How to Contain the Spread of… FEAR (even amidst a pandemic)

To say we are living in a time of great challenge and uncertainty would be a major understatement.

There’s no dispute that we’re currently facing a virus over which we have very little control.

But there is another contagion being propagated that we have every ability to contain. 

And that is FEAR.  

Fear does funny things to people. At its worst, it produces panic — a physical state that literally disables the brain’s ability to think clearly. There is seemingly no other explanation for the current shortage of toilet paper.  It just isn’t rational.  But the greater the shortage, the higher the demand.

When people are in fear, they bypass their ability to think and are easily influenced by mass hysteria and knee jerk reactions. They also tend to put their own needs above those of others.

Fear triggers our instinct for self-preservation, leading us to scan our environment for anything that indicates that danger is present.

But when we’re gripped by fear, we just don’t see things clearly.  And the more fear there is, the more evidence there seems to be to suggest there is something to fear, which of course elicits more fear.

Fear narrows the aperture of the lens we view things through.  In other words, we are only seeing a small fraction of the entire picture.  It’s like staring at a dot on the wall by smashing your face against it.  The dot is all you’ll see, even though the room you are in is exponentially larger than the small dot right in front of you.

  • You’ll put your attention on what is wrong, rather than what is right.
  • You’ll spend more time and energy on describing, complaining about, and magnifying the problem than on finding the solution.
  • You’ll be more concerned with what you can get rather than what you have to give.
  • You’ll focus more on what is out of your control than on things you are able to influence.
  • You’ll tend to feel helpless rather than hopeful – and you’ll act in ways that lead others to feel that way too.

But each of us has the power to turn this fear response around.  And it is imperative that we do it now.

Though most of us have never lived through a pandemic as extensive as COVID-19, we have all likely weathered a few storms over the course of our lives.

And we’ve not only lived to tell about it, but also learned a thing or two along the way.  In times like these it is essential to draw upon that wiser, calmer part of ourselves that knows this too will pass – and that we can rise to these challenges with courage and grace.

I call this vital part of ourselves Genius.  Here are three simple ways to activate it:

1.  Do whatever you can to quiet your mind and calm yourself down.

When fear hijacks your system, your thinking will be cloudy, and your body will be on high alert.  The cortisol that gets released will increase your heart rate and blood pressure.  Your neural activity will be diverted from the most highly developed part of your brain to the most primal.

As a result, you’ll experience a fight, flight or freeze response.  You’ll be prone to seeing dangerous things that aren’t there – and inclined to screen out helpful things that are.

To counter that reaction, take some deep breaths.  Get oxygen flowing back into your cells.  Then, ask yourself a question that moves your neural activity back into your prefrontal cortex, the part that allows you to think deeply and make good decisions.

A question like, “What do I really want?” or “What could I do to make this situation better?” will help you get back on the right track.

The more you can quiet your mind, the more space you’ll create for inspiration and answers to come in – and the more likely you will be to recognize and act on them when they do.  Rather than unconsciously reacting, you can respond with thoughtful intention.

2.  Choose curiosity over judgment.

Once you’ve come to a fixed conclusion about something, you are not likely to consider other perspectives.  Cognitive science tells us that confirmation bias leads us to take in information that aligns with our current beliefs and screen anything that contradicts them out.

And from that mindset, you’ll run the risk of behaving in ways that make things worse.

But while judgment narrows your aperture and keeps you in a fixed position, curiosity opens it and allows you to get unstuck.  Your lens zooms OUT rather than IN.

Instead of only seeing that small black dot, you’ll take in more of your surroundings.  In place of the wall that once blocked your progress, you’ll see possibilities and solutions that can move you forward.

Notice anything you may currently be believing that could be shutting you down or causing more stress – and challenge it.  Ask yourself, “Is it really true?”.  Rather than paying attention to what your eyes are showing you, get curious and ask, “What am I NOT seeing?”

3.  Shift your focus from what you stand to lose to what you have to gain.

In the face of this international calamity, we have all had to make sacrifices.  Life as we know it has drastically changed.

Offices, schools, stores, restaurants and other establishments are closed (or have limited access). Travel has been halted.  The market is taking a hit. Your daily routine has likely been obliterated.  The safety of people you love (and you, yourself) is in question.  And as a result, social distancing has become an imperative.

But amidst all this, there are things to be optimistic about.

    • For many of us, the crazy hustle bustle that compelled us to run from one thing to another is giving way to opportunities to slow down, rest and find our bearings.
    • Our true priorities are coming into focus, allowing us to find more meaning and purpose in the things that we do and the way that we do them.
    • Though we cannot always be in each other’s physical presence, we can stay connected. We can (and must) lean on our advancing technology to communicate with, support and care for one another without being in the same room.
    • We are facing a collective challenge that has the power to bring us together despite our differences. As we worry less about ourselves and find ways to help each other, we activate reserves of strength and resilience we may not have realized we had.
    • When nothing is certain, anything is possible. We can view the current disruptions we must deal with as opportunities to find better ways of doing things we never had reason to evaluate.  We can be more intentional and conscious in everything we do.

In summary,

1. Do whatever you can to quiet your mind and calm yourself down.

2. Choose curiosity over judgment.

3. Shift your focus from what you stand to lose to what you have to gain.

As you take these steps to become more connected with your own Genius, you’ll hold a space for others to do the same.  Your ability to remain calm and optimistic will rub off.  And you’ll not only quell the virus of fear but also proactively extend the hope and optimism that will allow us to prevail both individually and collectively.

Now THAT’s something worth spreading.

For more on connecting with your Genius, check out The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader – How to Unleash Genius in Yourself and Others.

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*Image: Pixabay 2020

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