Remember that Pixar movie where little Riley has all these emotions running around, trying to make sense of her new world?
Well, I’m betting, whether you’re 25 or 85 years old, that purple Fear guy has been making some noise in your brain lately.
There’s a lot to think about!
And you’re either having to sort through it alone in isolation…. or sequestered with a whole bunch of people in a small space—that may seem smaller each day.
Quarantine isn’t easy on anyone.
But what do you do with Fear?
In the movie, the Fear cartoon character is just a scrawny thing (apparently drawn to resemble a nerve). But small or not, he can still wreak havoc.
And to know how to deal with him, you need to know what’s got him wired up.
Fear 1. “Way ahead of you there. Does anyone know how to spell meteor?”
A little fear is healthy. It protects you from things that could hurt and hopefully helps you use wise caution.
But too much stimulation, and fear takes you right to worst case scenarios.
And right now, with the pandemic, those “worst” possibilities like to scream pretty loud.
There’s a lot that isn’t known about COVID-19. Because this is a new virus, even doctors and scientists are learning on the job. (Believe me. My husband studies it 24/7.) So what you hear one day may change the next.
And with online choices and cable channels, it’s possible to watch those news updates every minute of every day.
But is it helpful? Or is it just increasing your anxiety?
Ask yourself—how much news do you really need to watch?
Once a day is probably enough.
So turn it off the rest of the time and give your mind a rest. Maybe make some tea and play a game.
Fear 2. “There are at least 37 things for Riley to be scared of right now.”
Of course, the news isn’t the only thing that has you worried.
Jobs are on the line. Money is tight. Grocery shelves are empty. Either you can’t see some of your family—or you can’t get away from them.
Not to mention you’re worried someone you love could catch the virus. And you can’t get other health concerns checked.
Each issue alone is tough. Added together? Fear bombards you.
- First, take a moment to breathe. Put on some relaxing or upbeat music. Treat yourself to a bath. Watch some old home movies.
- Next, make a written list of worries. At the top, write, “Problems.” Then cross that title out, writing “Challenges” instead.
- Consciously do the same exchange in your mind. Problems are weights that hold you down. Challenges are trials you can work through.
- In that list of challenges, which ones are in your power to change?
- You can’t control a politician. But you can connect with neighbors if you need to borrow food. Or have them shop for you when they go to the store.
- Can’t go where you normally like to? Or do what you want? Brainstorm special activities you could try that you’ve never had time for before.
- Worried about Mom and Dad—or you yourself—living alone? Ask another neighbor to check in each day. Or call via video. That way you can see everyone’s faces and know they’re okay.
- Then, for those ones you can’t control, think through challenges you’ve had in the past. Other times when money was tight. When food was scarce. When fear had you by the throat. In other words, play “Remember when…” How did you get through it? What did you learn?
- This is a great time to share those history lessons with your kids, your grandkids. (You know: Those “Five miles. Uphill. Both ways” ones.) And, of course, it never hurts to remind yourself how you survived. (*wink*)
- Finally, count your blessings. What are you thankful for? What has been sweet? What special moment will you want to remember tomorrow?
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” –Eleanor Roosevelt
Fear 3. “Did you see that look? They’re judging us!”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like social media has sent us all back to middle school.
Yes, it’s great to keep up with people through technology when we can’t leave our own four walls.
But it also means we bring every Tom, Dick, and Harry’s opinions into our homes.
And lately, it seems all those opinions are polarized and angry.
- Like the news, ask yourself how much you need to read all those posts.
- Even more, do you really need to respond? You can’t force other people to do what you want. And trying to shame them will just raise blood pressures—yours, included.
- If you need to talk about it, ask them questions privately.
- Most important, try to understand what they are feeling. Don’t try to translate what they’re “really” saying through your lenses. Look at it through their binoculars.
Chances are, Fear is driving many of their actions, too! It may not be the same fear as yours, but to them, it’s still just as concerning.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” –Winston Churchill
Fear 4. “I say we skip school tomorrow and lock ourselves in the bathroom.”
If you have a house full of people with no job to escape to…or you have a job that’s in hyperdrive (nurse, scientist, grocery worker), you may totally understand Fear’s statement. Well, skipping school is moot.
But that locked bathroom sounds tempting, huh?
Especially if you’re caregiving for others—or you’re older, and the commotion’s got your ears ringing.
Introverted? You long for some space for yourself. The extroverts are climbing the walls, and you’re just wishing you had your quiet ones back.
When you’re exhausted, Fear can incapacitate you. It’s that whole head in the sand thing.
- Explain your needs to housemates. Make sure everyone’s pitching in with chores.
- Ask others to help make meals. Better yet, have them plan them.
- Find time when you can get away by yourself. Even if it’s just to the bathroom.
Most of all, be present where you are. Accept what you can do. Things won’t be done perfectly right now.
And that’s okay!
Just don’t let Fear tell you anything different.
(After “Sadness” drops one of the special “memory orbs” and it rolls around out of place.)
Fear 5: “A core memory!”
The last time the world lived through a situation like this, it was 1918 with the Spanish Influenza. Meaning almost no one’s alive to remember living through it.
Unfortunately, if your mom and dad have dementia, they may not remember the situation we’re in now.
They don’t understand why they can’t go out. Or why you can’t come visit. Or why they can’t get their hair done like always.
They keep asking. They’re afraid—and, honestly, you’re tired of explaining it.
You know with Alzheimer’s and dementia, new memories aren’t made. And schedules help your parents keep track of what they can remember. But there’s nothing more you can do.
So then what?
Drill down to the deeper meanings of their questions.
When they ask why you aren’t coming?
- Reassure them: “Boy, we miss you, too, Mom? What do you like doing most when we come? Is there something special you’d like me to bring as soon as everyone’s healthy?”
- Then redirect: “Did you see any birds out your window today?”
Often what they really want to know is there’s nothing to fear because you still love them.
Of course, if Mom and Dad don’t normally struggle with memory loss and suddenly they can’t remember what you’ve explained, make sure nothing’s gone wacky with their medicines… and check for sneaky UTIs.
Fear 6. “Can you die from moving?”
It kind of feels like that with everything you’re hearing, doesn’t it?
- You still need exercise.
- You need fresh air.
- You need sunlight.
Bottled up in your house, you lose Vitamin D and serotonin. That leads to S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a fancy way of saying depression caused by lack of sunshine. Which obviously can lead to more Fear.
Care for your body. Find ways to be active. Step away from the screen and take a book out on the porch.
You’ll be much stronger in fighting illnesses if you don’t let Fear paralyze you.
But sometimes fear is caused by other emotions wanting to have a say.
Sadness: “I’m sorry. Something’s wrong with me. It’s like I’m having a break down.”
Joy: “You’re not having a break down. It’s stress.
There’s lots of “different” happening now. And that’s sad!
It’s okay to grieve.
We’re all juggling a whole different set of plates than we usually do.
- If you’re a caregiver, are you suffering from even more burnout than usual? You probably can’t have friends come and give you respite. So take it easy on yourself. Let the dishes go now and then. Take a break with Mom and Dad on the porch and enjoy some sweet tea and cookies.
- Salons are closed, but give yourself or each other mani/pedis. (Pedicures are actually really good for balance and help prevent falls.)
- Sadly, this virus has caused losses—in many ways. If you’ve lost a friend or loved one, give yourself space to grieve and work through the pain.
- As the stress gets higher, depression may try to get in the game. Again, keep track of medicine interactions, etc., but don’t hesitate to call a counselor. Many are making confidential video call appointments.
No doubt about it, taking care of emotional needs is important all the time. But especially in a time like this when Fear wants to come knocking!
Fear 8. “Okay, looks like you got this. Very good. Woh, look out, no!”
A little healthy fear can definitely help you make safer decisions.
When it wants to conquer you, taking a break, looking at what you can control, and avoiding a constant onslaught of news and opinions can get you back on even ground.
But if you’re still struggling? You’re worried about Mom and Dad? Or you’re older and worried about yourself?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. From family. From neighbors. From churches.
And especially from Frontida.
You might be isolated, but you don’t have to do this alone!
Elizabeth Daghfal is a writer, teacher, speaker, and community volunteer. When she isn't teaching or writing-- Who are we kidding? Her husband and five kids say she's ALWAYS teaching and writing. She has a passion to help people who are struggling and is happy to say her shoulders are drip-dry. Born and raised in the South, she now lives in Wisconsin and loves it--except for the fifteen months of winter. Read more about her at elizabethdaghfal.com.