Learning to cope with fear during the coronavirus
Fear, shall we dance with it? Great question! What do you think? I personally believe that if we truly want to, we can.
Like many of you, I’m sure, I struggled to adapt to this new way of living in ‘lockdown’ and I wanted to share some thoughts on how to cope with it. As ever your emotional well-being is crucial to your overall well-being and it is important that you do everything you can to protect it and nurture it .
In these challenging, unsettling times, we are understandably feeling anxious and fearful about the future. We are concerned about the safety of our loved ones and the world itself.
There are many unknowns and uncertainties to face and so much information to process day by day. The biggest challenge I am hearing from relatives, friends and clients is about being affected by our fear and having very little at disposal to deal and cope with it.
There is so much fear around at the moment and in fact, we are living in traumatic circumstances that are affecting people globally, unable to move out of this situation. We have fear around catching the virus, fear of losing loved ones and indeed of dying ourselves, fear of losing our finances and of the unknown. We also have a collective fear of what will happen after this, as certainly this will pass and the world will be different.
However, if we can be gentle with ourselves, learn to understand and embrace our fear and incorporate some changes into our lives at this time, we can come out of the other side having learned a lot.
My friend, I am here to guide you as best I can. I thought that it would be appropriate to share some education and tools around how to deal with fear. For those that need more support I have decided to temporarily offer 50% off all of my services in the hope that they will be more accessible for those that need extra support at the moment. Use the code ‘COVID19SUPPORT’ when booking.
The history of fear: what is fear and why do we feel it?
Fear has come to be seen as the most primal and the most fundamental of our human emotions. Its easy to imagine our ancestors in caves, scared of storms and wild beasts. It was Charles Darwin, in 1872, who first insisted on fear’s primordial roots: ‘We may confidently believe’, he wrote, ‘that fear was expressed from an extremely remote period in almost the same manner as it is now by man’.
Most of the other animals who live on our planet share these involuntary response to threat. Such reactions evolved to preserve the life of our species: the eyes widen, the hearing sharpens, the heart beats rapidly and the breath becomes shallow or held. We flee, or try to hide ourselves. The response is instinctive and compulsive. In fact under threat, our bodies grab the control, and put us on automatic-pilot.
Fear is that simple. And yet…
In English we talk of different sorts of fear: worry, terror, anxiety, dread. Perhaps one of the most peculiar things of all about our ‘friend’ fear – our the primal lifesaver – is our deep suspicion of it. ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’, proclaimed Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. The line was already a cliche’ because Michael Montaigne, three and a half centuries earlier had affirmed: ‘The thing I fear most is fear’.
Is fear a friend or foe?
Being born into an environment that evoked feelings of fear on a daily basis, I had been programmed since childhood to live in fear. This means I was experiencing most of my day-to-life in survival mode.
With time and through many life experiences, therapies and training, I came to understand that fear might be one of our greatest allies, saving us from mortal danger and violence. Not to talk about self-sabotage, which is unseen most of the time and often greatly inhibits our lives.
Yet, we picture it as a furtive, dangerous enemy, fully able to derail our rational thoughts, inflame our latent anxieties and confuse our purposeful actions. Fear can kill in fact. Or can make us feel we might die. And when it turns into paranoia fear can leave devastation and loss behind.
However, the way we look at fear can have a huge impact on how it affects our lives. If we embrace fear it can be a powerful trigger to set us in action, motivate us to change, to move, to get out of denial and stop sabotaging ourselves.
What triggers fear and how does our body react to it?
It is important we feel and deeply sense the fear that we have in our body. The body communicates to us that fear is there. It is also relevant that we have a deep understanding of fear, what it is and our thinking processes around it.
Fear is an emotion. An emotion is always the result of a thought or a belief ( a belief is simply a reinforced thought ) first and caused by an internal or external trigger.
An emotion is perceived and recognised through our body and often determines our body language and consequent choices and actions.
Fear therefore may come to surface when triggered by different kinds of thoughts and beliefs which give way to different sorts of fears according to age, culture, education, status, sex.
Types of fear we may experience:
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of of death or dying alone
- Fear of getting sick
- Fear of financial crash
- Fear of getting out of comfort
- Fear of aging
- Fear of pain and feeling the emotions connected with it
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of judgement
- Fear not being good enough
Triggering thoughts that can cause fear:
Since very emotion is born by a thought, we need to be aware about what is at the root of our fear.
Therefore at each different type of fear mentioned above, we can attach a possible triggering thought.
1. Nothing is certain. I may be dying
2. If it happens to me i will die alone
3. What about if I get the virus?
4. I have lost my job and I will not have money to pay the rent and my food.
5. I don’t like change, it is painful and not comfortable.
6. I am getting older and this means losing my youth, my power and will be alone
7. Emotions like anger and fear and sadness bring me pain.
8. I cannot do anything, I feel powerless. I can be hurt or victimised.
9. People think I am not good enough. I don’t like it.
10. I know something is not ok with me. I will never get that job. Or… he will never love me.
Are you driven by fear?
Many of us are driven by fear and in many cases they don’t even know that. These fears may be a result of a traumatic experience, unrealistic expectations, growing up in a high- control home or even genetic predisposition. Regardless of the cause, when we are fear driven, we often miss out on great opportunities because we’re afraid to venture out.
Instead we play it safe, avoiding risks and trying to maintain the status quo.
For lots of us, an unconscious or even a conscious self-imposed prison that will keep us and hold us back through life.
Fear and brain function
When our fears are triggered by negative thinking (especially prevalent in this period of Coronavirus are trauma, grief and isolation, depression, anxiety and uncertainty) first thing we need to know is that our brain is not interested in allowing us to feel calm, happy or peaceful. It’s only and mainly interested in our survival.
In its own way, the brain is there to help us, by making sure that we set our focus on what could go wrong.
At this point of fear or panic or terror, we tend to judge our fear, which is the last thing we should be doing. Why? Because when we start judging fear as ‘bad’ or an emotion to be avoided because we find it painful, we start to resist it.
How do we cope with fear? My guide & toolkit
Having had to face my own deep rooted fear and having utilised and experienced a variety of tools involving body, mind and spirit, I have put together the tools and steps that I have found most effective and helpful to me:
3 steps to help you cope with fear
Step 1 – Stop resisting your fear
Many of us still believe that the best way to deal with fear is to avoid it and resist feeling and sensing our fear by escaping or suppressing it. Some examples of how we escape it are by keeping as busy as possible and not allowing ourselves time to think and process.
Why? Because we believe or assume that sustaining fear and waiting it to disappear or transform by itself might be painful. We learnt during childhood when we don’t have the tools to cope with fear and the only way was to suppress it. We, as human beings, refuse to feel and sustain pain, no matter its origin. And we have learnt from early childhood that fear is a painful emotion, therefore to be avoided. We prefer to resist it and go for pleasure.
However, the more we resist something, the more it persists, as the wise Carl Jung used to say.
If we really want to dance with our fear and move to a zone of authentic confidence, we have first to let go of our internal unconscious resistances and decide to embrace what we do most fear: our fear.
Step 2 – Observe your fear and your fear thoughts
Take few breaths. Go for a walk. Move your body. Then feel your fear in the body and observe it rather than judge it as bad or good. As soon as we judge it, we immediately hit resistance and we instinctively, like a little child of 4/5 years, will do everything to escape what we are feeling and judge painful to be sustained.
Imagine you are still that child of 4- 5. What does a 4-5 year old child need when they are afraid?
Care and reassurance that it is safe and all will be well. A child of that age in this condition doesn’t need to be judged because they are feeling fear; it doesn’t need to be told: do not be afraid! It needs hugs, cuddles and whispers of love, it needs yummy food, walks in nature, to watch a funny movie, it needs that mom and dad hold it’s hand, be with it to make like it is not alone.
So treat yourself like that little boy/girl of 4-5 that you feel like when in your fears. Give yourself tender love and reassurance.
Step 3 – Understand the root of your fear
Identify and understand what is the root of your fear, the thinking process beyond it, it is basic. If you cannot do it by yourself because of lack of objectivity, the best plan is reach out to a coach, therapist or counsellor specifically trained to deal with emotional issues and / or emotional intelligence.
Fear thoughts are very common in times of danger and crises\ like the one we are living. The brain is hardwired for survival and its survival response is: fight, flight or freeze. We cannot block the negative thoughts cause by the Coronavirus or the financial drama we are going to face afterwards, because it is still all invisible and we are at present powerless against it all.
It is useful observe and understand our negative thoughts, the only roots and cause of our sudden and compulsive fears.
Step 4 – transform how you deal with fear
Becoming an observer of our fear thoughts and consequent fear is the best step to take when we are in a fearful or anxious state. Observing and sustaining fear is the secret. Emotions are energy in motion and they shift themselves helping us to process pain which is always temporary. Observing and sitting with our fear, as a mature and aware adult, brings us choice and a sense of freedom as to how we can respond to our own thinking and feeling in dramatic, challenging situations. This is when we have the power not to make us controlled by our fear or thoughts causing it; in fact it is when we can learn tot control it and then let it transform or even dissipate.
Toolkit for living with fear
When we feel fear and we recognise the root thoughts of our fear, we can choose utilise our resources or tools, all of which we can practice at home, for free.
Here some of the tools I suggest when I coach and train:
- Meditation & Prayer
- Gratitude and Appreciation
- Breathing techniques which can help to relax body and mind in survival mode
- Moving the body
- Singing and drawing
- Reading motivation pages or quotes
- YouTube motivational videos
When we want to tap into and use our tools, we need to slow down and stop doing anything else. Choose 1-3 of them that you feel most connected to and when you feel the fear coming, set the focus on onto it, listen to it through the body and then start using your tools to help you cope with it.
Fear can be our best friend instead of our worst enemy. Like we do with new friends we need first to get to know it and it takes time, yes. It is a process not a quick fix. I can assure you that if you are committed to this journey of fear awareness, you will not only become best friends, you will also start dancing with it and enjoy very much its company in days of darkness.