The new Coronavirus (Covid-19) is spreading through the world at unprecedented rates. In the United States, we’re reacting by shutting down schools and workplaces, stocking up on groceries and toilet paper, and keeping a social distance from our friends and neighbors. We’re washing our hands, we’re avoiding touching our faces, and we’re not meeting in groups. In some places, we aren’t meeting with people in person at all. Though these are healthy responses to a real health threat, there are also a lot of unhealthy responses happening. I’m talking about fear.
Healthy Fear vs. Unhealthy Fear
Fear isn’t all bad. Healthy fear keeps you from standing too close to the edge of a cliff. A healthy fear of the coronavirus leads you to wash your hands as soon as you come home. Go ahead you can lysol the doorknob too; that’s not a bad idea. But then you’re done. You had a concern, you addressed it, and then you let it go.
But fear can also be really unhealthy. If you’ve washed your hands, and put protective measures in place, but you’re still worrying frequently…that’s bad for your mental health and your physical health too. We should all strive for the best health possible, and right now that means fighting fear should be a top priority.
Fear Can Spread Like a Virus
Telltale signs of unhealthy fear are: 1.) Fear that spreads from person to person like a virus, 2.) Fear that lingers long after it’s addressed (or goes unaddressed), and 3.) Fear that grows worse as the same information is processed over and over.
8 Ways to Fight Unhealthy Fear and Move Forward
1.) Don’t Feed Fear – If you are having conversations that heighten fear for you, you need to redirect the conversations or pull away from them. These fear feeding conversations happen face to face, in texts, on the phone, and especially on social media. Here’s some healthy alternatives:
- If you’re chatting with a friend or family member, offer support and encouragement and focus on looking at this as a relatively short term problem.
- If you’re looking at the news, make sure you are looking at a good information source like the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Read enough to stay up to date and be informed and then STOP. Don’t reread it over and over and don’t check back several times a day.
2.) Address Fear – One of my favorite cognitive behavioral therapy techniques is to examine a thought and ask: is this thought useful? And if not, it’s time to work on changing that thought.
For example, I’ve recently had the fearful thought, “My husband (an ob/gyn) will either be one of the healthcare workers to get sick, or he will be asked to work very long hours in the hospital to cover for other doctors that are sick, which will eventually make him sick.” This thought may or may not be true. Instead of trying to figure out how true it is, I focus on “is this thought useful?”
It’s only useful if it’s allowing me to prepare for or prevent the feared event from happening. Can I prevent it? No. Can I prepare for it? Yes. I can keep myself and my kids as healthy and happy as possible. I can provide a calm environment at home/work/school (it’s all the same place now!). I can be supportive and understanding of the pressures that he will face and give myself wiggle room and grace when it comes to my own work and family pressures. Ok, I’ve prepared. ✅
After the fear has been addressed, thinking about it more is NOT helpful. So, address the fear and then change the thought. My new thought is “my husband and I will do our very best and make sure to rest often.”
3.) Let go of Fear – Don’t try to avoid your fear. Avoiding something and having silence around it gives it power. When you avoid fear, you are changing your behaviors to accommodate its unwanted presence. When you state your fear outloud, you take your power back. Now you can let it go. For this, I like to use visualization. Maybe you prefer to stomp it to death, maybe you laugh in the face of fear, or maybe you’re more of the dance-it-out type. Either way, state your fear and then visualize letting it go.
4.) Build Faith – Faith is the opposite of fear. Faith is knowing that everything is going to be ok. You can handle any situation. Afterall, you’ve handled everything in your life so far. Whether you focus on faith in god, or faith in people, or both, the only way to really build faith is through relationships. And relationships are everything right now. As we isolate ourselves physically, we don’t have to isolate ourselves socially. There are so many ways to stay connected. You can call, text, video chat, or instant message with friends and family anywhere. Just be careful to redirect the conversation if they are fear feeders.
5.) Get Busy – You can’t focus on fear if you’re busy getting stuff done! Whether that’s work, hobbies, or your new found interest in homeschooling <wink>, staying busy and being present in the moment will keep you grounded. You can finally organize your closet or your CD collection (seriously, no, just get rid of your CD’s). Plant a garden, build a birdhouse, or just paint pictures of nature. It’s time to get busy.
6.) Serve Others – Now is the perfect time to look around and see who might need your help. Does an elderly neighbor have everything they need? Do you have a skill that you could share with others? Can you help your kid get better in a certain subject or tutor your nephew online? Can you increase the calm in your house by making staying at home more fun? If you sew, can you make cloth masks and donate them to a hospital? Please don’t read this and think that you have to do all of them, or any of them! No pressure. I just find that serving others is a great way to build community and faith and crowd out fear.
7.) Focus on Gratitude – This is truly one of the keys to happiness and it also works well to fight fear. Most fear is about loss. In the example in #2, my basic fear was losing my husband. A way to combat fear is by appreciating what we have every day. A great way to practice gratitude is to say out loud or journal three things you are grateful for every morning and/or every night.
I’m grateful for the health of my family. I’m grateful for a peaceful home. I’m grateful for supportive friends. I’m grateful for toilet paper. What are you grateful for today?
8.) Take One Day at a Time – I’m a big planner. I LOVE making plans; it serves me really well in my career. But in the current state of the coronavirus, we all have to pull back on lots of plans. All of my late March and April speaking plans have been cancelled and when event planners talk about rescheduling… the next two months are kind of up in the air! I’m still working online with my clients and doing my best to serve others, but I really can’t promise I’ll be somewhere in person any time soon. In my personal life, spring break is cancelled and I’m not making family plans for the summer either, not yet. I’m in “wait and see” mode. I’m taking it one day at a time. And I’m even learning to like it…a little.
If you find that you keep trying to plan for the future and the uncertainty is driving you crazy, try pulling back on making plans. Picture yourself shifting into a different gear where you slow down and take life one day at a time.
Go Ahead, Press my Button!
If all else fails, I have a talking button that one of my dear clients gave me. The main message is, “You’re a badass!” But if you keep pressing it, you can hear other inspiring phrases including, “Feed fear a suck-it sandwich.” Depending on the day, that might do the trick.
Though this blog is about fear, I’m usually talking about communicating in relationships… and sometimes that involves fear! If you’d like to build an even stronger relationship with your partner during strange times or normal times, please join me in my Facebook group. I’d love to see you there!