Last week, I wrote in this column about “feeling your fear” — accepting fear as a legitimate response to coronavirus and as a natural emotion that can sap your energy and muddle your decision-making when you try to control it.
As the coronavirus spreads from country to country and the death toll climbs, this natural anxiety might spike into moments of panic.
Worldwide, the virus has sickened more than 95,000 people in 80 countries and territories. According to the CDC today, there are 149 confirmed and presumptive cases in the United States across 13 states. Tomorrow those numbers will be higher.
Making decisions on practical questions is something you need to handle: Should I let my children go to school? Should I cancel my travel plans? Should I avoid the subway?
Another aspect of handling the situation involves managing your own fears so they don’t escalate to panic and mental paralysis. The good news is there are also practical steps you can take to regain your balance.
You Can Learn to Calm Your Fear
Most people I meet believe there’s nothing they can do about the thoughts and feelings they have, telling me, “It’s just how I think. I can’t change that,” or likewise, “I can’t change how I feel.”
As a global expert in the inner life of leaders I promise that you can. A main premise of my book, “Winning From Within,” is that you have enormous power over how you think and feel. The same core principles apply equally to professional and personal life.
How to Get Started
The techniques are deceptively simple, yet they help.
You have many different sides — serious, funny, careful, bold, warm, cold, loving, mean, the whole spectrum of being a person. I often compare it to a set of inner heroes and heroines who each play a role in your internal world.
I call the key players The Big Four: The Warrior; The Lover; the Thinker; and The Dreamer.
Each inner character has its own tools for calming your fear:
The Inner Warrior
Part of you is an action-oriented doer who thrives on getting things done. Your Warrior will bring you a sense of calm when you pick up a project, large or small, and get going. Fix a broken shelf. Re-organize your closet. Just start cleaning your home and you’ll start to feel better. Letting your Inner Warrior dive into tasks will temper your fear.
The Inner Lover
Part of you gets energy from relationships. You might keep your circle tight and enjoy time with a few specific people. You might like having lots of people around. Either way, your Inner Lover will bring you a sense of calm when you connect with another person.
Just because you’re avoiding conferences and large arenas doesn’t mean you can’t spend time with one friend or family member. Skip shaking hands and sit farther away than usual, but don’t isolate entirely if you’re both healthy. Your inner Lover will bring you a wave of calm when you connect with someone. If in-person contact feels scary, get off social media and call someone on the phone. Hearing the voice of someone who cares about you allows your Inner Lover to soothe your anxiety.
The Inner Thinker
Part of you is designed to get the facts, make logical arguments, and understand how things work. Your Inner Thinker might like to make detailed plans or might enjoy learning new ideas. Thinking things through is how your Inner Thinker brings you calm.
Choose any “thinking” activity and start. Review your annual house budget and compare it to your monthly spending. Take a book that’s been sitting on your night table for a year and start reading it. Subscribe to an online Masterclass and watch videos on topics you want to learn about. Starting to think, plan, and learn are all ways your Inner Thinker tamps down on fear.
The Inner Dreamer
Another part of you likes to look to the future and imagine new possibilities, your Inner Dreamer. You might think you left your Dreamer behind a long time ago. But your Dreamer is still there, ready to bring you relief from stress and anxiety if you let it.
Dreamers relax by imagining things. You can muse on any vision for the future, from a new strategy for your business to the next stretch goal you hope to accomplish. You can picture what your life will feel like when you’re finally out of debt or when your lower back pain goes away.
Inner Dreamers are soothed by the arts and through your senses, so you can play music you love or eat a delicious meal. All of these are tools your Dreamer has to bring calm into your system to reduce the experience of fear.
Employing techniques of The Big Four isn’t a denial of or escape from fear. These are healthy ways to lower the intensity of fear from the inside. Your inner heroes and heroines have the superpowers to keep fear from becoming panic.