Our greatest fears don’t come from the facts; we are most afraid of the unknown. When it comes to the spreading virus and shaky economy... what we speculate will happen in the future frightens us more than the truth we are facing. We then share horror stories that increase the magnitude of the communal fear that surrounds us.
If you were ever afraid of the dark, what did you imagine was out there? The less we know for sure, the more we imagine the worse and believe it exists.
I created a slide show to share with tips on how to deal with the fears of the impact of the coronavirus on their lives for my clients. Many are afraid to leave their homes. They whisper about the fear of dying. They repeat questions indicating their fear is making it difficult to hear and retain good news.
We are witnessing how the stories that swirl around us trigger our negativity bias. We tend to dwell on and act on the negative aspects we read and hear on the news and in our online conversations. We don't hear and see the details that are neutral or positive. As Hara Estroff Marano said in her post, Our Brains Negative Bias, “Your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news.”
Your emotions shape your reality. What you focus on becomes the story you are living. When afraid, what we judge as reality narrows, blocking out what else could be true and possible. Carl Sagan said, “Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves." Fear and anger formulate the foreground of your mental pictures.
Reality Depends on Your Focus
There is truth about diseases, dying, and the effect of pandemics on our livelihoods. There is also truth about people recovering and helping each other to find happiness even in the dark. You choose what to focus on. You live by the stories you are believing and telling others.
Are you waiting to live because you are afraid of the stories?
Psychological stress occurs when you think you don’t have control. You let the Thinking Mind overpower the Observing Mind. As a human, you have an amazing ability to observe your physical reactions and thoughts. You can stand back to notice where you are feeling tightness in your body and witness the thoughts drifting through your mind, and then change them if you choose to.
Try this: Close your mind. Think of nothing.
Now think about something. What was your first thought? How did it make you feel? You are now in your Observer Mind.
Negative stories distract you from what is important and meaningful. They will tempt you into conversations about what is awful instead of conversations that could generate something positive. Then the news and social media constantly direct your attention away from things that bring you happiness.
Master Your Mind so It Doesn’t Control You
You must remain awake to recognize the temptations of your negativity bias and choose not to take the bait of the fearful stories thrown at you. This misdirection eats away at your energy, your hope, and your ability to create.
- Do not give in to feelings of resignation and helplessness. You are in control of your mind when you stay awake to what is going on in your body, emotions, and mind.
- Release the tension in your body. Notice where you are tight. Every time you hear a negative message, go to this place and release the tension.
- Choose what you pay attention to; this is your greatest strength. Your attention deserves to be directed to meaningful endeavors rather than hijacked by scary distractions.
- Decide what you want to feel right now. What can you imagine that will help you shift how you feel? Compose the story that uplifts your spirit. Find pictures and facts that support this perspective… they are out there!
- Use distraction to shift your focus. Do something you enjoy. Play a musical instrument, go outside for a walk and appreciate the trees (or cactus!), listen to music, write a poem, read an inspirational book, play a silly game, or call an optimistic friend. Watch this video to see how people in quarantine in China have found a way to laugh.
- Serve others in some way. Focusing on uplifting others allows you to “step out of yourself” and be of value to another person. Feeling love, gratitude, and fulfillment overrides feeling helpless.
- Coach others to shift from what is awful about the problem to helping them see the problem and possibilities differently. Help them change the stories they are dwelling on.
- Stay in the moment. Don’t speculate about the future. Yes, you want to ensure you are prepared for bad things to happen. Prepare, and then direct your attention to what is helpful right now.
- Wish everyone you see good health and good fortune. Fear is contagious but so is hope.
- Start living today. Don’t wait to see what happens next month. Every moment of life is precious. Don’t waste them.
Marano also said about our bias toward negativity, “It takes frequent small positive experiences to tip the scales toward happiness.” You have the power to choose.