and find peace-of-mind in this moment — right here, right now. 

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