Fear is an alarm. An awakening. A response we simply cannot ignore. Our body won’t let us, and
our mind, emotional, and physical systems won’t keep it a secret that we are facing a real and
present danger in our real and present time.
At no other time in our lives are our bodies asked to react on demand and take on such a high
degree of impact unless we have just experienced something traumatic or perhaps labor
intensive. Yet with labor we have in some way planned for the impact and potential pain, not
devastation. We aren’t naturally reminded through our hypervigilance and constant scanning of
our environment to be on the lookout for threats to our safety. In more normal times, we
generally have a gut we can trust to sense when somethings wrong (guts don’t actually tell us
when nothing is wrong). And whether we are tuned into our gut or not, it is surely speaking to us
on a much lower level to tell us, we are stepping in the direction of something that may be
harmful to us or we need to better understand. Imagine that kind of alarm on steroids. That is
what it feels like to be in Fear.
So how do you process what is happening to you? Where do you go when you feel fear?
It’s hard to hunker down and drink tea and sit back in the midst of a pandemic when everywhere
you look, the threat becomes more real and how you’re going to survive financially and
relationally may be at the top of your list of concerns. A part of you knows if you make it
through to the other side of this pandemic you will still need to live. And that is not FREE. No
one has bank-rolled your life so far, and likely no one ever has (I imagine that only happens in
the movies). Your mind races to figure out what you will need, and what actions you will need to
take to fully recover. And the worries and fears surrounding living become the entryway for
more fear to reside. Perhaps your mind is working overtime to know what really starts to spark
that downward spiral of worry and tire out your emotional system. Right now, you just know
you have to survive. And honestly, you’re doing the best you can for yourself, in your
relationship, or with your family. Or with all three.
In survival mode, sleep and rest can be harder to come by. How can your impacted brain and
emotional system find its pillow quite the same way? Or how can the sense of safety that comes
from your routine quite be there? Environments we know to be safe, often help us regulate our
emotions, find resolve, accurately interpret what is going on around us. When we can’t reach the
people in our lives who can mirror our experience and reassure us, we become
disoriented. When we need love from behind a wall of fear, we resort to interpreting the best we
can from signals we often struggle to read.
Yes, you’re only human. And times like this can feel like you’re a black and white space, restless
and ready for action or immersed in a deep sense of helpless indecision. It can feel like your
only way to control the uncontrollable is to clean the toilet or binge watch season 4. Yes, those
are options, and needful ones to balance out your need to come down from the vigilance and
incredible sense of threat and heightened sensibility of the menacing threat from within or
without. Our systems need a pause. And for some of us, that pause might normally have been a
coffee date with a friend, a walk by the ocean, or hug, a hug we could really use right now but no
longer dare to seek. Alcohol or other possibly problematic retreats may take the place of physical
comforting from others.
Letting in love, empathy and compassion from others, and caring for ourselves can often be more
helpful. No. We can’t always find love at the exact moment we really need it, yet love and
comfort we can pull close to us in a time of COVID can surely make a difference even when it
offered through Facetime or Skype. Just be sure it’s the loving kind you need. What helps us
regulate our emotional systems helps to calm our internal storms. Our need for closeness and an
end in sight to our emotional distress especially in the face of isolation and social distancing,
becomes even more essential. Having our usual sources of reassurance, love and physical
comfort miles and countries away may fuel our feeling of isolation and threaten our sense of
safety, but we are challenged to find other ways to experience proximity that can help us absorb
our pain and assuage fear. It is important not to close the door to them.
Connection is so important in any way that is allowed at this difficult time. Shared laughter can
bring levity and fill our system with endorphins, dousing some of the cortisol that courses
through us in stressful times. With connection, we breathe again.
It makes sense that when you understand how your system works, and what it needs, you can
reflect on the feeling of flailing, the horror of maybe having to do the unthinkable, the need to
stock up on essentials, and to keep your children close. If you’re also feeling reactive, telling
yourself to man up, readying yourself for a fight, you are responding to your body’s alert
system. You may also find yourself ingesting more and more news reports to confirm your
worst suspicions or to assuage your deepest concerns, and to keep you abreast of where this
invisible and deadly enemy lies. You are preparing yourself for a stand. And now you don’t
know exactly where this invisible menace is hanging out, creating more than a bit of unrest on
top of your desperate need to connect. All you feel like doing is lying down, busying yourself,
or finding some way to control the madness, even if that puts you right in the thick of a march
for justice with a sense of uncertainty and helplessness steadily creeping in.
You just haven’t had a way to get some answers to help you activate your calmer mind. Or be
held ever- so-gently by the sweetest memories of times past, when you could actually be with the
people you love.
It may seem counterintuitive to slow down the system that protects you while the danger is still
here. Can’t it still rise again? Could you be risking a false sense of security? Yet, when you
resume a more reflective stance sitting with fear instead of pushing it away, you can calm your
body and free your mind to think and be guided on your way to a path of strength. You can take
another breath. You can finally perhaps find empathy and compassion for yourself and those
you hold so close. You can finally let the calm in. And if inclined to pursue a spiritual
path, seeking solace and guidance there.
When you finally start to unclench your fists, you begin to access the help and support you didn’t
see you needed, and perhaps you can finally find tender rest. You can finally feel more
empowered than afraid, find your safe emotional home, having accessed your growing hidden
strength. You can finally start seeing an end in sight, a return to your life, knowing that all is not
completely lost. You can pick up a glowing sword and slay the jabberwocky of fear as you
journey toward seeing and being well. You can be the warrior and be present… Again.