Here’s How to Avoid Making Decisions Out of Fear During Uncertain Times

Find yourself binge buying, freezing in place, yelling at your kid, or otherwise becoming a control freak in quarantine? Welcome to the club. Here's how to defer your membership.

fizkes / Shutterstock
fizkes / Shutterstock

Let’s begin with a list of things I have panic bought in the last two weeks (ranked from least to most embarrassing):

-CBD oil

-NyQuil

-Water purification tabs

-Toilet paper (48 rolls for one human)

-Subscription to online video games, specifically time management games because when I’m done with a long day of checking off to-dos, I like to relax by playing a woman who needs to check off to dos (someone help me).

-At-home COVID tests from a company who NPR later revealed to be fraudulent

This is to say nothing of my decisions to stay indoors for 10 days straight, reconsider company hiring, yell at my 65 year-old mother for going to the pharmacy, and run from a police man who approached me as I jogged on the near-deserted beach boardwalk by my home.

Not only am I appalled at my own actions, I see my reactive pattern echo throughout the actions of the people I love & care about the most.

As a career storytelling strategist, I observed in the past few weeks, people who only a month ago would have relished the time and space to formulate their five year plan and find a clear, empowered path through it, put career dreams on hold, battening down the hatches, and choose opportunities they actively loathe but provide immediate security.

I am, we are all – as a human race – making decisions out of fear and it’s costing us thousands of dollars, opportunities for personal and professional growth and the hardest won currency of it all: integrity.

For weeks, I have reassured friends, family and clients of all the evidence supporting the bold faced fact that this initial shock will pass, that like a shark, capitalism will always move forward and markets correct themselves; that this moment of collective pause Is indeed the best possible moment for self-reflection and forward planning.

But yesterday, when a potential client asked: “do you have any advice on how to keep from making decisions based on fear?” I had to recognize: ‘it me.’

Image: Norma Contreras @tengounpapalote

Though I hope I’ve proven I’m no poster girl for zen, here’s what I wrote her and need tattooed to my arm Memento style.

  1. Know your triggers

If I’m a detective of my own motivations, I can trace every one of these purchases and reactions to an emotional trigger – a moment where, because of the uncertainty of basic rules of engagement (where will we get our food? Is it okay to stand near someone? Am I safe outdoors?), I reacted from fear.

For me those triggers have been, in no particular order:

A Zoom happy hour with fellow Angelenos who shared their struggles to get basic staples like baby wipes & TP in the immediate neighborhood.

A two hour Twitter-New York Times-Medium binge on COVID in Italy that had me realizing how lax the US was being in their quarantine efforts.

Hearing my 82 year-old father was still taking his motorcycle in to the city to work.

2. Know your body’s stress reaction

When triggered, how does your body react? If you’re in a tizzy of any kind – in anger, overwhelm, frustration, anything short of chill, know that it is not the best you showing up. When you set your jaw, clench your fists, tense up, raise your voice or suddenly find yourself in a tattered shirt and jorts, you are hulking out.

3. DO NOTHING

Seriously. No buying, tweeting, reacting, or action of any kind. Take a knee. Excuse yourself from the situation. Breathe deeply.

4. Recognize & acknowledge the feeling until it passes

If you are in a discussion, feel free to state out loud your body’s reaction. If you can stand it, hang out in the feeling. Know that this (as with the markets, as with every last thing in this universe) will pass even if it doesn’t feel that way.

5. Know what you need to get to a resourceful state and do that

Self care is having a moment and this is why. You cannot and will not make good decisions for yourself, the people you love or your future if you’re operating from negative emotion.

Know the things that reconnect you with calm – meditation, fresh air, calm bath, hugging your kid.

6. Feel yourself return to calm and THEN act

The world has, for a moment, slowed way down. Now more than ever you are not only allowed to but frankly, must sleep on a decision, take a beat, pause before you consider hoarding tissues.

There is no silver bullet for a once in a lifetime global emergency.

But the collective reactions and actions we take are comprised of individual choice points. Just as we’re taking extra precautions and time physical sanitation, let’s ritualize and practice emotional cleansing.

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