Navigating Fear and Dread During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published on: 03 Dec 2020
experiencing fear during coronavirus

For the majority of Americans, March brought a wave of anxiety and fear unlike anything we had collectively experienced before. Seemingly overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the ways we work, play, and connect with others. 

Nine months later, as we face what some are calling the “second wave” of COVID-19, those fears and anxieties are resurfacing in full force. Despite the fact that there is promising news about a vaccine, it can feel overwhelming and scary as we navigate this version of our world without a definite end in sight — it may still be many very dark months before we’re out of the woods

Though living through a pandemic is new to all of us, fear is an emotion likely we’ve dealt with before and will continue to encounter throughout our lives. It can be a helpful emotion, our body’s way of signaling that we are in danger and need to protect ourselves. But in excess, it can be crippling and exhausting, especially long term. If you are feeling overwhelmed by fear, read on for some tips to better manage it. 

Lean in to Your Emotions

Our first instinct with unpleasant emotions may be to push them away, but repressing these feelings is a surefire way to make them come back stronger. Instead, turn towards your fear and anxieties with curiosity. Acknowledge that you are feeling something uncomfortable and that these feelings are okay. 

Therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC suggests using journaling or meditation to explore these emotions. “This helps us be mindful of our emotions so that we feel more in control of them,” Bismar says.

You may find it helpful to journal using prompts such as:

  • “When I saw/heard _______, I felt _____.”
  • “I feel _____ when I think about ______.”
  • “This feeling reminds of me of __________.”

As you continue to explore these emotions, notice where you feel them in your body. They might manifest as a tightness in your chest, a rapidly beating heart, or something else entirely. Focusing on the physical sensations and giving them gentle, compassionate awareness can be helpful in getting back to our baseline state. 

Focus on What You Can Control

Fear grows when it has nowhere to go, and many of us are scared about things we have little to no control over — things like how long the pandemic will last or whether our loved ones will contract the virus. 

While it’s understandable to feel this way, once we have allowed ourselves to explore the emotion it can be helpful to redirect our energy towards the things within our immediate locus of control. We may not be able to predict when things will go back to normal, but we can do our best to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe by following the recommended precautions like wearing masks and social distancing. 

In a similar vein, try to limit your news intake, as the news is rife with information we have no control over. While it’s important to stay informed and get the needed facts that will keep you safe, reading or watching the news excessively can be triggering and quickly lead to burnout and, you guessed it, more dread.

In moments of intense fear or panic, there are also tangible things we can do to exert some control over our body and environment. Taking deep breaths and counting them is often helpful, as is doing a grounding exercise like finding five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. 

Anwar also recommends holding ice in your hand or an ice pack to your face. “This helps change your body temperature and regulate your emotions,” Anwar says. 

Connect with Others

Dealing with fear and anxiety can be an isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Reaching out and connecting with others is one of the best ways to get out of your own head and feel a part of something bigger than yourself. 

And though the current situation requires us to stay physically distant from others, feeling connected is just as important as ever — likely more important as we’re physically distancing to keep one another safe. Use texts, video calls, emails, or go old-school with snail mail to keep in touch with your loved ones and share how you’re doing. 

“I encourage clients to share their anxieties with others as we are all going through this time and are not alone in how we feel,” Bismar says. “It helps to normalize their experience.”

In addition to sharing your difficult emotions and experiences, take some time to talk about the positives with your friends and family as well. This could look like reminiscing about fun, shared memories, or asking everyone in your family group chat to share one thing they’re grateful for.

“Gratitude is a good way to shift our perspective in the moment so that we are not solely focused on the negative impacts of the pandemic on our lives,” Bismar says.

If you find you’re not able to manage your feelings with the help of loved ones and your own self-care, it could be helpful to seek professional help. A therapist can help you see your fears more objectively and make a plan to deal with them. 

Above all, know that it is normal to feel fearful and anxious these days. Being a human being and navigating life can be complex and challenging even in the best of times, let alone while we are experiencing a pandemic. You are not alone in your fears, and while we may not know exactly when they will pass, you will come out stronger and more resilient on the other side. If you’re still feeling fearful and could use more help, consider reaching out to a licensed Talkspace therapist — a convenient, inexpensive way to get started. 

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