Healing the Fear Virus with Compassion!
When the whole Coronavirus stuff started to go down earlier this year, I noticed how another virus was spreading even faster than COVID: The fear virus. Fear was taking root and spreading around the globe faster than the speed of light.
Fear is contagious. And it’s easy to make it the enemy. But fear shouldn’t be viewed as the enemy itself.
In fact, I believe that when we make choices out of fear, we’re making choices to protect ourselves and those we love. It comes from a desire for self-preservation. Fear can be important. We need some level of an alarm system to keep us out of harm’s way.
Fear brings a message with it.
YOU CAN’T IGNORE FEAR
We can’t ignore it — because ignoring it simply buries the emotions. We can’t bypass it — because we have a lot of collective trauma that needs to be addressed and healed. I invite you to see fear as a valuable piece of information. Throw out the concept that you shouldn’t feel fear. At its core, fear is actually friendly. Fear wants to protect us, and is a biologically-rooted system that’s working on our behalf 24/7 to warn us of possible threats to our life. It’s trying to keep us safe and alive.
But we also don’t want to give in to it or give it more power than it warrants.
Healthy fear serves you in the moment but then it’s supposed to go away when the threat does. It’s when fear takes root unchecked that it can become relentless and repetitive. Like a virus, it can infect and attack every cell in our body, causing us stress and sickness.
Fear is our self-protective inner voice (or maybe the voice of our mom, or our 10th grade English teacher, or our priest, or whoever) telling us, “Don’t do that — something bad will happen!” Fear wants to keep us right where we are — in the known — because the unknown is scary, uncertain, threatening.
The problem occurs when fear can spiral out of control, overstaying its usefulness.
If left unchecked, fear attacks its host — that’s us! Studies show how persistent states of fear and anxiety stress the body, and can also lower our immune system and cause all kinds of physical, mental, and emotional breakdowns.
A Fear virus can keep us isolated and prevent us from experiencing life. And when that happens, it erodes our ability to make empowered choices.
That’s because fear is about limits. It wants to keep us right where we are.
Don’t publish that blog post… people might not like it!
Don’t say “yes” to that blind date… you might get hurt!
Don’t ask for a raise even though you haven’t had one in 5 years… you might get fired!
Don’t venture out… take a risk… put yourself out there… let others in… move outside your comfort zone… because the world is a scary, scary place where bad things happen, and it’s too scary to take a risk and explore!
Fear becomes problematic when we let it move over from the passenger’s seat into the driver’s seat, grab hold of the steering wheel, and decide not only where we’re gonna go, but how we’re gonna get there!
Fear can’t distinguish between real and imaginary threats. The saber-tooth tiger waiting to devour us if we venture away from our pack is as real to our fear response as is asking for a raise, or singing at open mike night, talking to that hottie across the room, or thinking up the monster under our bed.
Our minds, and then our bodies, respond the exact same way to an imaginary threat as to a real threat.
HOW TO DEAL WITH FEAR
We can’t always get over fear or pivot away from fear just because we want to. But we can become more mindful in discerning between real and imaginary threats. LOVE it into cooperation. Welcome it. Thank it for its message (“Thank you, Fear, for trying to keep me safe. I’ve heard your message. I appreciate you! You’ve shown me an area in myself I need to heal. Now I’m going to go ahead and make the phone call/sing the song/have the tough conversation.”).
Sound hard? It can be! In fact, when I’m in fear and someone tells me “Colette, just focus on LOVE,” it doesn’t always work and can actually feel like blame!
What does often work, though, is to gently redirect my focus, my perspective, at the micro level. When we choose to make these tiny shifts, we can develop resilience and courage and move towards a greater trust in ourselves and our Higher Power.
This isn’t something we do only once. We have to train ourselves over and over again. Sometimes we focus just on the 24 hours — or the 24 minutes — or the 24 seconds! — ahead of us. When we can shift our energy in the present moment, that frees us up to choose with awareness rather than choose in reaction.
So when you start feeling that sustained sense of fear or anxiety, ask yourself this question:
What’s one thing can I do to feel more compassion and love?
I love making lists of things that make me grateful and expansive. That way I have them on hand for those times when the doubts, the worries, or the Fear Virus (or as I call it in my book, “The Map,” the Fear Goblin) sneaks in.
I’m grateful when my husband Marc and I are on the same page and in sync.
I’m grateful for my ability to connect with a world-wide audience of amazing souls.
I’m grateful I can immerse myself in nature just by walking in my back garden.
These aren’t earth-shattering things — and that’s the beauty of it. Sure, going to Turks and Caicos and walking along the pristine white sandy beach in the moonlight would make me grateful. But that’s not very realistic (particularly these days!).
But I can always find a small thing to shift my energy, to bring me joy, remind me that no matter the wild chaos of the outer world, I can find a moment of peace and trust. I can be brave! I can straighten my office, check in with my trees, pet my dogs. I can get a little booster shot of joy.
FINDING YOUR JOY
Joy is what fear robs from us. There’s a level of joy missing when we’re living in fear. But if we can put our focus on the smallest things that we’re grateful for — and then share it! — we can completely shift our energy to a more empowered state.
Here’s how it might work. Let’s say I wake up and I’m obviously hormonal or Mercury is in retrograde and I’m feeling way out of sorts. I’m starting to get freaked about all the stuff that’s going on and how hard it is to live in this transition time. I get myself good and worked up, and I want to pick a fight with someone, just to relieve the tension I’m feeling.
But instead, I take my mug of hot coffee out on the back deck. I listen to the birds. I feel the cool morning air on my face. I breathe in and out. I hold my dogs in my lap and bury my hands in their soft fur, and give them some love. I look at the mist in the trees and see dew sparkle in the sun. Suddenly, I notice that the tension in my neck and jaw and back has eased, and I don’t feel quite so much like throwing things at people.
I start thinking of all the things I’m grateful for, and I thank them all — I thank the trees and the birds and the chair I’m sitting in and my coffee and everything around me.
Gratitude is truly the magical Abracadabra for all of this!
Then I think about how grateful I am for Marc, and I think, “What could I do for him to show love today? What is one little thing?” And I think about how he loves sushi, so I decide we’ll have sushi for dinner.
That good feeling of joy and happiness is like a tiny flame that will burn inside me the whole day. I can return to it again and again when I start feeling overwhelmed, or put out, or scared. I can come back to my breath, to my dogs, and to my gratitude.
It’s really that easy to change the whole course of your day, moment by moment. You simply choose to focus away from fear. You choose to let something besides fear be the center of your attention.
I am not perfect at this. No one is.
But if we can stay 90 percent in faith and screw up 10 percent of the time, that’s pretty good! Maybe for you, today it’s the reverse. You’ve been living 100 percent in fear and now today you’re gonna live 10 percent in faith. That’s progress! Celebrate it. And then tomorrow, make it 12 percent faith or 15 percent and keep moving forward.
Keep celebrating. Keep looking for joy, moment by moment.
I love you!
THIS WEEK’S JOURNALING QUESTIONS
I believe in the power of journaling! Spending time actually writing down your thoughts, impressions, and feelings provides a way to work through challenges and to appreciate our blessings. Here are some questions for you to consider in your journal:
- What is one small way I can show compassion to someone today (including myself!)?
- What percent of the time do I live in faith right now? What can I do to increase that?
- What might my fear be trying to tell me today? What is it telling me I need more or less of? (After you answer this question, you can thank Fear and tell it you’ve received its message.)