Fear of the Unknown

We are living through an extraordinary circumstance right now in uncharted territory. There are so many unknowns. We’re not exactly sure how our daily lives will be impacted a month from now…or a year from now. We don’t know what our new normal will look like. 

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, so does the fear of the unknown. 

How are you managing? Many of you have written to me about the very real fear that you are experiencing. I’m here to tell you that however you’re feeling right now, it’s OK. We’re in this together and I got you. 

Fear is part of the human condition – a hardwiring designed to protect us. From a primal perspective, our beautiful brains associate the unknown with danger and potentially death. Our fight, flight or freeze instinct is an evolutionary response to any perceived threat to our wellbeing. So if you’re feeling scared right now, that’s normal. 

That said, there’s a psychological, emotional, and physical cost to walking around in a heightened state of fear. Exhaustion, overwhelm, brain fog, mood swings, anxiety, and depression can all be symptoms of your nervous system being on constant high alert. It can even compromise your immune system. 

Managing your fear is possible. It starts with understanding it and being able to make a distinction between when you are actually being threatened and when you are just feeling threatened. In this episode, I’m giving you 6 steps you can take to better manage your fear of the unknown.

So how has sheltering in place and a global pandemic that is indeed killing people impacted our fear of the unknown? Well, as you can imagine and might be experiencing, it’s making it go through the roof. Everything is amplified right now, and that can include our fears. 

I want to invite you to look at your relationship to fear. While that in itself might seem scary, I’d like you to consider that because things aren’t and can’t be “business as usual” at this time, this could be a real opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of yourself. 

Now, I’m not trying to be hyper positive about COVID-19 or the pandemic. This is real talk about life still happening all around us. In my personal and professional experiences being in a crisis can open the window for transformation, wide. 

As a therapist for the last 20+ years, I’ve seen trauma and hardship create real space to accelerate the internal work. In the episode, I share my personal story of a peak traumatic experience that forced me to look at my mortality and inspired the most profound pivot in my life, so be sure to watch the video here or listen to the full episode here

Below, I’ve pulled together some ideas, tools, and strategies that have worked for my clients and for me personally in coping with and managing the fear of the unknown.

Step One: Understanding Your Fear

First, you need to understand your fear and create space for it. It is prudent right now to have a certain level of fear that propels us to take actions to protect ourselves and others, for example, sheltering in place, wearing a mask, and properly disinfecting. This kind of fear is protective. 

We all have different entry-points into fear of the unknown because we are all so unique. Take some time to think through your fears and why you feel them. Writing it all out can be so helpful. Raising your awareness around what you fear and why can weaken the hold that the fear of the unknown might have on you currently. 

We all have different backstories and histories that inform our relationship to fear and how we are experiencing the pandemic. It’s much better to gently face your fears than to deny or run away from them. Try to cut yourself some slack, understand that fear is normal (especially right now) and give yourself permission to feel your feelings.

Step Two: Limit Future Tripping

There’s a difference between planning and preparedness and catastrophically projecting into the future. If you find yourself constantly ruminating over worst-case scenarios and plagued by negative thoughts, in this week’s downloadable guide, I’m sharing a cognitive behavioral technique that can help you reset your neurological pattern and redirect your thoughts. 

We are, in a sense, forced to be in present moment consciousness right now. We only know what we know. Instead of being in a super reactive place or panicking about what could happen, see if you can step back and become an observer. Take a few deep breaths and think about the next, small right action you can take. 

Step Three: Set Your Intention

Even in the midst of all of this uncertainty, we still have the power to make choices and to set an intention to not just survive this, but to learn something from it. 

Just making this shift in your mind can help put fear in its appropriate place. Declaring an intention to survive and gain self-knowledge during this experience can give you something positive to focus on. Are there changes that you’ve been wanting to make that you’ve been putting off? Start there, but start small.  

Maybe you’ve been wanting to up your self-care. Now is the time. Can you make a list of small things that truly give you pleasure? What little actions that bring you joy are accessible to you right now? What steps can you take to self-soothe? Can you set an intention to learn more about what makes you feel truly happy and fills up your cup?

Step Four: Mindfulness + Meditation

A dedicated daily practice of stillness and silence strengthens your “be here now” muscle. Living more in this present moment will decrease fear-generated future tripping into what hasn’t happened and past tripping into what no longer exists.

We really need to be focusing on creating more internal space and that is what mindfulness and meditation can do for you, because it creates the ability to be more responsive and less reactive, which is important always, but especially at this time. 

In the guide, I’ve included a guided meditation from me as well as a breathing and energy balancing exercise from my dear friend, Lara Riggio, Owner of The Central Park Energy Center. They are both short and easy to follow, but trust me, powerful ways to help you reset your fear response. You can access them here now. 

Step Five: Gratitude

Gratitude is a balm for the soul and combats fear. You have a right to your feelings, but you also can choose the lens you’re going to use to get through this time. Why not gratitude? Spend some time thinking about all the things that are right in your life right now. What’s right in the world right now? You can even make a list and put it up where you can see it daily or make it a family activity and do it together. 

We can choose to have gratitude for the frontline workers, for scientists around the world working together toward a vaccine, for small kindnesses and the friendly waves of strangers from a distance, for extra snuggle time with our loved ones or pets. If you’re sheltering in place, practice being vocally grateful for those you’re with and everything they are doing that is enhancing your life right now. 

Some of my favorite people in the world got together and we made this gratitude video, so please watch it and share it. Let the gratitude wash over you. It’s medicine. 

Step Six: Mental Health

Now more than ever, it’s so important to be tuned into our mental health. Many of you have reached out to me about virtual therapy while you’re sheltering in place. I am grateful to have partnered with Better Help, an online therapy service that matches you with a licensed mental health professional so you can get the support you need from home. Team TC and my extended family personally vetted this service for months to make sure it was legit and I am so happy to be able to recommend this whole-heartedly to you. You can go to terricole.com/betterhelp to get all the information. You’re not alone and you don’t have to do this on your own. 

I am so grateful for each and every one of you who is being a good global citizen. I thank you for doing what it is that you need to do because in keeping yourself safe, you’re keeping all of us safe. 

I hope this added value to your life, and if it did, please share it with the people you love. We’re all in this together, people! Please let me know how you’re feeling and where you’re at right now. You know I read all of your comments, so drop me one, because I’m here for you. I’m going to keep creating content that will help lessen your suffering and expand your capacity for hope, love, and joy. Please let me know what you think of this and what you need right now. I can’t wait to connect with you here, in our Facebook group, or on Instagram @terricole. 

I hope you have an insightful, thoughtful week and as always, take care of you.

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