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Keeping Fear & Anxiety In Check During the COVID-19 Crisis: Strategies to Help

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.

Keeping Your Fear & Anxiety in Check During a Crisis:;  Tips to try

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 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.

Strategies for Managing Fear During a Crisis #copingtips #dailywalk #covid19 #stress #womenshealth #exercise
When I get outside for my walk, things feel almost normal. There’s comfort in that.

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.

8. Distractions

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.


If you like this post, please share it. Thank you!

How are YOU doing?

Tell me about one or two of your greatest fears right now.

What helps you keep fear in check?

Lisa DeFerrari

Saturday 11th of April 2020

These are great suggestions, Nancy. Thanks for pulling them together. What's been most helpful for me has been getting outdoors--doing some light garden work and especially going for long walks. I've added to that lately making sure I don't spend more time looking at news than I really need to to stay informed. I'm spending less time on social media too.


Friday 17th of April 2020

Lisa, Getting outside really helps me too. This past week was hard though as winter reared its head again. I'm trying to limit news and social media time, but that's easier said than done. Writing helps me (when I can focus), so guess I'll keep doing that! Thank you for reading. You stay safe, Lisa. x


Wednesday 8th of April 2020

Dear Nancy, I just wanted to "stop by" and say Hi. That really sucked that your surgery got postponed. I know how much angst you must have gone thru just to make the decision in the first place. And now, this whole situation really sucks.

My heart breaks for all those who have died, or have lost someone, it didn't have to be this way. We could have had more control, we could have been so much smarter, we could have been so much better prepared. Our health care workers are dying. Our sense of safety and comfort has been destroyed. There is so much sadness. We were so arrogant. We are all so fragile. But once we have "normal" back, will we have learned any lessons? Will the politicians have learned any lessons? I have my doubts, I can't be all that positive about the answer. The problem seemed to stem around "saving face" and money.... in the beginning, that concept is very difficult to overcome for people in positions of power. All right, I will get off the soapbox, gotta go wash my hands again anyway.

OMG, my hands are turning to dust. All the shreds are catching on any delicate material and pieces of paper towel get stuck in them. They feel like sandpaper......a cats tongue...… and then there is the hand sanitizer........oh boy, then my hands are on fire! I have ruined many a shirt while using bleach lately, not too happy about that, either.

I keep checking my supply of toilet paper. I was always one who liked to have a full cabinet of nice toilet paper. And of course I have my favorites. Every time I go to a store, I look down that aisle and all I see are empty shelves. I fear I will never see my Angel Soft again...........I fear I may never get Bounty again and I had coupons for heavens sake! Why do they keep sending coupons? So, I have been a little busy these past couple months. I started January with the best intentions, I took the clothes off the exorcise bike thing in the dining room and we started to bond again. Yup, I was trying to eat better, blah, blah, blah...........then the shit hit the fan. My Dad fell off his front steps on his 81st birthday and landed in the hospital with a fractured hip and dislocated fractured shoulder. Happy Birthday Dad......… So began my daily 50 minute one way drives to see him and the endless phone calls to advocate for him at the hospital...... and eating a lot of fast food. They had him on pain meds which made him hallucinate and I had to convince them that he was very sensitive to opiates, we found that out the last time he was in the hospital, they finally agreed. He couldn't get the surgery done till 2 days later (he is on a blood thinner)and then 4 days after that they were able to send him to a rehab place. Since we had already been thru a rehab stay 6 years previous, I knew that it would be a long process and I would have to clean and prepare his house for his homecoming and inspection by the various nurses that would come to care for him. So, I set up a cot and I stayed there and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned while driving back to work a few days a week. All while visiting him in the "home", taking his laundry, bringing him his laundry and discussing the daily menu options. yech.... One day, I made the mistake of eating his creamy broccoli (or something green and stinky) soup. I was hungry. It didn't seem terrible. I burped it up till the next day.

It also dawned on me that I hadn't had a chance to deep clean his house in 6 years. I sure had my work cut out for me..... So, after 30 days since the fall, I was able to break him out of the joint. Just in time. It was Feb. 29 and the news of the virus was just starting to be of some concern to the US. But, it still wasn't a big thing yet even though it should have been. And luckily, I had filled his cabinet up with his favorite Charmin and bounty, so he would have that nice warm fuzzy feeling when he looked in there. It was always a joke of ours. Very soon, it was apparent that Charmin was not to be found, anywhere. He still has some, but we both look in the cabinet and don't like to see those empty spaces.......... but I will keep looking like a good daughter should...............I even have coupons...... So, on March 18, Dad saw the surgeon and was okayed to drive again. The pisser was that they had just closed down the bars and restaurants and everything else, so he had nowhere to go. And by this time, I told him he was forbidden to go out into public anyway, after all we had been thru, I couldn't lose him to a stupid virus that seemed to favor killing off the elderly.

So, I have been shopping for him and bringing it to him, like a good daughter should, making sure he doesn't have to go out. I take him to the coumadin clinic where I am no longer allowed inside. He wore his red bandana on his face this week. I was wearing the mask I had just made the evening before. A nice design I had found online,.... of course...…

I am still having a hard time processing the drastic changes we are being subjected to now and for who knows how long. That is the worst part, when will it end? When will we be able to come out of our caves? So much uncertainty.. (Hmmm....I should sew up some more masks............maybe one for every day of the week, like underwear.......) I am so afraid of getting sick. Or am I already sick and don't know it? So much uncertainty....... I am so afraid of dying before my parents do. They lost their only other child already, I just can't do that to them. I am so afraid that my parents will get sick from this and I won't be able to ever see them again. It is such a horrible death that I wouldn't wish it upon anyone. I keep offering to shop for my Mom, but she is so stubborn. At least she has my stepdad to go out for her,...but....still not ideal..........I live in Connecticut, a couple hours from New York City and many New Yorkers have second homes in Connecticut Man,.... this sucks big time's hard not to be totally paranoid............…

Yet, somehow I have resisted the urge to stay in bed till noon or just watch tv all day Not sure if this will last, but I'll try to stay busy.............. and if I do decide to stay in bed till noon or longer one day, I won't beat myself up about it.

So, I am trying to maintain and thats all I can do. I now have some free time to work in my yard, plant lettuce, peas and spinach seeds (my victory garden, maybe.....) water them and stare at the dirt for 7 to 10 days (they just started coming up yesterday!) worry that the chipmunks and voles will see them too rearrange my fairy garden stuff, go to the dollar store, in my mask, and buy more cheap fairy garden stuff, stare off into space, stare at the pretty little pot of violas I got for my birthday while sitting in the adirondack chair.....and watching the birds gathering food and nesting material (note to self, put out some ribbons and string for their nests) rake and rake and rake and haul and haul and haul to the pile out back that gets taller and taller and taller while the hawks soar and scream overhead and the crows nip at their tail feathers. Spring has arrived!

So thats all thats going on here. I am fine, thanks for asking. What's new with you?

PS: And a great big thank you to all who are putting their lives on the line to help us all! And thank you Nancy...……………..stay safe all...……...gulp...…..


Thursday 9th of April 2020

Tarzangela, Gosh, you have been busy. I am sorry to hear about your dad's fall. Yikes, I'm glad he got out of rehab before this coronavirus situation exploded. He is lucky to have you helping him out so much. So funny about the Charmin and the Angel Soft. I'm a Charmin person myself. Luckily, I am stocked up for now. The part about you sewing a mask for each day of the week, like underwear, gave me a chuckle. Non-sewer here, but I did order a couple masks from someone who makes them and managed to locate a box on Amazon. Who knows if they'll show up. Plenty of yard work here, too, to keep me busy, but can't say I'm feeling motivated. So much uncertainty, that is for sure. Hoping you stay safe and well. Your dad too. And mom as well, of course. Thanks for reading and sharing about what's going on with you.

Carolyn Thomas (@HeartSisters)

Wednesday 8th of April 2020

So many useful tips here, Nancy. Thanks for this, and also for including a link to my Heart Sisters blog post on the "circle of influence vs circle of concern" topic. I'd like to credit Jen Thorson for this guest post - interestingly, she shared that concept after attending a management course at work years ago called “Dealing with Difficult People Without Losing Your Cool”. (The concept is SO versatile - from business to pandemics! )

For me, this is all about control - what is within my ability to control, and what is completely BEYOND my control? COVID-19 is an unprecedented test of appreciating that reality!

Today is Day 21 for my own "self-isolation". I'm in the house for 23 hours - one hour of outside walking each day. I took an interesting free webinar from Johns Hopkins University at the beginning of this isolation that recommended we create a daily agenda (useful for those of us who might otherwise stay in our jammies and watch old Seinfeld reruns all day). I was doing well with my daily agendas until two days ago, when I seemed to just crash. Could hardly move, barely got out of bed, everything (- brushing my teeth!) seemed like way too much trouble). Instead of freaking out ("What's WRONG with me?!?!") I tried to just ride it out, trusting (accurately) that 'This Too Shall Pass' - and today I'm feeling more hopeful and productive. It's that "BALANCE" you mention...

Thanks again for this, and stay safe...


Thursday 9th of April 2020

Carolyn, I agree, so much of the uncertainty is about losing that sense of control, and you're right, COVID-19 is an unprecedented test for all of us. Thank you for sharing how you "crashed" the other day. I think we all relate to that. Good advice to ride it out. There is an ebb and flow to this. This too shall pass is a good mantra these days. Thank you for stopping by. You stay safe too.

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