Right now, there’s no way around it—we are all feeling fear. These feelings are natural, normal, healthy, and even expected.
We’re facing an unprecedented situation, where our whole world has been upended. None of us has seen a global pandemic of this proportion before. We don’t know how the Coronavirus outbreak will play out.
Compounding these fears are job loss, economic insecurity, concerns about our health and safety as well as the health and safety of our loved ones. We’re watching helplessly as we see disturbing scenes on the news and read upsetting accounts of the disease. Combined with a loss of connection with our loved ones, many of us are feeling frightened and alone. Isolation is difficult—even painful for many of us—as we’re told to practice social distancing.
So, thinking of ways we need to “let go of fear” may be the wrong way of framing the idea. We don’t need to let go of our emotions; we should allow ourselves to feel them fully. What we can do is learn to take our fear and channel it toward our sense of aliveness. We can use our fear to propel us forward.
In the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill never lost his certainty that the British would prevail. The bombing was constant. Some nights, 400 tons of bombs were dropped on London. It would have been easy to fall into doubt and complete despair. Many did, but not Sir Winston.
Although he had no idea how they would win, and the situation seemed hopeless, Churchill still believed that they would come out of the battle. He never wavered—he knew they would get through. In fact, he prepared the British to defend their homeland. He kept them fighting mad and ready for anything—including the devastation of many of their homes.
Believe that with no sign of relief as things seem to get worse, we will make it through this pandemic. This experience will change us. It will impact the entire world. Determine that you will learn and grow. You will come out of it different than you went in, but you will prevail.
This self-belief that we can handle the situation is called self-efficacy. We can all channel and even increase our sense of self-efficacy at this time. Self-efficacy doesn’t mean that we feel no fear, or that we feel confident, or unshakeable.
We might be scared to death. We might not know how we are going to do it. We may shake and tremble, but we can intend to get through this. We can decide that we will use this time to learn, to grow, to innovate, to support each other, and partner in new ways—always knowing that we WILL come out on the other side even though we have no idea how.
Another lesson we can take from Churchill’s example during the Battle of Britain is that being there for people makes a huge difference. This is especially important when we all want to “do” something. Instead, simply being in the moment and offering our presence is equally powerful.
During the battle, some of the most impoverished areas of London were hit the hardest. These people had nothing left. Churchill knew there was nothing he could do to change what had happened. But he drove immediately to these hardest-hit areas anyway, and his presence made a huge difference to those people whose entire world had been crushed.
As he walked through the rows of houses that looked as though a giant had stomped them, his eyes welled up with tears. People saw this expression of emotion and said, “He really cares about us. He loves our people.” It meant so much to the British, and his simple act of human expression carried many of them through the time.
Our sense of caring for others is truly a gift we have abundantly to give. We may not know what to do—in fact, no one knows what to do in this new situation. We might not have a job for our friend who lost their livelihood, we might not be able to spend birthdays with our loved ones, and we might have had to cancel our plans. But we can still be there for each other. We can express interest, listen, and reassure our friends and loved ones Our care and attention are gifts. Asking what they can do helps invite them to ride the fear into new action.
None of us are sure about our navigation through this time, but we creatively engage in all kinds of new activities, knowing that we will get through it. We will move toward a better world with deeper connections. We’re going to preserver, transform, and grow.
I am struck by the poignancy and relevance of Niebuhr’s serenity prayer popularized by AA. See if it doesn’t help you in what we’re living through right now. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s entirely appropriate to feel afraid right now. There are a lot of terrified people. It’s a horrifying situation, but we can learn to use our fear. Ask ourselves, “What are we afraid of?”
Our fear lets us know that we’re alive. Fear is actually an incredible gift. It’s part of our survival system. Years ago, our fear told us not to go into the jungle or to avoid a particular cave where predators dwelt. Fear kept us safe from harm and helped us react to and assess threatening situations. Today, fear continues to help us assess certain conditions, but sometimes our fear can run rampant or seem outsized for the current environment.
It’s not that fear (or any emotion—sadness, hurt, anger) should be avoided. As we often remind our *–, there are no “bad emotions.” Our emotions are powerful. They guide us and protect us. But some of us have developed the skill to harness these emotions and use them to best effect. This is emotional intelligence.
We can take a lesson from watching how young children feel emotions. When they feel scared, they might tremble, cry, or yell, but they will usually reach out for reassurance and safety. When they’re angry, hurt, or sad, they allow themselves to feel those feelings fully. They express them and then they move once the fear has led to safety, the hurt has led to healing, and the anger has helped us get away from hurt and danger or to even acquire some desired outcome. Emotions are designed to complete themselves in effective action, not to be repressed.
As adults, we often shy away from our emotions and tamp them down. We tell ourselves that certain feelings aren’t appropriate, “Men don’t cry,” or, “I need to be strong.” But as we teach our students, one of the keys to navigating our emotions is to learn how we can name it to tame it.
In other words, once we identify our emotions and feelings, they lose some of their power over us. In fact, neuroscience research shows that when we name our feelings–when we say I am sad, or angry or afraid–it soothes our emotional center a bit. It brings the seat of consciousness, our frontal lobe online so we are better able to think and deal with the situations triggering our emotions. It’s not just the insight or awareness of our feelings that makes the difference; it makes us more able to cope and to deal with our feelings. We can say, “I’m feeling afraid, and that’s okay,” and allow ourselves to feel the emotions fully without getting paralyzed by our fear. We then take appropriate rational, emotion informed, action.
Rather than dwelling in the fear and allowing it to hold us back, we can embrace the aliveness that accompanies our emotions. We can feel the sense of aliveness that fear invokes, but not allow the fear to overwhelm us.
Our aliveness motivates us to see others, touch others, and reach out. Our aliveness drives us to connect. Dwelling in fear and isolation is a problem and can have a profound impact on our psyche. Instead, reframe the idea of isolation—just because we’re isolating doesn’t mean we need to be isolated.
We have a voice to reach out and connect. We can soothe and comfort others with our presence, empathy, and understanding, while simultaneously soothing and calming ourselves. Our human connection is crucial, especially today. As we connect with others, we connect with ourselves. Connecting creates more than a sense of security in this much needed in this crisis. It opens the pathways for creative solutions.
When we’re afraid, we’re really yearning for a sense of security. Unfortunately, right now, we aren’t going to get the security that comes from knowing how this will all play out. We don’t know that it will work out immediately. We don’t know the impact or the toll it will take on the world.
What we do know is that security comes from our connection with others, especially those who care about us. These secure attachment figures in our lives bring us comfort and peace. We arrive at more creative, generative solutions.
By continuing to focus on our deep essential connections with others, we will feel a sense of security and possibility. Yes, we all need the physical connection of touch, but we can’t do that right now. We can still be kind and compassionate to ourselves. We can hug a pet, a pillow, or a stuffed animal. We can snuggle under a heavy blanket and soak in the sense of bodily comfort that is so critical right now. Our coaches are inviting people to close their eyes and imagine the coach’s arms wrapped around them, and for many, it is very comforting. We can be kind to ourselves and seek the uplifting things that help us feel better, safer, and bring us a sense of purpose. If nothing else, the purpose to reach out, affirm our mutual existence, and find new ways of being and doing.
People are losing a lot right now, and that loss causes insecurity. We’re all afraid at some level, even terrified. People are losing businesses, jobs, and houses. We may have loved ones who are ill, who are older, and who are vulnerable. It’s not our job to fix it—in fact, we can’t fix it, but we can express care and concern. We aren’t alone. We are all in this together. We can join others in the sense of global concern and spread peace and understanding.
Fear lets us know we’re alive. We can choose to become frozen by fear, or we can choose to embrace the aliveness and use it to keep us moving forward. Set your intention and practice self-efficacy. It’s a tough but worthy challenge for our lives today.
Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.