Mastering FEAR in the face of a PANDEMIC
Are you afraid right now? In this blog I talk about mastering fear in the face of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
I think almost everybody on the planet is afraid right now. Fear is currently affecting us more than the coronavirus is infecting us, and sadly that’s going some.
I’d like to help you reduce the amount of fear you are suffering. It’s not a magic wand, this will work in varying levels for different people. But the important thing is to start and build from there.
The question is: how do we defeat or at least shrink fear?
I’m going to lay out the steps. Let’s work through this together starting with an understanding of what causes us to feel fear.
What Causes Fear?
A primal part of our brain called the amygdala is continually asking these two questions:
Am I safe?
Can I predict a favourable outcome?
When the answer is yes, we can go about our day to day lives and feel perfectly fine.
When the answer to either of these questions is ‘No’ or ‘I’m not sure’ then all bets are off. Your central nervous system goes into overdrive and creates a physiological response. We have all heard of this; it’s called ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’.
Fight – we will go into this if we think we can win.
Flight – we run away and hide if we think we will lose.
Freeze – we do this, which generally means a heck of a lot of procrastination, when we simply do not know what to do.
Right now, we can’t answer yes to either of the two main questions, this is why we are all so afraid.
Let me start by saying fear is NOT a bad guy. It’s not a negative emotion.
FEAR is GOOD because it helps to keep you alive. The intent of fear is extremely positive. The downside is, it can also be prone to making us freak out at even relatively small things. So imagine how it takes off when a big threat some along. Whoos! It can get highly unpleasant very rapidly.
That’s the point of fear – it’s job is to make you feel really bad, this is fuelled by the chemicals it releases called cortisol and adrenaline. These chemicals HELP you as they focus you into giving your full attention to whatever is threatening you and your loved ones. Once you get a handle on it, it helps you DO everything in your power to minimise the risks.
Do Not Ignore This
Fear will not go away if you ignore it. There is only one outcome of ignoring fear. The fear will snowball out of control. It will probably become debilitating anxiety and panic and it will shut you down!
When fear is your dominant emotional state, your thoughts in essence get ‘born out of” fear. These thoughts act like oxygen to fan the flame and fear can soon be raging out of control. When it gets to this stage, fear is no longer your friend. When you reach this stage is it now disempowering you. We really really want to avoid that!
FEAR hijacks your mind, hijacks your focus and in essence becomes like a full blown virus in it’s own right. It consumes all your available resources. When it is draining these physical, mental and emotional resources it isn’t useful.
At this stage you will probably develop tunnel vision. You will focus on problems not solutions. And do you know what else, it makes you significantly dumber.
As fear takes over it massively reduces your capacity to experience the things you need right now: love, joy, fun and the other great emotions we value so much.
Fear makes you negative. Living in fear makes it profoundly unpleasant for ourselves and those around us.
Once fear has hijacked your mind, it will stay there until you take action. Your central nervous won’t start to settle down until you do something to tackle the fear.
The 3 Types of FEAR
Before I explain ways to settle fear down; it would be useful to understand our experiences as we face the threat posed by coronavirus. Most of the planet is feeling one or more of these at the moment.
- Primal fear relates to death or loss. Coronavirus is triggering this type of fear and rightly so. We should be afraid. If we do not do the right things it may well kill us, people we love and a significant number of our fellow humans.
- Process fear relates to what we will need to go through these coming weeks and months. Will we be able to handle the hardships? What about our emotions? What impact will this have on my business, my finances, my relationships. You are not alone, none of us are certain.
- Outcome fear relates to what happens when we get to the other side of this. We don’t know and actually can’t possibly know right now what that will be.
Covid-19 is triggering all three types of fear in us simultaneously. That is part of the problem and it’s starting to feel like it is all too much. We need to isolate and mitigate each aspect to start to feel better.
I’ll come to how we do this very soon. Before we do that, you need to understand one final thing about the fight, flight, freeze reaction. Whenever you feel afraid you need to look out for the categories within this reaction.
FOUR causes of Fight Flight Freeze
The categories within this reaction generally fall into specific categories:
- Too fast
- Too slow
Whenever fear shows up at least one of these conditions will be present. The more of them that present themselves simultaneously the further away you will be from feeling okay.
Each one of these categories dictates a different response to minimise fear. Coronavirus falls into three of these four for people personally:
Too slow. Yes, time is going to start going very slowly for those “stuck indoors”.
But the biggest challenges with coronavirus at this stage are going to present as uncertainty and overwhelm.
Great, you’ve hung in so far reading this. You understand fear and that’s a step in itself. NOW let’s get into the fight and restore some confidence!
A Much Better Outlook
Fear is at one end of the emotional spectrum and lives right next door to panic and anxiety.
CONFIDENCE is the opposite of fear. CALM is the opposite of panic.
FEAR simply cannot exist in the presence of confidence. So lets hack your brain in a positive way.
I’m going to give some of my favourite ways to boost your confidence, settle down your nervous system and help you feel much more like you want to.
Where do we start?
How to “HACK” your fear state
So the first important thing to understand about settling fear down is that “the threat” does not need to disappear. What your brain is looking for is reassurance that everything will be okay.
TWO Critical Steps
This is where you actually have to do something.
- Develop a Strategy
- Take Action
Develop a Strategy
Have a think about which is your greatest fear: Is it death, process or outcome based?
Let me give a few examples:
FEAR OF DEATH / LOSS OF A LOVED ONE – we may as well start with the big one!
Ask yourself: What one or two things could I do that would make the biggest difference to me or loved one surviving the coronavirus?
This is a much better question to ask than: “Am I going to die?”
Not only does it let your brain start to believe that there’s potential for a positive outcome, it sets you up for taking action.
So we use our questions to empower us into taking action and this is part of “the trick”.
Asking yourself high quality questions will take you out of fight flight freeze and put you back in your mind and back in control. In essence seize control of your mind back from the fear hijackers!
Most of us are afraid that we won’t be able to handle the potential hardship. We worry about our job our finances, quality of life and having a enough food to eat.
So think about flipping you mindset.
Ask yourself what is the worst possible thing I think can happen here? Can I survive that?
Have I survived hardship before?
Am I potentially capable and much more resilient than I think?
These questions are a great place to start to put some perspective on the situation.
Remember at a time like this your brain is going to be great at coming up with worst case scenarios. Go brain!
REMEMBER – most worst case scenarios never play out
Now before you say: “But this is different” – I hear you.
It’s different because it’s happening globally. Everybody is going to be affected. I do not believe any of us will starve as a result of this. Some of us may lose our jobs for a period, some of us will have lower income for a period (I know I will). However whatever you lose you can rebuild. It will simply take time. You did it before and you can do it again – maybe better this time!
So in relation to process fear:
Q. What specifically am I afraid of?
Once you name something you steal some of fear’s power.
So let’s say it’s financial. That’s a big one for most of us:
Q. Which aspects of my finances is causing me the most fear?
So as an example, you have a fear of being able to pay the bills. Take action! Create a spreadsheet or list of all expenses so you know exactly where you are at. Then prioritise your expenses and reduce ALL unnecessary outgoings.
Do a projection – how long am I ok before I have a problem putting food on the table? No one is going to get made homeless or have their electricity or gas supplies turned off at this time! Food is the priority don’t you think?
Contact anyone in advance who you think you may not be able to pay on time. THEY WILL UNDERSTAND.
By taking action, you aren’t in flight or freeze! You are in the fight, being responsible and taking ownership. I promise you will feel better.
So I’m hoping you get the idea… great empowering questions, strategy and then action! REPEAT.
There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes like this…
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbours exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbours shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
The moral of this story is, of course, that no event, in and of itself, can truly be judged as good or bad, lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate, but that only time will tell the whole story. Additionally, no one really lives long enough to find out the ‘whole story,’ so it could be considered a great waste of time to judge minor inconveniences as misfortunes or to invest tons of energy into things that look outstanding on the surface, but may not pay off in the end.
I know coronavirus is the biggest threat the human race has faced since the potential for nuclear holocaust in the 80s or the world wars. I’m not meaning in any way to play down the threat to humanity this virus poses.
Instead I just wanted to help you shift perspective in a way that will make your life TODAY that bit better. Often the best things come out of the toughest times. None of us can know how this will play out.
I say you have a choice:
You can worry in advance and suffer every day or you can learn to take one day at a time. And if you have never tried it, meditation can really help with this.
So how about this for a DAILY STRATEGY:
Do I have everything I need TODAY?
If the answer is yes, then technically you are OK!
Keep asking this question every day and hopefully in four, eight or even twelve weeks time things will be looking very different.
You are worried about the future, but what’s the point – I mean really? Worry is pointless. Instead ask yourself an empowering question:
What could I do today to improve some important aspect of my future? Then DO THAT!
Every time you take action your brain will increase belief that things will be OK. It does this when you take action. It knows you wouldn’t be taking action if you didn’t believe there was a potential for a favourable outcome so your action serves to reassure you.
So again… ask great questions, develop a strategy from those questions and keep taking action!
Just before I finish I am reminded of a young female GP I was coaching on anxiety. On her initial questionnaire she had written down all the things she had tried to in order to get a handle on her anxiety. Rather helpfully she had written next to this extensive list that when she stopped doing the things, the things stopped working….. duh 😉
She was a very smart young lady and she managed to overlook that simply to KEEP TAKING ACTION was massively important. Sporadic action will leave too much opportunity for fear to take back over!
We are ALL in this together.
NOTHING has ever united countries like this and whilst I am very concerned of what is to come, I’ve CHOSEN to not live these days in fear. Instead I’m going to DO everything I can to be the best version of me. You can do the same, show up each day and bring yourself to the fight.
Trust me – I will mess this up plenty, just ask my girlfriend. But I will keep getting back up, learning from my mistakes and getting back in the fight.
I wish you all health and happiness, let’s do everything we can to look after us all.
The Happiness Guy
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