REPRINTED FROM MEDIUM, March 14, 2020 - 7 Ways to Manage Fear
We live in a time of global upheaval — it can provoke rampant fear, and as human beings, we’re generally terrified of the unknown anyway. This is especially true when dealing with things we can’t control. On top of that, we also have a “negativity bias,” where negative events have a greater impact on our brain than positive ones. How can we manage our mindset, and what are some ways to cope with, not only, the epidemic of an unknown illness but also the highly contagious epidemic of fear? Here are 7 ways to help.
1.Take care of your body: The CDC advises take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs. We’ve heard this before, but now we have no choice but to keep our immune system and resilience strong.
Breathwork, breathing intentionally in certain ways, can calm down both body and mind. It’s a great way to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us get out of panic mode and recenter. One of the fastest ways to get there is to make your exhale last longer than your inhale. Here are two ways to tap into this. Breath in for 4, hold for 4, and breathe out for a count of 6. This is a 4–4–6 breath. See what you notice. If you’re in a highly anxious state, use Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4–7–8 breath. Inhale for 4, hold for 7 and slow exhale for 8, but only do 4 rounds of this — it’s quite intense.
Take care of your mind:
2. Avoid an obsession with media coverage of Covid-19. You can literally get sucked into a current of fear by being drawn into every new story that comes out. Give yourself time to bounce back — otherwise, your emotional reservoirs are being relentlessly drained. It’s important to take news breaks, so your mind can come down from being on red alert, and it’s equally important to get accurate news from the source. The WHO: World Health Organization and CDC: Center for Disease Control are among the best. I have drawn from their information for this article. Remember, especially when fears escalate, everyone may have an opinion — at this time you want expert advice.
3. Make sure to connect, even while trying to avoid gatherings. When we practice social distancing, which means staying away from large events, working from home, avoiding local public transportation (e.g., bus, subway, taxi, rideshare), and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others, we actually help slow the spread of the virus. That’s good. Yet under stressful situations, it’s more important than ever to stay connected with family and friends. Make that a priority, via phone, skype, facetime, etc.
Another idea I love is setting up a circle of people to call up in order to check in on each other’s well-being on a regular basis. This not only decreases feelings of loneliness; it increases the good feelings that come from helping others and taking agency in your own life. What if everyone had such a circle to depend on?
4. Feel Your Feelings, and try not to catastrophize. Notice and accept how you feel. In my latest book, Emotional Advantage, I describe how it doesn’t work in the long run to suppress emotions anyway. It’s better to tune into their messages, know how to work with them, and remember strong feelings come and then they go. If feelings of anxiety are making it hard to cope, make sure you have someone to talk to. Take care of your emotional health. There are therapists who work online, and even certain apps can be helpful. You can always contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1–800–985–5990 or the crisis text line, by simply texting 741741 . Whatever way works best for you, get the support you need.
5. List what you can control and take action. Remember that though there are some things that are unknown and you cannot control, there are many you can, like washing your hands, like touching buttons with your knuckles instead of fingers, not touching your face, getting enough sleep to keep your immune system strong, and staying home. All these are intentional actions we can take to slow down the spread of the virus, which is good for everyone.
6. Make sure to keep your mind busy and positive: do a project you haven’t had time for, practice an instrument, read something uplifting. If kids are home from school, you can do a family project, Marie Kondo a room, do a guided meditation, read or exercise together. Try not to worry about the economic ramifications as yet — the pandemic is disruptive on so many levels, but attend to your health first, and you will handle the rest later.
7. Remember, that just because the virus is spreading does not mean you will get it, and even if you get it, that does not automatically mean you will perish. Let’s look at this through a larger perspective. We have to do everything we can to keep ourselves healthy and support others. The challenge is to find a toolbox of things to keep ourselves relatively calm, take care of one another, and ride this out.
People around the world are working on solutions; now it’s up to use to do our part too. As the World Health Organization advises, — be supportive, be careful and alert and respond in the kindest way that we can. We are truly in this together — let’s move forward with the best version of ourselves.