Do you know what’s even more contagious than the Coronavirus?
It’s easy to get caught up in the global crisis mentality that’s going on right now which breeds fear and panic in the minds of people as we’re facing the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s not to say that fear is “wrong” or that fear “shouldn’t” show up in us at all.
That’s also not to say that there are not good reasons for fear or worry around this situation.
Fear is an intelligent emotion and it certainly has a useful place in our lives – up to a point.
Fear can help us take action, alerting us to potential danger or harm so that we can protect ourselves and others. That’s a very useful, good thing.
But fear can also become crippling and it can overwhelm us. It can be an unpleasant feeling and it can really do a number on us when it stays around for long periods of time.
Because of that, I thought I’d share some ways to work with fear, point out a couple of podcast episodes that you can listen to on the topic, as well as teach you a Spiritual Habit that you can turn to for help moving through the feeling of fear so that you can connect to the place within you which is discerning, wise, and steady.
In a recent interview about how to strengthen resilience, Linda Graham said, “How you respond to the issue IS the issue.”
So, the issue of how we each individually respond to the fear of a pandemic is the most pressing issue for each of us.
I’ll offer up Stephen Covey’s idea of the circle of influence vs. the circle of concern.
Covey says that your Circle of Influence contains things that you can take action on and affect directly. In contrast, your Circle of Concern contains things that you worry about but can’t really take direct action on to change.
It’s helpful to become aware of which Circle we’re spending most of our time in as it relates to the Coronavirus fear we’re currently all facing.
If we spend all of our time watching the news beyond that which is instructive or helpful, we’re in the Circle of Concern. And that can feel paralyzing.
But if we spend our time identifying the things we can take action on and affect, we’re back in the empowering Circle of Influence.
One of the most impactful ways to spend time in the Circle of Influence is to focus on self-care.
Supporting your (and your loved ones’) mental, physical and emotional health right now is especially important.
By prioritizing the fundamentals of self-care – eating healthily, getting a good night’s sleep, exercising, meditating and seeking wisdom from sources that you know and trust – you take action on strengthening the pillars that will see you through this storm.
And since fear is an initiatory energy, taking action will channel that energy in a productive direction, giving it somewhere to go rather than stagnating inside of you.
We can turn our focus to the basics of what it means to Feed Our Good Wolf and take care of ourselves and when we do, we have the resources we need to navigate these difficult times.
I recently interviewed Mark Nepo for a second time (episode to be released soon) and he said something that struck me. He said, “we’ve become addicted to the noise of things falling apart.”
He went on to point out that things are also always coming together, too. Often, the things that are coming together are just a lot quieter. So, it takes us pausing to notice those quiet things coming together.
As in so much of life, where we place our attention will determine our experience.
So, how do we pause and respond to fear when it hits us?
It’s important to know that fear is fed through our thoughts but it is FELT in our bodies.
So if we continue to stoke the fire of fear by getting carried away by the trance of fear-based thinking, irrational panic can take over.
But if we can pause when we feel fear set in and really feel the feelings without feeding them, then they can move through us, releasing their grip on us so that we can contact what’s true, what’s in our Circle of Influence and what (if any) action we can take.
Since fear is fed by our thoughts and is largely future-oriented, it can be really helpful to drop out of the thinking mind and into the present moment.
Conveniently, the body and the breath are always in the present moment (and also always with you no matter where you are).
So here are a couple of practices you can turn to when fear really hits.
The first comes from another recent podcast episode with guest Fleet Maul who introduced us to the practice of straw breathing.
You can practice straw breathing with or without an actual straw. If you have one handy, great, but you don’t have to have one in order to practice it.
Essentially, you take a deep breath in and then you exhale in a slow, controlled manner, as if through a straw.
Anytime your exhalation is longer than your inhalation, it is a signal to your brain that you are not in a fight/flight/freeze state of danger and your limbic system can relax.
I’ll also offer you a grounding on-the-spot Spiritual Habit that you can turn to when you feel fear taking hold.
This Spiritual Habit won’t make the fear disappear, but it will open up more space inside of you, you won’t feel so possessed by the fear and you will have direct access to the present moment so that you can discern what’s present here and now vs. what is being imagined from a state of fear. From there you can move forward.
One of the things that all Spiritual Habits have in common is that they have a trigger or something that prompts you to practice them.
This Spiritual Habit’s trigger is anytime you notice you are caught in the trance of fear, the grip of fear or locked in fearful, ruminating thoughts:
First, pause. Notice and name the fear you’re experiencing. (“I’m feeling fear right now.”)
Next, place a hand on your belly and breathe into your hand so that your belly expands. Slowly exhale and as you do, sense your body and mind letting go of any tension and fear.
Now, move your attention to feel where your feet touch the ground or where your seat meets the chair and feel supported by the earth beneath you.
Then, sense where you feel any tension or tightness in the body and gently see if you can relax a bit in those areas, letting go and breathing into them.
And finally, take just a moment to rest in this state of presence, in direct contact with that which is here now vs. being lost in the imagined future, and sense what has opened up inside of you, giving you some space between you and the fear you’re feeling.
When you name the fear and sense that you are grounded and present, you become less gripped by and identified with the fear and more able to discern what the right action might be in the moment.
Bringing wisdom into the moments of your life and working with strong emotions are both things that I do as part of the Spiritual Habits Program.
In the 1-on-1 Spiritual Habits Program, I help people who have familiarity with spiritual principles like mindfulness, self-compassion or acceptance but can’t quite figure out how to consistently apply it all to their daily life to develop simple, actionable Spiritual Habits so they embody these principles and feel calmer, more at ease and more fulfilled on a daily basis.
Wishing you all inner stillness amidst outer chaos,