Shit’s pretty rough right now, with the future looming large with unpleasant possibilities and our present situation continuously reminding us of all that’s chaotic and uncertain. “Don’t be afraid”, “no need to panic” and “you need to calm down” are hearty battle cries from well-meaning folks who aren’t partial to anxiety or are trying to subtly soothe themselves. But denying the reality of our feelings during this time does a great dishonour to our emotional wellbeing and lived experience.
While fear is not exactly an emotional state that any of us are itching to get to know intimately, it is one that is deeply programmed into our minds and bodies, orchestrated by a complex threat detection system in our brain, with the amygdala calling the shots. Our bodies’ immediate reaction to fear is usually short and sharp: we fight, we flee or we freeze. But when the source of our fear is not something we can physically fight, freeze or flee from, we can react spontaneously and irrationally, without input from the wiser, calmer and more rational centres of our brain. When we’re acting in a state of fear, higher-order thought processes, such as good decision making, long-term planning, discerning nuance and complexity and seeing the big picture, become incredibly challenging.
So how do we soothe ourselves out of fearful states? We slow down. We get curious. We get kind. And we empower ourselves. Here’s a little how-to guide to help you give fear the finger…
1. Slow down.
Fear is reactive and often goes hand-in-hand (*sigh* more unnecessary contact) with anxiety – piling worry upon worry about what’s coming next and how it will affect us. Fear and anxiety thrive in bustle and chaos, so the first step is to slow the f*ck down.
- Find a quiet place you can take pause for a moment or two.
- Take a deep, mindful breath. Inhaling for a count of 6, holding for a count of 6, and exhaling for a count of 7. Pay special attention to the exhale, as it’s this aspect of breath that specifically engages our ‘Rest & Digest’ parasympathetic nervous system response (which switches off the Fight or Flight response).
- Attend to your senses. Look around your immediate environment and make a mental note of five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
2. Get curious.
Instead of fearing “fear itself”, it can be useful to try and get to know it a little better. That is, observe and investigate where it lives in your body and how it feels. It’s important to try to put any judgement or hostility towards the feeling itself (however unpleasant) aside for a moment, because such hostility makes us reactive and liable to shut down or resist it.
- Take a moment to consider how fear has shown up in your life lately.
- Where are your thoughts right now? Are they in the past? Are they in the future?
- When you feel fearful, how does it feel in your body? Perhaps it’s a tension in your chest? Or a nausea in your belly? Does the feeling have a shape? a colour? a temperature?
3. Get kind.
Compassion is incredibly powerful in scary times. This means compassion both towards others and towards yourself. The first step is to meet yourself with kindness and softness about being fearful and anxious in the first place! A lot of us beat ourselves up over “freaking out” or “being paranoid”, but when shit gets real and outcomes are uncertain, it’s completely human to feel scared and worried! It can also be helpful to move out of “me” and “I”-centric thinking, into the more collectively-minded thinking of “us” and “we”.
- Remind yourself “It’s ok that I’m feeling scared and anxious right now! It’s human.”
- Think of a small kindness you can extend to yourself. Something that centres, calms or soothes you. Perhaps that’s running yourself a warm bath, allowing yourself a moment to read a book while sipping a herbal tea. Perhaps its a gentle at-home yoga flow, Deliveroo-ing your favourite pizza, or watching a favourite movie.
- Think of a small kindness you can extend to someone else. Perhaps it’s reaching out to a friend or loved one to check in or donating some money to a community fundraiser. Perhaps it’s picking up some groceries for an elderly neighbour, or moving an in-person get-together to a Face-Time meetup.
4. Empower yourself.
Finally, living in fearful times can leave us feeling very helpless and out of control. While there is plenty right now that is out of our hands (good thing too, hands = germs), it’s empowering to consider the steps we can take to look after ourselves and do our bit.
- Get clear on the things that are within your control – hand washing, social distancing, limiting travel, staying hydrated, staying fit, getting rest.
- Shift from asking yourself “What” questions, such as “What will happen if..” and “What about when…” to “How” questions, such as “How can I best prepare for…” and “How will my behaviour impact…” “How” questions put the ball in your court and empower you to take action instead of endlessly ruminate.
The simple act of reading this (and pausing from all the chaos on social media for a moment) is an empowering and compassionate act towards yourself. If you’re looking for a little extra support during this time, our practitioners are all providing phone/Skype sessions so you can access therapy from home.
Please note: Sitting with emotions exercises are not recommended for those with acute trauma or PTSD – in these instances, it’s best to reach out to your practitioner for guidance and support during this time.