Fear and anxiety are emotions we in Cancer Land are quite familiar with. Others have written about the parallels between dealing with cancer and dealing with a pandemic. This post is not about those parallels.
This post is about fear, cancer or no cancer.
It’s important to note that fear and anxiety are not the same thing, though of course, they are related.
Generally speaking, fear is a reaction to a specific threat or danger. Anxiety is less focused, sometimes related to a specific trigger, but often not. To keep things simple, I’m lumping the two together, so keep that in mind as you read further. For a brief description of both you might want to read, Anxiety vs. Fear.
Are you feeling afraid?
Dumb question, I know. But sometimes (like in Cancer Land) admitting you are afraid is hard or awkward. Maybe you are trying to put up a brave front for your kids. Maybe you think it’s your job to remain stoic. Maybe you equate fear with defeat. Maybe you see fear as a weakness. (It’s not.)
We are all living with fear these days. Sure, there is a lot of variance in the kind and the level of fear we each face and are trying to manage. But fear is front and center on just about everyone’s mind.
I am afraid too. I live with fear, yes. But do I live in fear? No.
Believe me, I fully realize I write from a position of privilege. For the most part, I am safe inside my house. Individuals working on the front lines are likely living in fear, at least to a greater extent than I am, and rightly so.
How are you managing your fear?
Today I share a few strategies that I find helpful. I hope you’ll share one or two of yours as well. After all, who doesn’t need a few coping tips about now?
1. Start a journal.
I cannot recommend this one enough. Grab yourself a notebook and a pen (Or do it on your favorite device or calendar) and start writing down your thoughts, feelings and fears. It WILL help. And get specific, no matter how outlandish you think they might seem.
When you state your fear, you get immediate validation. Right away, you gain back a sense of some control. The unknown is always scary, and in this pandemic there are so many unknowns. Feeling afraid in this situation is completely reasonable, but it’s important to manage it instead of the other way around.
The best thing about journaling is you can write whatever you darn please. No filter! Swearing allowed. Political rants encouraged. You can really let it all out. Irrational fears and all. Others will not think less of you if one day, they read your writings. Besides, even if others might judge you, who cares?
(You can always burn it later. But don’t do that. Just hide it.)
We are living through a horrible, historic chapter in time. A journal will give you a personal account to look back on later. For example, I am keeping a daily tally of the number of deaths. Maybe that sounds too morbid for you, but for me, it feels like giving witness to the pain, suffering and losses others are experiencing; it feels important.
Of course, I write about other things too. Such as my missed surgery. Journaling is a great tool for kids too, btw.
You might want to read, Twelve Tips to Journal Your Way Through Cancer, or Anything.
2. Figure out what you can and cannot control.
For example, we’ve all heard a million times by now: Stay home. Wash your hands. Keep yourself six feet apart from other people. Wash your hands again. And now, wear a mask when you go out.
Doing these things gives you a sense of some control. All that stuff you can’t control (of which there is A LOT) — you gotta let some of it go and hope for the best. (Again, journaling helps.)
For an insightful article about determining your circle of influence vs your circle of concern read, A “crazy-making vicious cycle of stress and discontent” by Carolyn Thomas, author of A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, via her excellent blog, Heart Sisters.
Another helpful read (also via Heart Sisters) is, It’s okay not to feel “normal”.
3. Stick to your old routine as much as possible or make a new one.
This gives you a sense of normalcy. It might even be a good idea to write out your routine each morning or the night before.
I do not write mine out (I’m not a list maker) but if I did, mine would look something like this:
Coffee with Dear Hubby while watching Morning Joe (we catch up on over-night developments and yes, we rant about political stuff), breakfast, treadmill and weights for an hour on MTW, check out social media (I try not to let time get away from me), work on blog posts or other writing, do chores as needed (okay, as I feel like doing), lunch break (news updates allowed), more work time, afternoon walk with the pup, finish chores I didn’t do yet, think about what to make for dinner, finish up writing for the day, watch Pandemic Task Force daily briefing (this is something I’m going to stop doing as they tend to get me more upset), read (if I can concentrate), dinner, watch Netflix or Prime, final news update (keep it short so I can fall asleep), bedtime.
4. Try to find a little balance.
Yeah, I know it’s hard. Everything feels out of whack because everything is out of whack!
I won’t tell you to stop watching the news; we all crave and need information. But try not to overload your brain with frightening news. If you can, avoid updates before you go to bed. And please get your information from credible sources.
Honesty, clarity and facts lessen fear. They just do.
Trying to eat as healthy as possible is a no brainer, but there’s a reason some food is referred to as comfort food. We all need a heaping of comfort food now and then. (I’ve been craving tater tot hotdish, which I think I’m going to make for Easter weekend. What’s one of your comfort foods?)
Find ways to squeeze in movement. My daily walk outdoors with the pup clears my head like nothing else. Sometimes, I even forget for moments that we’re living through a pandemic. There is nothing like Mother Nature to restore and rejuvenate. Nothing.
5. Cry (or scream) when you need to and laugh whenever you can.
Sadness and tears are understandable, necessary even. Tears are a release, but so is laughter.
Watch, read or do whatever makes you laugh.
6. Connect with someone you can share your fears (and other stuff) with.
Everyone needs some other living being to confide in, even if it’s “just” your dog or cat.
Social media can be great for connecting with others too. Although some of us find ourselves pulling back from social media. This is the case for me. Retreat mode is more where I’m at these days.
7. Put a boundary around your fear.
What do I mean?
Go ahead and imagine the worst-case scenario. You will anyway, right? (I usually do.) Then imagine the best case one. Reality will likely be somewhere in the middle. But even if it’s not, tell yourself you’ll handle whatever comes your way as best you can. That’s all any of us can do anyway.
Whatever gets your mind off your daily worries is probably okay. Read, knit, play or listen to music, start writing that novel, read blogs (thank you for reading mine), bake, binge watch a show you’ve wanted to watch, make phone calls, send texts, take photos, plan a vacation for when this is all over, play board games with your kids (or whoever is living under your roof), teach your dog a new trick or two, clean out your closets, or whatever.
But, do NOT put pressure on yourself to get tons of projects done. Don’t do that.
Even though it might seem like everyone else is suddenly morphing into Wonder Woman miraculously cleaning out every drawer in her house, taking up sewing, reading two books (or more) a week or just getting way more shit done than you are, don’t feel you must do the same.
Who needs that kind of pressure?
No one. That’s who. Sometimes getting out of bed, tending to basics while keeping yourself and others under your roof safe, brushing your teeth and falling back into bed at day’s end are enough.
Distractions are supposed to be just that, distractions. They shouldn’t become overwhelming things on your to-do list that you never got done in normal times, so how in the world can you expect to concentrate on or get them done now?
Upon reflection, it’s apparent that most strategies on this list are about self-care, which makes sense. Generally, self-care results in improved well-being and in this case, hopefully a less fearful mindset.
Getting through this difficult time while helping others do the same — that is your primary job now. It’s mine too.
We must all do our part to protect others and save lives. That is our work now. And we have to keep doing this work for however long it takes.
(Yes, I’ll keep repeating the above; it’s that important.)
If you and I can manage some of our fear, this work will be a little easier. I hope so anyway.
As always, do your best. If you’re struggling to cope, reach out for help. It’s there.
Finally, be real. Be you. It’s enough.
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How are YOU doing?
Tell me about one or two of your greatest fears right now.
What helps you keep fear in check?