Like most other people, I had an entirely different outlook for what my 2020 would look like by this time of the year. In my over 25 years of being a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, I can’t recall a time when I’ve witnessed such an unparalleled escalation in fears; the pandemic and how it continues to disrupt and wreak havoc on the world, an unstable economy, unemployment, family stressors, and an unprecedented rise in mental health issues, all amid what is being viewed as a seminal presidential election. It’s overwhelming, but I stress to my clients, fear is not something to run from, it is something to embrace.
The statistical data reinforces the alarming sense of fear that exists in our lives. According to a national poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, two-thirds of Americans (68%) fear that the coronavirus will have a long-lasting impact on the economy. One-third (36%) say coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health, and 59% feel it is having a serious impact on their day-to-day lives. Unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession (2007-10).
For most of us, fear increases feelings of dread, despair, anxiety, and can fuel paralysis in our daily lives. A Chapman University Survey of American Fears (2019) revealed that 47.5% of Americans are ‘afraid or very afraid’ of the outcome of the 2020 election, which ranks higher than mass shootings and biological warfare. That further compounds hopelessness and feelings of helplessness. It’s important to focus on fighting against this negative feedback loop.
There are no simple solutions to mitigate and rid ourselves of all our fears. Our best option is to embrace and face our fears by engaging in tasks which will improve our self-confidence, hopefulness, and our feelings of effectiveness in the world.
I’ve identified four key areas of our everyday lives for you to lessen your level of fear; work, family, politics, and coping with the unknown, as we approach the holidays and the end of this epic life-altering year. These techniques are more effective if you use them before your level of fear spirals out of control.
It’s important to control some goals you aspire to accomplish in your working environment. Review your goals with your manager. Make sure they are reasonable, and executable given the current economic climate. Whether it is remote, or a hybrid model. Be transparent about any competing family obligations. Collaborate creatively with your manager to redefine your goals. You will feel more in control and confident, which will help breed more success.
Set goals to deal with the pandemic. Evaluate and start communicating with your family about what you feel most comfortable doing for the holidays. Create an open forum where everyone can express their feelings. You should do what your most comfortable with, (within state and city guidelines) without feeling pressured to please others, or vice versus. Be creative and aware of alternative solutions to be together, such as Zoom, FaceTime, or plan fun outdoor dining and activities which can accommodate everyone’s comfort levels.
Set Political Talk Boundaries:
Agree to a pact with your family on what political topics you view as “family friendly” to discuss. Avoid including any polarizing or red-herring topics that will ruin your safe-haven for everyone over the holidays. Regardless of who wins or loses, remind everyone in advance your family time together will not be a time to air grievances. Any discomfort or criticism you face addressing this upfront will yield a beneficial outcome on the back end.
During these complex times, lean into the indomitable human spirit and your belief and ability to face and conquer new and changing situations. Focus on the success of your coping strategies and adaptation skills over the past eight months. The more we practice bouncing back from adversity, the more resilient we become. Face a fear each day to continue building adaptability, resilience, and confidence in your effectiveness in the world.
Facing our fears makes us feel more empowered in our lives. It helps us feel more in control and gives us a more hopeful outlook for a brighter future.
“New Poll: COVID-19 Impacting Mental Well-Being: Americans Feeling Anxious,
Especially for Loved Ones; Older Adults are Less Anxious,” News Room, psychiatry.org, March 25, 2020
“Fear of the Elections,” The Voice of Wilkinson, blogs.chapman.edu, March 6, 2020
“The Coronavirus pandemic is pushing America into a Mental Health Crisis,” by William Wan, Washington Post, May 4, 2020