Fear Management in these Challenging Times, Part 2

This is part 2 of the previous blog, addressing fear during these these days of Covid. Here is the link to part 1 of this topic. Again, for those with a trauma history, there is the need to navigate these highly stressful times and address the differences among the remaining concepts of real fear, panicking and feeling terror. These differences can help us reduce some of the intensity of whatever we may experience.

Real Fear.  “Real fear,” according to de Becker, “is not paralyzing, it is energizing.” He also describes it as objective “. . . fear says something might happen. If it does happen, we stop fearing it and start to respond to it, manage it, surrender to it; or we start to fear the next outcome we predict might be coming.”

He says there are two rules about fear that can improve the way someone uses fear, reduces its frequency and transforms life experiences. This first rule is that if you fear something is solid evidence, that it is not happening. “Fear summons powerful predictive resources that tell us what might come next. It is that which might come next that we fear—what might happen, not what is happening now.”

The second rule states that when you fear it is not usually what you think you fear; rather it is what you link to fear. When it is real fear, it will either be in the presence of danger, or it will link to pain or death. When we get a fear signal, our intuition has already made many connections.

Panicking. Panic, according to de Becker, is described in the following way: “Panic, the great enemy of survival, can be perceived as an unmanageable kaleidoscope of fears. Many trauma-impacted people are prone to panic disorders because it is the nature of someone with PTSD to struggle with not only knowing but sensing danger in the here and now when a flashback or trigger instantaneously places the person in a past moment of fear or terror.”

In this pandemic, it is easy to see how people can begin to panic because of the unmanageable kaleidoscope of fears associated with the virus and its impact on individuals, families, communities, our abilities to survive, our economy—it’s a very long list of things we are not able to manage or change.

Feeling terrified. Terror is the most extreme degree of fear and panic a person can experience. It is the maximum degree of being overwhelmed by fear. The brain is at its most primitive level of functioning.

I think we can all benefit from having a better understanding of these various possible responses to the many stresses and uncertainties of these stressful times. We need to recognize that we have control over many of our thoughts, feelings and sensations because we have the ability to frame what is going on in ways that are realistic and yet do not evoke excessive levels of worry, anxiety, panic or a sense of terror. Yes, there are times for us to experience real fear. But, for the most part, we are not in actual danger in those moments when we are at home or are practicing good social distancing. In this way, part of stress management involves fear management.

 Invitation for Reflection

  1. Which of these experiences have you noticed in yourself: feeling threatened, anxious, worried, fearful, panicky or terrified? What are some of the specific reasons for your reactions?
  2. When you consider having one or more of these experiences, which are more stress-producing, and which are more empowering?
  3. How can you practice using your mind to control some of your thoughts and responses to the current crisis so that you limit the less healthy emotions of feeling threatened, anxious, worried, panicky or terrified?
  4. How can you monitor any real fear that you have and use it to be an empowering experience that invites you to take control and be more in charge?

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Lakeside Global Institute