The grip of fear in times of uncertainty

Do you feel overwhelmed by the current Corona crisis?
Are you fearful of the future and about how everything will turn out?
Do you feel overly sensitive, hypervigilant and easily irritated?
Do you worry whenever you read the latest news, statistics and posts?

You are not alone in this! There is no one that I know personally, that does not feel challenged by the current situation.

The power of challenging emotions

Fears, Insecurities, Overwhelm, Worries – there are few people that have not met one or more of these feelings in the last weeks. Many of us are confronted with decreased income, restrictions, insecurities of how long this crisis might last, opposing opinions, statistics and prognosis that bring up the question what feels true to us.

The feelings inside of us during such a crisis can be very intense and bring us to our edge. Most of us have not dealt with events of that dimension, which can feel dramatic, cutting edge and life changing. Thus, we do not know how to handle the situation in the best way.

I have experienced several storms of emotions myself and know how powerful they can be. If I do not counteract, they can easily lead me into a downward spiral which causes a limited ability to act in a constructive way and to think clearly.

Paralysing Fear

Whether it shows as overwhelm, worries or insecurities – fear is the primordial emotion that lies beneath. Thought streams that are connected to fear indeed have a huge impact on our bodily systems.

When we feel fear, the sympathetic nervous system is programmed to a “fight and flight” mode. This is perfectly designed by nature for us to act quickly in dangerous situations without having to consciously think about what to do. The downside is, that when we constantly face fears and stress (which means that our parasympathetic system is over-active), our physical body and energy systems take a toll. This can manifest as digestive issues, insomnia, tension and unrest. The immune system is compromised and cannot fight pathogens properly (such as viruses or bacteria), as all the energy goes to deal with the stress response.

We often speak of it as paralyzing fear – an ongoing emotional state, in which we are unable to take decisions, focus on positive things and find creative solutions. We feel tight and constricted, everything feels difficult and sometimes even hopeless or desperate. The current crisis we face, feels indeed life threatening for many people.

What many of us do not realize is the fact, that we keep ourselves in the spiral of fear and negativity. Maybe you have realized already, that you start worrying whenever you read the rise of cases. Or you feel overwhelmed when hearing polarizing opinions and are not able to decided who and what to believe. You might also suffer hearing stories of sickness and loss and fear that this could hit a beloved person or yourself. Or you might face decreasing income or worry about your job.

All of those situations are likely to come up these days and may be in our thoughts daily or even hourly. If we do not take action, chances are high that we get lost in the grip of worries and fears. If we do not take countermeasures, we suffer more than we need to. How often do you find yourself trapped in a stream of negative thoughts throughout the day?

If you are experiencing severe anxiety disorders, trauma or panic attacks, please do seek a qualified therapist who can help you heal in acute situations as well as long-term.  

Conscious Perception

It is important to distinguish between fear and vigilance. Is your life actually threatened? In which areas do you need to be vigilant and careful? Where do you realize that you are trapped in and paralyzed by fear?

We have to find out at which point fear gets too much and makes us suffer. We have to realize where we unnecessarily limit the quality of our life. This begins with watching our thoughts that pass through our consciousness all day long. We can further investigate how closely thought activity, emotions and physical states are interconnected. Maybe you have already noticed, that after reading a negative article you start worrying not only about the content of the article, but the worry spreads to other areas and creates a stream of negative thoughts. These consequently lead to emotional unrest which in turn manifest as tension in the body. The actual article served as a trigger to set these mechanisms in motion.

Becoming aware of it is the first step to release yourself from the grip of fear and its consequences. It is important not to blame yourself for having fear, but first of all to accept whatever is present. This marks the beginning of not to feel overwhelmed by fear any more and to learn how to deal with it in an effective way.

Counteracting fear

There is no one-size-fits-all recipe, how to release yourself from the grip of fear. And chances are high, that you will continue facing challenging emotions in the future. But you can start learning to move through distressing emotional states with much less suffering and with a quicker rebound back to balance.

It is on you to find new habits, affirmations, activities and mechanisms that feel right. You know yourself best and have to find out what works for you. This can include short-time countermeasures from the list below, but it also has to address long-term changes of limiting beliefs that are restricting your life experience and keep you trapped in recurring patterns of fear.

What can you do short-term, to bounce back to balance?  

  • Limit your daily consumption of news and times on technical devices. The world will not be going to end when you take your phone away for 8 hours, when TV is not always switched on at home and when you check your emails only once a day. This way you limit the overflow of information that is likely to constantly feed your fear.
  • Practice meditation or mindfulness techniques regularly. You will become more and more mindful and conscious throughout your day and reap the benefits of your practices during your daily life. It also helps you to create more space around your emotions and manage them in a more efficient way.
  • Take care of your body with regular movement practices such as walks, Yoga, jogging, gymnastics or whatever feels good and is easy to integrate into your day to day life. Besides keeping your body healthy and fit, regular exercise will help boosting your mood.
  • Start a gratitude journal in which you note down at least three things that you are grateful for each day. Maybe it’s the friendly cashier, a phone call with a friend or a flower in a garden. Train yourself to focus on all the positive things that are present in your life.
  • Ask for help if you are not feeling well. It’s completely ok to ask for support by a family member or friend. Ask them to simply listen to you and hold space for what you go through. Sometimes this is already enough to honestly talk about what is going on in your life in order to feel better. When you ask for feedback, you might even get a different perspective on your situation when talking to someone that knows you well.
  • Seek uplifting company with inspiring people in whose company you feel seen and accepted. There are many people around who are very negative (online or offline) and can suck your energy. Notice how you are affected by the vibe of certain people and if necessary (and possible), limit the contact with people that constantly spread negativity.
  • Eat healthy and balanced. When you are at home a lot and eat because of feeling bored, or when you use food as stress-relief or emotional compensation, notice your eating habits and gradually improve them. Become aware of why, when, what and how you eat. Do not burden your body by eating too much or unhealthily.
  • Find positive Affirmations to practice daily, for example: “I am safe and healthy.”, “I can live without worry and at the same be vigilant and take care of myself.”, “I am worthy and enough.” I focus on all the good in my life”. Affirmations work best, when you repeat them regularly in a relaxed state, but they can also be used as soon as you catch yourself in a negative train of thoughts.
  • Go out in nature often to ground yourself. Instead of ruminating while taking a walk or sitting on a park bench, use the time outside to see, feel, listen to, smell and sense the perfection and beauty of nature. Connect to nature with all your senses and become fully present in the moment.  
  • Focus on solutions instead of problems. Every crisis creates a chance for growth and evolution (both individually and as a collective). What can you learn from this situation? How can you grow? Which talents and qualities can you bring in to move through the crisis? What do you want to create? How do you use your time wisely? What inspires you? Use the time that is being given to you in order to find personal answers to these important questions. Dream about the highest and best outcome of this situation.
  • Take time for relaxation with soothing music, calming tea, times of Being instead of Doing, relaxation techniques such as Yoga Nidra or Progressive Muscle Relaxation and get enough sleep at night. As soon as your body relaxes, your nervous system will calm down. When the parasympathetic nervous system is active, your body goes into rest and digest mode. Your immune system will get a boost when you take time for rest and relaxation.  
  • Implement rituals and structure in your daily life. Create daily fixed points to anchor and stabilize yourself. It can be a prayer, drinking a cup of tea in silence before you start your day, practicing a short meditation or relaxation technique during your work break or journaling at the end of your day and filling your book of gratitude. Find something that inspires you and that you are willing to commit to on a regular basis.

Take time to be with yourself and ultimately, getting to know yourself better. You are responsible for your own well-being. Nobody else is going to present you a magic pill for lasting happiness. You are not the victim of your emotions. The more you can connect to your essence and realize that you are much more than your thoughts and feelings, the easier you can handle challenging situations and move through them with more ease and grace.

Sometimes, we only realize the hidden blessings after we have gone through a crisis or a challenging life event. I invite you to already focus on the positive in midst this time of crisis and uncertainty instead of going down a negative fear-based spiral. It is my wish that some of these reflections and action steps resonate with you and help you come back to mental, emotional and physical balance.