Fear in the Time of Uncertainty

Fear in the Time of Uncertainty

2020-04-26 00:41:03

The definition of fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat. This is not something new. For many of us, we can probably remember the very first time we felt fear as children. For me, it was not knowing the answer to a math problem in first grade, and seeing a person dressed up as a gorilla at a show, not knowing if it was real or fake. As we age, our fears change, and the way we experience fear changes as well.

As children, we develop trauma responses to certain fears and we might not even be aware of these until we are adults. These can be how we feel in our bodies, how we react to certain people, places, and things, and how we cope. Fear is an emotion that is almost always present in some shape or form. But with what’s currently going on in the world, we’re seeing a new fear and a new way in which everyone is coping. 

The fear around Covid-19 is complex for a few reasons. Number one, we’re feeling fear around the virus itself. We don’t want to get sick. We don’t want our loved ones to get sick and we don’t want anyone we know to die. Number two, we are feeling the fear around the response to Covid – everything has been shut down. We can’t travel, we can’t leave our homes, we can’t visit our loved ones, events have been canceled, and many people can’t work. Most of us have never seen this type of catastrophe in our lifetime. But what’s been extremely alarming to me is the fear of uncertainty. 

I don’t know about you, but when I’m faced with adversity I try to stay calm by gathering facts, knowing the subject, and figuring out what I can control as opposed to harping on what I can’t control. But with Covid, I’ve felt more uncertain and out of control than ever before and I know I’m not alone. Everything is uncertain! We’re still learning how the virus transmits, how long we will be at risk for, if people have immunity or not after they contract it and beat it, how long we will be staying at home, and how our economy will look months from now. A year from now will we be traveling? Will travel look and feel different? Will we ever be able to attend crowded locations or events ever again?

Oof. Is your anxiety rising? Mine is. And that’s what most of us have been feeling during the last two months – this heavy fear of uncertainty. Information changes every day and most of us have no real end in sight for when we can expect the world will go back to “normal.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say, for me, uncertainty is the hardest type of fear. When tragic things happen, when we get bad news, when we feel pain – we get to deal with these things, approach them head on, and overcome. With uncertainty, we never know quite what we’re dealing with. 

And how are we supposed to adapt and overcome if we just don’t know? I used to have one way and one way only to deal with the fear of uncertainty, and anything else that came up in my life that was hard and it was to drink and party. 

For those of us who no longer do those things, we’ve been tested by this newfound fear. We’re living amidst a collective trauma and there’s not much we can do about it. But one thing I know won’t make it any better is drinking. If there is one universal truth I’ve learned about using substances as a means to cope, it’s that they may remove you from the moment, but they don’t remove the moment from you. I no longer subscribe to the fallacies that alcohol makes time go faster, that it makes life more fun, or more tolerable, or that it removes fear, or makes life less uncertain. I know the truth now.

What can we do with this fear in this time of uncertainty? We can get curious and learn about how this fear makes us feel. We can work on changing our anxious thoughts and taking action from a place of peace and compassion. We can allow ourselves to feel, however it is we feel. We can be there for each other. 

When this fear dissipates, let’s remember there is always more uncertainty and fear on the horizon. Maybe not in the same way, maybe not a collective trauma, and maybe not a worldwide shutdown, but let’s remember we all feel fear in our own ways. Fear, like everything else, is an emotion that demands to be felt. One that can be a teacher. One that can give us the gift of feeling empathy and compassion for others. 

Life is a series of uncertainties. Once we accept that fact, fear becomes our companion, instead of our enemy.

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