I want to talk frankly about fear in this time of coronavirus.
I live in New York City, one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’m just recovering from what I suspect was a mild case of coronavirus.
I had a dry cough that became aches and chills, then chest pains and shortness of breath. Though I couldn’t get tested (in NYC that’s reserved for people who are sick enough to go to the hospital), I’d already had a flu shot AND two flulike illnesses in January, so I knew there was a good chance it was COVID-19.
I wasn’t too afraid because what I had was mild, but every time the aches and pains or shortness of breath flared up, I would get scared. And between researching the symptoms of mild cases and learning about the coronavirus and supervising my kids’ new home schooling, I didn’t have the bandwidth for my creative work.
But, because I’m a coach and creative priestess, my online world is filled with coaches and spiritual people. All over my Facebook feed, people were saying, “Be in a higher vibration. Don’t live in fear. Keep going, keep doing your work…”
I recognized the value of that, but at the same time, a part of me said, “Shut the f*ck up. I don’t want to deal with you, and I don’t want to hear about rising above fear. I’m reading about coronavirus because I might have it and I need to figure out how likely that is and what I need to watch out for, to know if I need to go to the hospital.”
Sometimes we feel fear. And there’s a reason we feel fear. It comes from our ancestors, we evolved fear as a way of recognizing danger, and it played a valuable role in keeping us alive.
Fear can point to legitimate issues we need to deal with, and it can spur us to take important action to protect ourselves.
This is not to say you should feel fear — if you don’t, you don’t, and that’s a powerful place.
But, if you’re afraid about your health or afraid for people you love, if you’re afraid about money, or you’re questioning whether it’s meaningless to do art in a time when millions of people are dying or on the verge of dying, that is okay. There’s no need to force yourself to be “strong” or “spiritual.”
Your fear is telling you there’s something uncertain and unknown that could be a threat — something you need to deal with. That makes sense right now.
The coronavirus is real, and the things we need to do to flatten the curve and take care of ourselves are important.
Fear-shaming or pushing fear away can be a form of “spiritual bypassing,” where you try to skip over very real and very valid emotions. (This usually causes your emotions to break out in destructive ways later on.)
Fear-shaming or pushing fear away can be a form of “spiritual bypassing,” where you try to skip over very real and very valid emotions.
It can also cause you to skip over necessary internal or practical preparation. As risk consultant Peter Sandman says, “The knee-jerk reaction of overreacting early to a potential crisis is extremely useful. Like other knee-jerk reflexes, it protects us. People who have gone through it come out on the other side calmer and better able to cope.”
There are actually stages of dealing with an epidemic: denial, panic, fear, and rational response. By moving through these stages, you prepare yourself emotionally and mentally to face what’s there.
So be afraid if you’re afraid. Bunker down if you need to. Read obsessively about coronavirus if you need to. Let yourself cry or rage.
Moving through the stages also means you WILL come out of your fear — because we’re more than our fear.
We’re survivors. We have that in our genes and our lineage.
Our ancestors lived through sickness and war. They lived through epidemics including plagues that killed 60% of the population. And we will survive this too. Not only that, if we choose, we can thrive.
Yes, feel the fear. Let yourself. It’s all right.
And then let the fear go. Even when you’re still afraid, there will come a time when you’re ready to move on.
Feel the fear. Let yourself. And then let the fear go. Even when you’re still afraid, there comes a time when you’re ready to move on.
There comes a time when your spirit says, “All right. I want more than fear.”
When that time comes, listen to that voice. And open up more space for it. Close the coronavirus article. Stand outside in the sun. Smile at your neighbor who is still alive, and take in the children who are biking past on the sidewalk, barely aware of how the world has changed.
Take a deep breath. Give gratitude for your breath.
You are alive in this challenging time, and you will rise to meet the challenge.
Use this guided meditation to help you come out of fear — and receive guidance for your next steps.
Emmeline Chang is writer, coach, and creative mentor who helps artists do their truest creative work and succeed in their careers.
Through partnering with Emmeline, her clients have made dramatic career leaps: finding agents, winning awards, publishing regularly in The New Yorker, being featured in the Tribeca Film Festival, and more.
Emmeline has led a copywriting team at a Madison Avenue ad agency, run a successful writing business, and taught fiction and nonfiction at well-known NYC writing schools and workshops. She has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, Big City Lit, and Bklyner. Emmeline graduated from Princeton University, has an MFA in writing from Columbia University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two sons.
All photos in this article are Creative Commons-licensed or are owned by/legally licensed for use by Emmeline Chang.