Coping with Uncertainty & Fear in Times of Disruption
Continuing on from last week’s post on COVID-19, this post explores ways of coping with uncertainty and fear in angst-laden times, like the present.
The COVID-19 situation is certainly rapidly changing and constantly fluid. We are all perpetually seeking to understand the situation, and its meaning for our lives, the lives of those who are close to us, and the society as a whole. Given the high stakes, both in terms of directly health-related matters, and in terms of the economic consequences of the pandemic, very many of us are now coping with uncertainty, and a considerable amount of fear. How can we possibly take care of ourselves in such a situation, and find meaning for our lives?
Be Kind to the Reptile Brain… but Don’t Let It Run the Show!
Many people will tell you that there has been an atmosphere of unreality about the developments of recent weeks around the pandemic. The news of the lockdowns, or of the hits that the economy has taken have unfolded for us, but for many people, they have an air of fiction about them. It reminds me of the lines from a Beatles song:
Though she feels as if she’s in a play / She is anyway…Beatles, “Penny Lane”
We are seeing a lot of denial around the events of recent weeks. As UC San Diego Prof. Saul Levine tells us, denial is:
A psychological defense we all use at times to reduce our anxiety when something feels particularly disturbing.
The reason for the denial is that taking in what has happened might well be completely overwhelming and immobilizing. We need to recognize that there is a part of ourselves that is very afraid of these events, that wants to run away. It wants to “go to the cottage and never come back”, in the words of a friend. In Jungian terms, the fear in the present situation is in our shadow, which Jung simply defined as “the part of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge”.
This is a manifestation of the primitive parts of our brain, “the reptile brain”, as it is often called, that is concerned at a very basic survival level with the fight-or-flight response That part of ourselves can easily feel lonely, resourceless and panicked, in the midst of coping with uncertainty and fear. We need to take care of that part of the brain, and to be compassionate towards it — but we also need to be sure that it’s not running the show.
Steps We Can Take to Address Fear
Maybe we can’t completely eliminate fear and a sense of isolation, but there are many things we can do to make it better. Here are a few ideas.
Definitely consider limiting your intake of news. I’ve stated this one before, but it’s worth emphasizing. News content can often gain a great deal of attention if it is fear-inducing and disempowering, and news outlets are fully aware of this. It’s worthwhile identifying a trustworthy news outlet that doesn’t sensationalize — and giving it a relatively small amount of attention.
Stay connected with people you appreciate. This might seem hard, given all the restrictions we now face with “social distancing”. Yet, it’s possible to do some creative things, such as starting a cocktail hour or coffee meet up on a video conferencing site. Meeting virtually with a group of people you know can be enlivening. Social contact can help a great deal in reducing fear.
Find revitalizing ways to exercise. This may be a good time to try some new exercise equipment, or a new exercise regime. There are all kinds of online exercise platforms created by various fitness clubs, as well as quite number of online T’ai Chi or Yoga platforms. Exercise has great value in reducing stress.
Do something that channels your passions. It could be writing, working with clay, painting, quilting or home gardening, But identifying your passion, and working to deepen your connection to it, is something that reduces stress and brings a real sense of fulfillment and connection to soul
You might not be able to see a /a-midlife-transition face-to-face right now, but you could certainly start a connection with one online. It might be of great help to discuss the ways in which you’re currently coping with uncertainty and fear, and simultaneously to explore the things that are trying to emerge in your life, on your journey toward wholeness.