By Dr. LaKesha Legree

What the hell is happening?  What do we do?  What’s going to happen next?  Am I sick?  Will I get sick?  What am I going to do if I get sick?  These are common thoughts that we are all being inundated with as a direct result of this current pandemic, COVID-19.  The Corona virus has ignited our fears and the daily news feeds are feeding our fears like a wild brush fire.  Each day our fears continue to compound.  Without an exhaust valve or some type of release, your fears will become consuming.  If they encompass most of your day, every day, then there may be a clinical issue mounting.  It is important to know that fear is a real phenomenon, a natural phenomenon and a feeling that we can control.  So how is this done?

First, it is important to recognize that fear directly stems from uncertainties.  It stems from not knowing certain information at all or simply knowing only a scarcity of information.  Subpar or complete lack of knowledge often manifests as lack of control.  This sense of losing control may on occasion detach you from reality and subsequently paralyze you from doing anything at all.  You eventually become unproductive and your conscience is so clouded with speculations, assumptions, sordid scenarios and unfounded predictions that you lose track of the present.  Loosing track of the present moment inhibits you from ever being fully present in the NOW.  Perseverating over a pandemic in which we have little control beyond ourselves will narrow our focus towards all the “what if” questions.  This directly results in an inability to see and appreciate all that we currently have that we should be grateful for. 

On the contrary, we focus on all that could possibly happen to us or that which has not even occurred.  Yet, the very thing we allow to consume us, ‘tomorrow’, is not yet here nor is it promised to arrive.  All we have is today.  All we have is the present.  All we have is knowing that we can’t control what happens external to our front door.  All we have is knowing that if we stay home, and do our part, then we are contributing to slowing down and eventually aborting the spread of COVID-19 thereby decreasing the transmission rate.  You absolutely cannot worry about your neighbor and what they are or are not doing or should or should not be doing.  Control only what you can, which is yourself, your thoughts and your own behaviors. 

Second, it is important to recognize that fear, when unchecked, can create limitations.  These limitations will manifest themselves physically as well as mentally and spiritually.  Physically, fear can manifest as an increase in heart rate, sweating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, headaches and migraines.  Mentally, fear may manifest itself as excessive worry, compulsive thoughts and an inability to focus or concentrate resulting in an inability to complete tasks.  Finally, fear may infect your spiritual being by inciting doubt and angst.  If the later happens, this is a slippery slope to something more serious; Clinical Generalized Anxiety Disorder. 

Third, it is important to know that cultivating your fears or not facing your fears will also result in anxiety.  The two will work in tandem, like a hamster in a wheel until you decide to hop off and face the inciting factors, i.e. triggers.  Otherwise, you will be thrown off the wheel as the anxiety that stemmed directly from the fear lends itself to a full-blown panic attack.  Recognize that Anxiety and Panic attacks are both clinical diagnoses for which professional help should be sought.

Fourth, it is important to know and understand what your triggers are and know how to diffuse them at their onset.  Examples of triggers related to generalized anxiety disorder include but are not limited to:  certain medications, caffeine, improper nutrition, isolation, abandonment, financial concerns, social events, divorce, trauma, or public performances.

The word faith does not have to imply or automatically mean religion or any religious deity.  Faith is an aspect of our spirituality and by definition, spirituality means the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to tangibles.  Spirituality and indirectly faith are collectively an individual practice that is ever evolving.  This practice has a lot to do with having a sense of purpose and peace of mind and is there for a practice that is to be done daily and is to be done with intention.  In paraphrase, the amazing and incredibly accomplished Oprah Winfrey once said during her Wellness 2020 tour that you are not fully living if you are not in touch with and in tune with your spirit because it is what guides you throughout life.

Faith can also be viewed as the lens through which you see yourself and through which you observe life in general.  It can determine ultimately how you live your life.  Often, we choose fear or rather we allow fear to permeate us because it is more familiar to us as an emotion.  On the other hand, faith is foreign, often irrational, and takes work to build and even more work to sustain.  The alternative to faith is to stay in fear and frustration which simply is just not physically or mentally sustainable.

How can we then face our fears?

  • Arm yourself sparingly with information.  Do not overload yourself.  It is okay to be aware but it is NOT okay to be afraid.
  • Find solace in the declining numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in other countries.  Find solace in pandemics that have occurred historically such as the Spanish Flu.  It came, it went, and the country did not implode as a result of it.
  • Recognize that you do have control:  SOCIAL DISTANCING AND STAYING HOME AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.  It is understood that some of us still need to put food on the table; do so as safely as possible by arming yourself with gloves and masks and avoid touching your face.  Obsessively wash your hands and utilize hand sanitizer.
  • Prepare to be home for a prolonged time frame.  Preparation will quench fear.

So, which will you choose to cultivate?

Will you choose to cultivate your fears and allow yourself to temporarily forget everything or suppress everything and compartmentalize everything?  “Fear itself is to be feared because of the miseries it creates.  The things we fear pale in comparison to the damage we do to ourselves and others when we unthinkingly scramble to avoid them.” (The Daily Stoic, pg. 271)

Or will you choose to cultivate your faith by changing your focus?  Thereby choosing to face the uncertainties and limitations and simultaneously choosing to rise to the occasion.  Periods of uncertainty make us uncomfortable.  However, becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable is when true, lasting growth occurs. 

Most importantly, do not be ashamed of what you are feeling or thinking, particularly if you think that you may need professional help.  Shame is like mold, it only grows in the dark. Don’t allow fear to fester.  Instead, choose to foster your faith.  It will be difficult at first but will enable you to endure the process of this pandemic.  The outcome, which is who and what you will become when the COVID-19 pandemic is over can be up to you if you so choose.  

“But there is no reason to live and no limit to our miseries if we let our fears predominate.”  (Seneca, Moral Letters, 13.12b)

In next month’s article we will discuss how to recognize the difference between Stress and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and will delve into where it all stems from and what you can do about it.

Until then remember, #NOSHAME, #JUSTASK   

Xoxo, Dr. Legree