Standing up to Coronavirus ‑‑ 7 Things You Can Do to Change Your Relationship to Fear and Anxiety During These Very Challenging Times

Posted On: Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Standing up to Coronavirus ‑‑ 7 Things You Can Do to Change Your Relationship to Fear and Anxiety During These Very Challenging Times / Boca Raton Marriage Counselor Couples Counselor LMFT Laura Richter

"There is no illusion greater than fear"
"Fear is the greatest lie you could ever tell yourself"

‑‑ Lao-Tzu

While some people enjoy taking risks and living unpredictable lives, others crave predictability and certainty. Yet even those risk‑takers would admit that that we all have our limits. The coronavirus has shown us that life can become very unpredictable and out‑of‑control and whether you're a risk‑taker or not, it's a very scary time! First, you should know that it's normal to feel fear and anxiety during these very trying times; but it's also important to know how to manage it.

Many of us deal with uncertainty by worrying. We seem to believe that worrying helps us exercise control over our circumstances. It doesn't! And the truth is that worrying can't give you more control over uncontrollable events; it just zaps you of any positive energy you may have. It makes you feel paralyzed and helpless; thus, preventing you from having any kind of enjoyment or sense of well‑being in the present. Worry will keep you up at night and deprive you of much‑needed rest, which is so important to health and well‑being. There are healthier ways to cope with uncertainty ‑‑ and that begins with adjusting your mindset.

Basically, there two kinds of fear ‑‑ present fear and anticipatory fear. Present fear is the presence of danger in the here and now. For example, if I'm on a camping trip and a huge bear wanders into our campsite and begins tearing it up, that is fear happening in the present. And it makes sense to pay attention to it and respond to it.

Anticipatory fear is fear about the future that may or may not really happen; but the feeling of fear and anxiety are experienced in the present. Anticipatory fear includes all of the "what if's" that we allow ourselves to think about ‑‑ What if I get sick? What if one of my loved ones gets sick? What if I lose my job? These fears may or may not become reality. But they are cultivated in our minds through our imagination; and they can send us spiraling out of control until we feel hopeless and helpless. Anticipatory fear can be paralyzing and very disruptive to our well‑being. This is the type of fear many of us are experiencing as a result of coronavirus. There are healthier ways to cope with fear and anxiety and it begins with being able to adjust your mindset. Here are some ways to do that.

Shift your awareness from mind to body
Fear exists in our minds ‑ in our thoughts and feelings, whether real or perceived. When we let fear get out of control, we begin to catastrophize and imagine the worst. But when we can shift from focusing on the mind and shift to focusing on our bodies our thoughts begin to dissolve, and we can shift our experience. Meditation or deep relaxation are good examples of this. Meditation helps you to focus on going within your body, noticing sensations, like breathing or tracking physical sensations. There are some great apps that can help you become really good at meditation. Check out Calm or Headspace, as two examples. Also, Peloton is now offering a 90‑day free subscription that includes meditation exercises and yoga.

Be present
Unless that bear we talked about earlier is really standing within striking range, most of our fears are anticipatory. But it's impossible to anticipate fear if we are being present and aware. As you sit in stillness or in a busy room, allow yourself to explore your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, taste or feel right now, at this moment in time? It's impossible to experience the present and worry at the same time.

Notice tiny pleasures and be grateful for them
Give yourself permission to feel gratitude and appreciation. We have a choice, to focus on the positives, no matter how tiny they may seem, or focus on the negatives. As a society, we tend to do the latter. But this is a great opportunity to shift from problem‑saturated thoughts to positive ones. What do you notice is going right in your life, even given the fact that so much seems to be wrong? Focus on that and do more of it.

Reach out and connect with others using social media
I never would have believed I would be saying this, but now is the time to use social media and the Internet to its fullest, especially if you are sheltering in place alone. Many people are arranging virtual game nights and happy hours online. Some are having dinner together in their own respective homes where they are cooking together and then sitting down and sharing a meal, virtually. And by all means, if you are not alone but know others who are, reach out to them. This has the double benefit of making someone else feel good and feeling good yourself.

Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!
Physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, helps to produce endorphins that act as natural ways to reduce emotional pain. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all found to be implicated in anxiety and depression. Exercise can also help to improve sleep. These days, biking, running, and power‑walking are great ways to enjoy the outdoors, spend time with family and get exercise. Be sure to remember to keep your social distancing!

Stay away from News overload
It is next‑to‑impossible to avoid all the news about coronavirus ‑‑ it's all we hear about. And yes, while it may be important to stay informed, it's also important to not overdose on it. Limit your screen time for brief updates maybe once or twice a day. Harvard Publishing advises that it's also important to get your information from sources that are most accurate. One good way to do that is to rely on experts who publish in reputable medical journals, and who have a vested interest in informing and protecting the public, such as the CDC and WHO. Sites that promote particular products may be biased and inaccurate.

Exercise patience and self-compassion
These are really difficult times; and we're all doing the best we can. Sometimes it's easier to be compassionate and empathetic to others than it is to be to ourselves. We are human and we are all experiencing something like never before. This means there will be a learning curve, as we continue to figure this out. There will be times when we may be filled with hope and ambition; and there will be times when we don't feel like doing much of anything. There will be times when we're sad, and yes, times when we are really afraid. That's okay. It's all part of this journey. Be patient and kind to others but most importantly, be kind to yourself.

Dr. Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. Her specialties include: surviving infidelity, improving communication, beginning again after divorce and effective co-parenting after divorce. She is also a trained mediator, qualified parenting coordinator and collaborative law mental health professional. For more information, please call or text us today at 561-715-6404 to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.