As Frank Herbert wrote in his sci-fi classic Dune, “Fear is the mind-killer.” But specifically, right now, we’re learning fear can also be the peace-of-mind-killer, which is unfortunate. So, to squash fear and uncertainty, and feel less dire, we’ve turned to tips that can bring order to chaos.
If not in the a.m., then at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. The CDC recommends this as a baseline for adults.
It doesn’t have to be strict HIIT or cardio either. Ridiculous as it may sound, I use a dance video game as part of my daily exercise routine. Admittedly, my routine is a bit more limited than that of the average person due to the fact that I deal with chronic pain from fibromyalgia, and overexerting myself tends to lead to a pain flare.
But as long as it gets you moving, it’s valid since exercise can also help you manage those chest-tightening feelings of fear. Regular exercise has been shown to help improve your mental health by fighting anxiety and depression.
Remember, you don’t have to be a muscled-out gym bro to reap the benefits of exercise; there are lots of options that can help you get moving, including yoga, stretching, dance tutorials, or simply taking a walk if you live in an area where it’s feasible.
This could be fear in disguise. As a person with chronic pain — and as someone who’s had it for almost 15 years — I am used to dealing with fear “spirals” when I am in a pain flare that feels like it will never end. Instead of feeling scared though, fear shows up as frustration toward myself. I get angry when I can’t do things 100 percent perfectly — but of course I can’t do things perfectly during a pain flare because I am in severe pain.
In the same way, control issues can also arise when you feel afraid, especially in this horror movie of a pandemic we’re in. You might lash out to your roommate over small things or start crying when your coffee spills. Fear doesn’t always show up in the “classic” way, through trembles or being easily startled.
When that happens, take a break from your routine and go to your safe space, physical or emotional. Prioritize your comfort through this spiral.
When I am having a pain spike — or a spike in fear about my pain, I find it helpful to focus on things I can do to make myself more comfortable. Things such as applying a heating pad to the area that hurts, or taking medication if feasible), or distracting myself (by reading a book, listening to music, or watching something if I can concentrate) instead of focusing on what I cannot do at that moment.
Spend some day each day doing this to build your inner strength and remind yourself that there are moments which can belong to you.
Like many people, I have had trouble lately focusing on one thing for more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time. And I’ve had to radically change the way I work.
I’ve started writing articles a few paragraphs at a time with breaks, rather than word-vomiting my drafts in one or two sittings and revising after some decompression time (usually spent watching part of an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” or another show that I have seen more times than I can count).
Past me would not have found this many breaks necessary, but now, reading, watching TV, drawing, or taking pictures (all of which are Instagram-worthy!) of my dog, Noodle, have been helping me get work done without a backslide in quality.
I know, I know — staying informed is a way to feel like you’re in control of something. But I also know from experience that fixating on breaking news or “news” (looking at you, front page of Reddit) items having to do with coronavirus can be a recipe for more fear instead of useable, practical knowledge.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to read random crap on the internet first thing in the morning when you’re having your coffee or tea — which I absolutely am — rethink this during the pandemic.
I tend to do better mentally when I’m not exposed to incompetent leadership first thing in the morning, and the same goes for reading the news late at night, or — horror of horrors — right before I go to bed.
This is a mistake that I have made enough times that the resulting fear-insomnia (fearsomnia?) really ruins things. Please learn from my mistakes. If you absolutely need to stay informed about the virus and various responses to the epidemic, asking a friend to update you on the news when you feel ready to handle things might also be a good move.
Deep breathing can also help calm you down in a crisis; if you’re not familiar with how to practice it, now would be a good time to start learning about it or even practicing the techniques when you’re not currently fearful or anxious, so you can use it the during the time(s) when you are afraid.
If you can, there are many ways to donate your time and energy to others so you’re not fixating on your own fear. One easy way is by donating to your local food bank; cash donations tend to be more helpful than food donations.
If you have no idea where to start with giving your money to worthy causes, check out Charity Navigator, a website that collects information on charities and nonprofit organizations and rates them based on a comprehensive metric. There are also many mutual aid funds being set up around the country, so if you have cash to spare, it might be worth it to research a mutual aid fund in your geographic area or based on your interests.
Donating money, your expertise, or other skills that you might have to mutual aid projects, video conferencing teach-ins, or other causes can also help you manage your own fear because you would be doing something to help other people. If you have fear(s) around the current state of how things are in the U.S. (and lots of people do!), donating to causes and knowing that your donation is, well, helping can actually calm your own fear.
Above all, try to give yourself space to feel your feelings — and space to deal with them constructively. Fear is a natural human response, and although many things may be out of your control, there are small things you can do to help yourself get through all of this.
Anna Hamilton is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Teen Vogue, Shondaland, and various other places on the internet. You can follow her on Twitter.