By: Alison Ross, LMFT
Fear. If you're feeling it right now, you're a human being. When dealing with a threat like a pandemic your lower brain lights up with anxiety. Fear triggers uncomfortable feelings, scary thoughts, and behaviors. This activates your resources and drives you to seek a sense of safety. Today fear might have driven you to the store to buy a year's supply of disinfectant and toilet paper. :)
Be patient and loving to your fear. For all of human history, it rallied us in the face of perceived threats. It caused us to imagine the worst and take precautions. Right now your fear is helping you to reduce risk by limiting interactions, washing your hands, and keeping a safe distance from others. These actions are likely to reduce the spread of the virus, keeping vulnerable people safe as we seek remedies. Thank you fear!
As much as we should appreciate fear for activating resourcefulness and protective mechanisms, we shouldn’t believe everything fear tells us. Fear, by nature, skews perception. It disconnects you from your higher brain, which is responsible for wisdom, thoughtfulness, and reason. In doing so, it causes you to underestimate hope while overestimating danger. If you sniffled and became immediately convinced you had the coronavirus, you may have experienced the distorting effect of fear.
Access to 24/7 media and social media coverage, speculation and misinformation drives fear and further distorts perception. After 9/11, the media convinced many of us that sleeper cells were about to activate all over the U.S. During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s many of us were influenced to believe that the virus could be transmitted through the air. Maybe you remember some fears that once felt like facts, but have since been debunked? Maybe some of what we fear today will look just as silly in the future.
Right now, fear is playing its part to keep you engaged, alert and cautious. While it's good that you wash your hands and limit contact, it's also important to manage fears. Staying calm, while doing what you reasonably can, is good for your immune system and health. One way to do this is to catch yourself (or the media) in a fear-inducing story and say, “Wait, is that true? Is there evidence for it? Is there evidence against it?”
A client once said to me, “Anxiety is looking far into the future without hope.” That's so easy to do that right now. But it’s healthy to counter anxious thinking by bringing yourself into the moment and seeking hope. Today I found hope in people being kind at the grocery store and the fact that I scored a few cans of baked beans. I’m hopeful I will find toilet paper tomorrow.
My heart is with you during this difficult time.
Hi. I’m Alison Ross, founder of Non-Dieting Health in Agoura Hills, California. I’m a licensed psychotherapist and neurofeedback practitioner specializing in eating and body image. My favorite things are my family, my dogs, yoga and working with my clients.