Navigating Fear

Navigating Fear

Lets be honest. This COVID-19 / Corona Virus thing scares the hell out of us. How do we navigate fear when it feel’s like it’s banging on our front door.

This isn’t like navigating fear at work. Even those of you who put your life on the line in the course of another day at the office have been trained to minimize the threat and maximize your safety.

This feels different. This virus doesn’t discriminate. There is no shot we can take to mitigate it. And it kills people indiscriminately, with a penchant for taking down the most vulnerable among us. And it incubates in silence. We’re in the midst of pollen season in Florida. Every time I hack up a lungful, people look at me like I could be Typhoid Mary.

We’re seeing entire provinces turned into detention centers. We’re supposed to bump elbows instead of shaking hands. Jump on a plane and you risk quarantine if a fellow traveler tests positive. Those of us with a broader sense of humanity worry about places in the world where health care and living conditions are poor, where every virus can turn into a killer.

This is the most frightening thing that most all of us have had to deal with in our lifetimes.

How do we navigate fear?

Get the Facts

“Anxiety spreads faster than the virus,” Catherine Belling, associate professor of Medical Education at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told ABC News. COVID-19 is tailor-made for frenzied social media sphere. “The antidote to fear and uncertainty is transparency and timely, accurate information from reliable sources.” writes Dr. Robert Bartholomew in Psychology today. Avoid inflating the risk, advises Dr. . Look for trusted experts and listen to their advice. Trusted agencies like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be your first two stops. Your state’s Health Department should be on top of what’s happening closer to home. Beyond agencies charged with watching out for our health, choose the voices you listen to with care. I’m a fan of  Dr. John Campbell, a UK researcher who does a daily YouTube video cast with statistical updates and tips he’s heard from his colleagues.

Remember that any news organization has a point of view. So do the people who are our friends. A narrative may not be based on accurate data, but it can still make a good story. Even those we have elected to lead us may be inclined to tilt things in a direction that minimizes political fallout. Develop a healthy suspicion of whatever you see and hear, especially if it came to you via Facebook or Twitter. Follow the famous Jack Webb line that his Joe Friday character actually never uttered. Seek out “Just the facts.”

Take reasonable precautions

The basics we learn in life include, “Don’t touch a hot stove,” “Stay out of high crime areas,” “Look both ways before you cross the street.”

Where COVID-19 or any illness is concerned engaging in the fundamental skill of washing your hands properly is the foundation of all prevention.

Follow guidance from the pros. As I write this, the CDC is discouraging Cruise vacations. Cruise ships are floating Petri dishes with a couple thousand guinea pigs crammed into them. If a bug gets on board, it can work it’s way through the passenger list faster than an itinerant preacher with a collection plate. If there is an alternative to putting yourself into environments where sick or incubating people might be, consider changing your plans.

There is a right way to cough, too, something I didn’t know. When I first heard about it, I thought it was meant to sell a ton of Kleenex stock. But coughing into a tissue and safely disposing of it makes sense. Now I just have to remember to carry some for my allergetic sinuses at all times.

Practice healthy coping skills

We all have ways to navigate fear that have served us well in the past. They can work equally well in the present. Our minds naturally like to spin up worst case scenarios, especially late at night when it has no distractions. Alice Boyes wrote a helpful tome with 50 strategies for coping with fear. Some of my favorites on the list include mindfulness meditation and dancing with my granddaughter. I bet you’ll find some old friends somewhere in the article, too. A healthy body feeds a healthy mind. Don’t let this be the time to fall off of your exercise regimen. Get enough sleep and feed that marvelous machine with high octane fuel.

COVID-19 reminds us that dangers are always lurking out there. At this point, the facts seem to say that we are still more likely to be injured in an automobile accident, especially if we are addicted to texting and driving. Keep searching for facts about the Corona virus as they continue to emerge, take reasonable precautions and focus your care on the one part of your body that can literally make you sick if you allow it to inflate fear into panic, your mind.

The decisions we make now will determine how we cope with the challenges that life inevitably throws across our path. Corona is just the latest. It’s new, it’s dangerous and we don’t know enough about it yet. Treat it like any danger, with respect. Face it one day at a time. And channel your fears in the direction of gratitude, for each additional day you are given. As the old saying goes: Every day is a gift. That’s why we call it the “Present”.