Global pandemic is enough to worry the staunchest of souls. And if you already suffer from anxiety, you can find yourself experiencing bouts of overwhelming fear.

How to handle feelings of fear

How can you deal with your feelings of fear?

1. Accept that you feel afraid.

Trying to 'fight' fear or pretend it isn’t happening doesn’t usually work. It instead leads to feeling numb and dissociated, suddenly seeing that an hour or more has passed and you don’t know where it went.

Acceptance and mindfulness can be far more useful. Hence the saying, ‘the only thing to fear is fear itself’. Take a moment to sink into and honour your fear. It is your body doing its best to protect you.

Breathe deeply and let the sensation of fear flow through your body. It is just a sensation. It is not who you are. And fear itself actually doesn’t hurt you.

2. Talk yourself down from the fear ledge.

Talking to yourself in your head doesn’t seem to do much but ratchet up your fear and anxiety, with one anxious illogic thought holding on to the next until you are climbing a ladder to ever greater panic.

But talking out loud (in privacy!) seems to have a different affect, particularly taking an ‘inner child’ approach and talking to yourself as if you are the mother or father. “I get that you are afraid. It makes perfect sense. In this moment, I am here, hearing your fear. I am going to do what I can to take care of you.”

3. Or try the 'chair technique'.

Or take a page from Gestalt therapy and its 'chair technique'. Put two chairs facing each other. Sit on one, and the other chair becomes the seat of your fear. Talk to the fear as if it’s a person. “You are so big you are scaring me.” Say all you need to say, just letting words come, no matter how 'odd' they sound.

Take things a step further by switching chairs and talking back to ‘yourself’, playacting you are fear! “I am only trying to protect you. I didn’t know I was upsetting you.”. Sounds weird? Sure. But don’t knock it until you have tried it.

4. Write out and dissect fearful thoughts.

Again, ‘thinking through our fear’ doesn’t work. The mind instead will race.

Pen to paper changes that. The fear is in front of you on a page, like something less connected to you. Try free-flow journalling, writing out all your fears unedited, being as wild and terrified and angry as you like, writing big and sloppy, then ripping it up after.

5. Or take a tip from CBT therapy.

Break a fearful thought down to a balanced one with an annotated version of a CBT therapy ‘thought chart’.

  1. Write down your fear. My entire family is going to die in this pandemic..
  2. What proof do you have for it? People are dying daily, the numbers are rising, they are saying hundreds of thousands might die.
  3. Write down its opposite. My entire family will survive this pandemic.
  4. What proof do you have for the opposite? There is an estimated 3% mortality rate, meaning we might all pull through. We are all in good health. We live in the countryside where risk is lower.
  5. Is it possible that you can prove either and your first thought might not be so ‘true’? Yes I can see that. Maybe my fear is less 'true' than I realised.
  6. What is a thought that is the middle that is more balanced? It is possible that during this pandemic someone I love might die, but it’s more likely most or all of us will live.
  7. What is an action step that can integrate the balanced thought? I can spend time each day appreciating and communicating with my family.

6. Get physical.

Fear is itself physical. It makes our heart pound, our palms sweat, our muscles tense.

And it can often be counteracted by even more physical exertion. This could be wild dancing to your favourite music, stretching it out with some power yoga, or ‘shaking’, literally bouncing your knees and shaking your arms and relaxing your shoulders and even making big loud exhalations as you go.

A study comparing elite sportsmen and untrained healthy men found that those with an exercise focus had reduced reactions to stressful situations.

7. Trigger your opposing nervous system.

Fear triggers the sympathetic nervous system, flooding our body with chemicals to make us alert and ready to ‘fight, flight, or freeze'. What lowers this activation is triggering your opposing nerve system, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is designed to slow down your heartbeat and stabilise organs.

Try recommended PNS techniques like:

  • running your finger over the top of your upper lip/below your nose (with washed and disinfected hands or wear a glove…. don’t forget new hygiene rules)
  • gentle touch, so hugging yourself, stroking your arms or head
  • deep, steady breathing, or try breathing slowly though a straw
  • slow mouth breathing with your (clean) hands cupped around your mouth.
  • yogic stretching (stretches that are held and that you breathe through).

8. Try distraction in the form of humour.

Numbing out in front of any old Netflix show to avoid fear is a temporary measure…. When the film stops, the fear is still there.

But laughing is different. It affects your physiology. So try to watch a comedian you can count on to make you laugh.

A classic study on laughter by medical researcher Dr. Lee Berk found it lowered stress hormones such as cortisol, meaning it's also good for the immune system.

9. Talk to someone with special skills for talking you down.

Friends and family, no matter how well meaning, can exacerbate our stress and fear state.

But a trained talk therapist is an expert at helping people navigate fear and anxiety. And with Skype therapy, you don’t have to leave home. You just log in from your computer from the safety of your living room.

So afraid you are unable to cope? Book one of our friendly, trained and registered online therapists now and talk your way to clarity.

Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer. She also runs a consultancy helping people find their perfect therapy and therapist. Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy

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