By Susan Kavanaugh
“The biggest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.” — John C. Maxwell.
Lately, I’ve dreaded getting out of bed in the morning and joining my husband in the other room for coffee. I don’t like the fact that I feel this way, but his routine has changed. And honestly, it’s not resonating with me.
I love gentle wakeups, even if I have an alarm set. I prefer to transition from my sleep to full alertness slowly. I do that by stretching my arms and legs before I hop out of bed, using eye drops for my old age dry eye, and skimming over the floor to the bathroom. I like my slow-motion routine, followed by an entrance into the central part of the house to make myself a coffee. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but there is some comfort in the routine of making the first cup (or here in Arizona, during the summer, the glass of iced coffee). I do it all in a very unhurried manner.
During the last 12 years of marriage, we’ve elected to read our news quietly on our iPads while enjoying the presence of the other person. It would be tranquil unless one of our dogs decided they heard an outside threat and established their presence with a loud bark. My hubby would lounge on the sofa reading, and after a sweet morning kiss, I’d settle onto the loveseat to sip my drink and read the news. It was all so peaceful for at least a half-hour.
Now, I dread the mornings.
He’s typically out of bed before me, so I can still luxuriate in my stretching and nurturing, but once I enter the central part of the house, I feel the tension and am buffeted by the loud noises. The TV is now on, and because his hearing is not what it once was (he will disagree), the volume is obnoxiously loud. It is always set on a news channel or NewsMix – you get four news channels on a single screen – and he has statistics he wants to quote to me before I’ve even made my morning drink. I immediately hear about the recent rise in Covid cases, some celebrities who died, or more typically, snarky f-word remarks about politics.
I once usually enjoyed the quiet, texted a friend, began reading an iPad newspaper, or smiled and asked how he slept. Currently, all my senses are assaulted, and I wonder silently about how long I need to keep company with him before retreating to a quieter spot.
I love him more than life itself, but it has me asking what is “driving” his life?
What is driving each of our lives since we have been imprisoned by Covid, made lonely by strained neighbor relations for fear of making the wrong political comment, and often living with far less financial comfort than we’ve ever had due to the pandemic’s effect on the economy?
Could it be fear?
What “Me?” you ask incredulously. I am seldom fearful, you continue to say. “I make all my decisions in my life rationally and based on information I’ve gathered or on a hunch that always serves me well.”
Take a moment to ask yourself some questions. Over the past year and a half, have you found yourself shopping online more than usual and using credit cards a bit more than in the past? Has your 3x a week post-work cocktail turned into an every night pre-dinner tonic? Had you hated your job and thought of looking for something new in early 2020? Did you stop the search and stay with the same company because you don’t want to take any more risks than necessary when the economy seems so rough and tumble?
Wait, there’s more to consider. Are your personal relationships better now, or perhaps slightly tricky? Do you avoid activities that you used to enjoy or even people you spent a lot of time with in the past? Have you found yourself procrastinating more than usual?
If even a few of these things ring true, FEAR is the ringmaster in your life. And you are not alone. More people are now exhibiting fear-based behavior than in any of the years that I’ve been alive. In a 2020 Washington Post article, reporter William Wan cited a Kaiser Family Foundation poll that said a federal emergency hotline for people experiencing emotional distress recorded a record 1,000 percent increase in calls. Around the same time, an online therapy company, Talkspace, reported a 65% jump in clients. Even recently, it is quite easy to find research study after research study confirming that Covid-19 has had a powerful psychological impact on the global population.
And it’s simple to identify the emotion that launched the depression and discord: FEAR.
But how do we redirect our behavior so that it is not fear-based? In our current times, it appears to be a significant challenge for all of us.
There are some steps we can all begin to take toward feeling safer and certainly toward having greater confidence in the decisions we make.
- Take an inventory of critical areas in your life that you believe may be causing you to feel fear.
- Determine if any of those fears are irrational (many of them may be).
- Ask yourself, “What is true at this moment?” Rather than “What might happen?” Remember that just because we may think something is true does not make it true. Meditate on that thought.
- Do your best to stay grounded in the present moment and mindful of what is happening around you.
- Play out worst-case scenarios in your mind. Imagine that the very worst thing that could happen does happen. How would you respond? Would life eventually go on?
- Given a deep assessment of your heart and thoughts, can you admit you live in a scarcity mindset? Are you making decisions and alternate plans just in case? Sit with that feeling if you recognize that as part of yourself.
- Begin to observe your responses to external negative influences? Are you able to remove yourself from negative situations? For example, if the TV is too distracting and my husband is waxing on about the dire straits of the world, I’ll take my coffee into another room. Or I may insert small earplugs that block out a good part of the noise surrounding me. I might even use earbuds to listen to calming music while I sit in the same room.
Another example in my life is that I have, as often as possible, avoided situations where I might be exposed to the Delta variant of Covid-19. I’m not allowing irrational fear to direct my decisions. I think I have healthy concerns. I will recognize when I have a sense of too many people in too small of a space and remove myself from that locale. For instance, on Saturday last week, I left a HomeGoods store early because it became far too crowded and forced people without masks into close proximity with each other.
- Begin saying NO more often. Many people have trouble with boundaries and will consent to a request or an invitation because they are afraid of being disliked and frowned upon for saying no thank you. Again, if we allow our boundaries to be blurred, we are operating from a fear-based mindset. Permit yourself to say no. It doesn’t have to be harsh as you say it, and you’ll gain immense confidence when you see that the world doesn’t fall apart by your decision. Your true friends stay friends.
- One of my favorite approaches to understanding fear and managing it when it presents itself in my life is to study it. Understand its clinical nature, but read what others say. Read articles about it, well-researched articles but also blogs by people who have experienced it personally. Those personal experiences can help you understand you are far from alone.
- Try to recognize when you may be experiencing fear. If you think you might be, then breathe deeply. Hold that breath in for a moment and release it slowly. Take another deep breath, and while releasing it, slowly, consider your external environment. Take note of the sounds you hear, the things you can touch around you and how they feel, and the objects surrounding you. What do you see? What are the shapes and colors? Just get out of your head and ground yourself.
Never forget that you are the one in control of your thoughts. You are the one who can determine what is a real threat and what is not, and even more importantly, you are the one to decide how you will respond.
Author Bio/Contact Information
Look for her new publication, The Heart of Hope, with a pending release date of December, 2021.