We snuck away to play in the snow last week before I began to truly understand the impact of Coronavirus in the US. The image above is actually a screenshot of a hilarious video Oakley made of me. I looked back to say “I’m a little nervous!” before I flew off down the hill, screaming all the way.
The COVID-19 pandemic started out as no big deal in my mind.
In my naivete, it felt like it was happening so far away, it wouldn’t get to us, so safely tucked away here in the United States. And even if it did, we would be so prepared, we’d all be fine. I made choices aligned with that uninformed way of thinking for quite a while.
When we know better, we do better.
But let’s be clear, knowing better and being better informed, will certainly not take away the fear that we’re feeling. The rapid-fire closings, cancellations, and bans on gatherings that are upheaving our lives might feel like extreme, widespread panicked reactions. But those impending boundaries are actually quite the opposite of panic. They are rational and imperative life-saving measures. On the other hand, the empty grocery store shelves, and gas stations, the back-ordered medications, and supplies are all signs of sheer panic among people who are now becoming informed and simultaneously fearful, feeling completely powerless.
You will hear no judgment from me there.
We’re all experiencing thoughts and emotions on both ends of the spectrum, sometimes within a matter of 5 minutes. We’re not really sure how we feel or how we want to feel. We’re certainly not sure how to deal with all the feelings within ourselves and with our loved ones. It seems like it would be nice to feel no fear and get to be the one who judges the actions of others, but that’s of course not reality. It’s clear now, that as we each learn more, our natural fear response is increasing. Most of us are experiencing fear, whether we’re fully aware of it or not. Certainly, myself included, fear for the health of my family, and the ones I love, and also that I own a very small business in which our revenue is dependent on live events gathering women face-to-face. And my heart keeps fearing for the people right here in Frisco, and around the world, who already live on the fringes, barely hanging on week by week. What on earth is going to happen to them?
But the thing about feeling fear is, that it’s actually good news!
If you’re feeling fear today, it means your body is working. Your mind is fully functioning and working hard to keep you safe. That’s what you’re wired to feel.
I love this explanation of fear from Sara Boyd at Resilient Little Hearts:
“Fear is an emotion we experience because we’re wired psychologically to respond to a threat. The purpose of fear, the message of the emotion of fear, is to pay attention and respond to the threat in front of you. Our brain though, begins to go into overdrive, particularly when there’s a lot of uncertainty around the threat, when we don’t understand it or know what to do with it. So, some of the things you might see happening are obsessiveness over the threat, which is not helped by our media culture where we’re watching it 24/7 thinking about it, and it’s all we’re talking about. The other thing that you’ll find is that people get into the mindset of everyone out for themselves. That’s because under stress, or under fear, the empathy centers in the brain shut down. They do that so that you can respond to the threat. That’s why sometimes we just become self-obsessed about our own family and keeping our loved ones safe and stockpiling and all that kind of stuff. It’s a very normal reaction because our brain is actually looking for a sense of safety and certainty.”
What you do with the fear that you feel is where you have the power.
While we were flying to Utah last week, I finally got a chance to watch, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”. I’ve been wanting to see it since it came out and life just hadn’t slowed down enough, until now. But the timing couldn’t have been better. (Obviously, wishing Tom Hanks wellness as he himself battles Coronavirus) In the story of the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, Fred shows irrational empathy toward Tom for the extreme anger he has felt toward his father his entire adult life. Fred’s patience, kindness, and empathy are the only forces able to break through the walls Tom has built up around his heart. In Fred’s famed simple style, he sings his song:
“What do you do with the mad that you feel”
What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong and nothing you do seems very right?
What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go?
It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong and be able to do something else instead.
And think this song:
I can stop when I want to.
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this.
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside.
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman.
And a boy can be someday a man.
The obvious implication here is that becoming a mature woman or man is about understanding where we have power and our power is not in our feelings. We have power in how we respond to our feelings, which will inevitably, over time, change our feelings themselves. Just like they did for Tom, in the movie.
So, what do you do with the fear that you feel?
First, you must give yourself permission to feel it and not judge it or try to pretend it’s not there. It’s valid. We are living in an unprecedented, challenging, and very uncertain time. What you’re going through today is scary. It makes sense to feel afraid. It makes sense to feel powerless. That is real, and it’s true. It’s what you do with that feeling that will make all the difference.
Here are 3 things you can do with the fear that you feel:
- Get serious about community Of course, my first recommendation involves community. Talk to your people. No matter what we’re experiencing in life, the burden is lighter when it’s shared. Do whatever it takes. Get on Marco Polo. Facetime with no makeup on. House Party with your extended family. Just stay consistently connected to the people you love and especially the people who encourage and inspire you, as Seth Godin does for me. He addressed this so beautifully this week:
“We’re living in challenging times that few of us could’ve prepared for or predicted. Now, more than ever, community matters. Community allows us to stay connected and support each other during this chaos. The gift is that despite geography, we can still be there for each other. Let’s lean in and navigate these uncertainties together. It’s a crazy time and we can benefit from connecting with others. As we shelter in place, which is the single most productive thing we can each do to flatten the curve through social distance, we need connection. We need emotional connection, to see and be seen.”
One of the best ways to lighten the burden through community is to think beyond your own inner circle to the needs of the community around you. Pray for healthcare workers and emergency personnel on the front lines. Pray for those who are infected and fighting to heal. There is an opportunity like never before, to care for the most vulnerable people in our own communities. Find organizations serving others and join them in any way that you’re able.
2. Focus on what brings joy and inspiration
I don’t know your faith affiliation, but my parents taught me to daily read one chapter in the Bible from the book of Proverbs, The Book of Wisdom. I don’t do it every morning as I wish I did, but it has proven to lead and guide me at just the right times, all my life. This morning, when I read this verse, it nearly jumped off the page at me. This is true wisdom about what we need today:
“Eyes that focus on what is beautiful bring joy to the heart and a good report refreshes the inner being.” Proverbs 15:30
Focus on the positive news stories that are trickling in, like the videos of people singing out their windows together from isolation in Italy. Or simply turn the TV off, put down your phones and be present with the ones you’re with. Focus on the freedom you have to walk around outside and breathe in the fresh spring air. Focus on the health you currently enjoy.
3. Look for the unique gifts and opportunities in this experience
As unexpected, challenging, and scary as this experience is, there are so many gifts to cherish within it, if you will intently look for them, and seek them out. The slower pace of life. The time to connect (even virtually) with the ones we love. The time to catch up on things you’ve been putting off, important things that never seem to get checked off your list, but even things like sleep, reading, painting, planning, or maybe getting creative and learning something new. Every challenge is an opportunity to grow. Usually, the more treacherous the road, the bigger the opportunity for growth. There are gifts at every turn, if only you will look for them.
Now I’m writing this about the pandemic, but all of these things apply to any frightening or uncertain circumstance we might face down the road.
And of course, we know, that this too shall pass.
Will it be hard? Yes. But you can do hard things. You can do it a little nervously. You can do it screaming all the way down.
You will get through it.
We will get through it.
We will do it, together.
So please tell me.
What will you do with the fear that you feel?
You can choose to make it matter.
to more love,