Deb Lang PsyD, RD; Licensed Psychologist

It’s pretty natural and understandable to be feeling fear right now as we face the virus and all of the ways it’s changing how we live our lives.

Looking for feelings hiding beneath fear is a useful strategy to help find balance in these difficult times.

Feelings are important messengers.

To be without fear, we wouldn’t be safe.  

Fear drives us to take precautions and to do the things we really don’t want to do right now – like shelter at home.

And there is a difference between feeling afraid and being afraid.

defining ourselves by our feelings

We often define ourselves by our feelings.  Our language supports that.

It is common to say, “I am afraid” or “I am sad”, angry, etc.

As if that is who we are.

It certainly can feel that way when any feeling is dominant in our attention.

Being caught up in joy or happiness is wonderful, isn’t it?  

Not so wonderful to be caught up in fear.

Have you had moments of joy in the midst of all of this fear? 

Has spring arrived where you live and have bursts of beautiful color grabbed your attention? 

And in that moment, did you forget your fear?

I’m also imagining that those moments have slipped, quickly, out of your awareness.

We have to fight against a natural tendency of the brain to hold onto all that is painful or scary.

This negativity bias is designed with our survival in mind and it can keep us “tipped” or out of balance, emotionally.

when fear is all you see

Unless your life is in immediate danger, in this moment, fear is only one of many feelings available to you.

Whether you see fear as a feeling or as your totality, will strongly influence what you will experience.

Let me see if I can explain.

fear and survival

Fear is a feeling that mobilizes our defensive survival strategies.

So when we only connect with our fear, the body responds.

The primitive brain and nervous system take over and gear us up to protect ourselves.

The body’s response to danger is to run, fight or freeze.

It doesn’t matter whether this is a danger standing right in front of you, like a fire or predator or whether it is a perceived threat being generated by your fears.

You will feel the urge to fight, flee or freeze.

fear can trigger the urge to run - useful in immediate danger - not so useful when at home worried about the virus

Maybe you have felt like running but with no place to go –

or maybe frozen in place not knowing what to do.

Or, you have found yourself fighting for the last package of toilet paper and wondering what came over you.

Running, fighting and freezing are all normal responses to a real or perceived threat to our survival. 

Very effective in facing a predator and not that effective when sitting at home worried about the virus.

And these responses can lead to more stress. 

If I feel the urge to run and I can’t, what is going to happen?

Yep, I’m probably going to feel even more afraid or even in panic.

finding balance by looking for hidden feelings

So, remember those moments of joy that I asked you about a few moments ago and how they may have shifted your perspective and state, if even for a moment?

Purposely looking for those feelings is really important right now.  

Looking for and finding those balancing feelings is one way of calming the nervous system.

I bet those other feelings are there.  You will just need to look for them.

And, guess what?

Imagining works just as well.

If rain is hitting your window as you are sheltering in your home, you can imagine beautiful flowers blooming out in that rain.

the body doesn't differentiate between what we are imagining or experiencing - use that to your advantage in dealing with fear

gratitude

Gratitude is one of those feelings that often hides under fear or anger.

If you are feeling afraid or maybe angry about all of the restrictions in your life right now,

take a moment to bring your attention to your surroundings and notice anything that you find beautiful or that brings up feelings of gratitude.

As I write this article, I am feeling some fear about whether what I write will be helpful.

If I bring my attention up and away from the computer screen, I see a beautiful view of the mountains and snow falling softly outside my window.

When I focus on that, I feel a smile forming on my face.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I love the snow – even at the end of March.

My body feels different in this moment than it did just a moment ago when I was concentrating on writing this article.

I could have just as easily, closed my eyes and imagined my feet walking on the warm sand of a beach, with the sound of the waves softly splashing in the background and the sun on my shoulders.

imagining the warm sand and the sound of the waves can evoke the same relaxation in the body as being there in person

And in this moment I feel grateful for my imagination and where it can take me.

If I bring my attention back to my article, the joy and gratitude might slip behind the intensity I feel around writing this and it is still there.

All I need to do is look up and take a moment to feel how lucky I am to have such a beautiful view, right outside my window.

Or, take myself back to that beach and allow my body to relax in the warm sun.

what do you feel grateful for?

When you look around, what do you feel grateful for, in this moment?

Who do you feel grateful for?

In what ways do these things or people add to your life or make life easier for you?

Did you find gratitude, hidden under your fear?

Take a moment to really soak in those feelings of gratitude all the way down to the level of your cells.

Security

Security is another feeling worth spending some time trying to find.

Feelings of security balance our feelings of fear.

What do you feel secure about in this moment?

If you are caught up in fear and your life has totally changed, your first response might be

“I don’t feel secure about anything in this moment”

This is so understandable. When we are “tipped” by our fear it is hard, sometimes, to access feelings of security.

If you were sitting across from me, I would ask,

in fear we lose touch with simple things that bring security - like knowing I have a chair to sit on and that it will hold me

“Do you feel secure that the chair you are sitting on will hold you?”

Or, “Do you feel secure that you know where you are right now or what day it is?”

See where I am going with this?

There are usually many things providing security in this moment and they get lost under the big “what ifs” of our fear.

Taking a moment to feel those feelings of security can help to bring a bit of balance and soaking in that feeling is a nice way to calm your nervous system.

compassion for self and others

Sometimes we are just too tipped into fear to really feel grateful or secure about anything.

If that is where you are, feeling compassion is a way of bringing yourself back into a more balanced place.

Compassion is about being there for yourself or others in a kind and nonjudgmental way and with a willingness to help. 

compassion is being there in a kind and nonjudgmental way and with a willingness to help

It isn’t the same as sympathy – we are not feeling sorry for ourselves or others.

It is an act of kindness, warmth, and willingness to help.

It’s,

“I’m here, I care and I’m willing to help.”

It’s nice to know someone is there who cares and doesn’t judge us, isn’t it?

See if you can give yourself that caring and comfort. 

Maybe putting your hand on your heart or rubbing your arm.

As you do that see if you can really feel that flow of warmth and kindness coming from you to you.

And, you might remind yourself that in this moment you are not alone.

That many others are suffering, just like you, all around the world.  

when you are feeling afraid realizing that you are not alone that many others are also suffering in this moment and feeling compassion for them is one way of coming back into balance

See if you can feel yourself being a part of something bigger than yourself.

You might even imagine a warm glow of light flowing between you and others – filled with warmth and kindness. 

And, you might say to yourself, 

“This is a moment of suffering.  Suffering is a part of being human.  

May I be kind to myself, in this moment. 

May I also feel kindness toward others who are suffering around the world, just like me, in this moment.”

How was that? It is hard to feel compassion and fear at the same time, isn’t it?

If it is hard for you to grasp the concept of compassion, any feeling of connection will work.  It could be caring or love – it could be prayer.

sending warmth and compassion to you

I hope that looking for hidden feelings will help you to find moments of joy to balance your fear, as we face this challenge before us.

Right now I am feeling compassion for myself around my own fears about writing useful articles and

as I do that I am imagining you in my circle of warmth and compassion

bringing our attention to others who are suffering and feeling compassion toward them is another way of balancing our emotions when we are afraid

feeling a flow of kindness moving from me to you,

as you face whatever challenges you are facing.

I’m hoping you can feel it 🙂

If you would like to learn more about tools for moving through fear, be sure to check out my free guide.

With warmth and kindness,
Deb

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to signup below so that you will receive notification when articles are published. Want to share your thoughts or have a topic you are interested in learning about, scroll down to leave a comment.