Fear is contagious. One person’s actions quickly change the perception or outlook of another. The chain reaction of events impacts everyday people and even leaders. So, how do you control your mindset when fear grips a nation or even the world. These tips will help you calm your mind and manage your fears, uncertainty, and anxiety so you’re mentally strong when uncertainty, anxiety, and fear fill your mind.
Managing your fear of uncertainty
Life is always uncertain. Significant life events like unemployment, death, divorce, or the diagnosis of a serious illness or disease remind us of this reality. It happens with daily life events, too, like being passed over for a job promotion.
While uncertainty is always our reality, it’s not something we think about every day until it’s staring us in the face based on world or personal life events. When you lose control over your future, it’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar.
While people feel this way individually every day, when the world feels this way together at the same time, it puts fear in a whole new spotlight.
We see this happening with the global health threat facing the world now. We’re in unchartered territory because the virus is novel (new), which means limited information and data and learning what to do as we go.
It’s unknown how long the stay-at-home orders will last. We only have best-guesses from scientists and health experts at how many people may get sick or die. This situation can have a far-reaching impact on your mental health, employment, and financial-security.
So, there’s a lot to fear. But, fear won’t solve the problem. It won’t make the health crisis go away. However, it can make it worse because of the impact it can have on your judgment and the actions you take.
This is one in a series of articles that are part of our special COVID-19 toolkit. Get tips to improve your well-being, lower stress, and maintain calm during an uncertain time.
Emotions are contagious
On any given day, your emotions can easily change the attitude of others around you, and vice versa. That happens in face-to-face encounters and on social media. You may feel a certain way based on something someone else posted.
It’s called emotional contagion. That’s the transfer of your emotions to someone else.
In our ever-connected world, it’s easy to start a chain reaction of fear and anxiety.
On a small scale, emotional contagion happens all the time. It’s just not typically at the forefront of your thoughts. Think about a baby cooing or smiling back at you when you smile at them. At a young age, infants pick up on body language and react accordingly.
Ever laugh when you see someone else laughing? It’s contagious too.
The contagious nature of your emotions helps you empathize, relate, connect, and communicate with others.
Overcoming fear during a crisis
Sometimes, it works to our detriment, though. It can be as contagious as a virus or illness threatening the world.
Shoppers frantically purchased toilet paper, antibacterial soap, face masks, rubber gloves, cleaning supplies, meat, and even eggs, in some cases leaving store shelves empty. There’s, of course, a lot of fear when there’s a public health threat, no treatment, and a vaccine that is likely at least a year away.
Wharton management professor, Sigal Barsade, calls these frenzied purchases a form of emotional contagion.
These chain reaction emotions during a pandemic are problematic. Nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel are left with few supplies when they need them most, and shoppers struggle to find paper products.
During a conversation with the Wharton Business Daily on Sirius XM, Barsade said, “One of the things we also know from the research literature is that negative emotions, particularly fear and anxiety, cause us to become very rigid in our decision-making. We’re not creative. We’re not as analytical, so we make worse decisions.”
Think about how many rolls of toilet paper you need to survive a 14-day quarantine. Even with lockdowns in effect, stores are still open. While you may not want to go out to a store during the height of the spread, you can at most, stock up on just a 30-day supply of necessary goods.
Barsade continued, “Emotional contagion affects everyone, which means that it can also affect leaders. It can affect policymakers. They have a little bit more protection because at least the policymakers and experts have good knowledge of the facts. But if you’re not aware that emotional contagion is influencing you, you could make poorer decisions.”
15 ways to calm your mind
When fear grips your life or that of everyone around you, take a moment to think about your actions. Stop the automatic behavior and add logic back to your way of thinking.
Of course, when you’re in this state of mind, it’s hard to know the right thing to do because the future is unknown. In the case of the public health threat, you want to protect your family, but you don’t know how long the lockdown will last or how many people will be infected.
There are also economic insecurities around this situation, as businesses are not sure if or when they’ll reopen. And the volatility of the stock market raises the specter of a possible recession.
Even after September 11th, when fear was also a universal feeling, most businesses didn’t close for a long time. People feared for their safety and were extra vigilant, but people adjusted and life continued after coming to a standstill for a much shorter time.
The impact becomes more real as deaths from this worldwide virus surpass the number suffered on 9/11. Businesses are also closed longer, and unlike 9/11 most industries are being negatively impacted instead of select sectors of the economy.
No matter what crisis you’re facing – chronic disease, public health threat, life-threatening medical diagnosis, menopause, unemployment, loss of a loved one, or some other major life event, use these techniques to calm your mind. They will help you replace fear with hope so you can make inspired and creative decisions rather than illogical and unproductive ones.
- Name your fears, and then accept them without judgment.
- Imagine the worst-case scenario, and then compare it with reality so you can move beyond your fears.
- Quiet your thoughts with silence.
- Take a break from technology and the news.
- Pay attention to the facts, not politicized speculation. Knowledge overpowers fear.
- Be authentic.
- Say yes to the life you have.
- Start a self-care routine.
- Practice gratitude.
- Find peace with your thoughts through mindfulness.
- Create structure in your life.
- Get mental health help and support, if needed.
- Listen to inspiring music.
- Focus on positivity and your passions.
1. Name your fears
Acknowledgment and understanding are key to managing your fears and quieting your mind so you can calm down.
First, name your fears. Write them down.
Tim Ferriss, an entrepreneur, author, and podcaster whose contemplated suicide, suggests you even go as far as defining your fears rather than your goals.
In his TED Talk, he shares his recipe for success, so fear doesn’t paralyze you.
So, what’s holding you back. What are you afraid of? And why?
There is no better time than now to do something about your fear and anxiety.
“In a time of crisis we have the potential to morph up to a new level and do things we never thought possible.” — Stuart Wilde
2. Accept your fears and move past them
Once you acknowledge your fears and anxiety, accept them without judgment. That way, you can find a path or way to cope with them so that you can overcome them and imagine things never thought possible.
Imagine the worst-case scenario, and then compare it with reality so you can move beyond your fears.
It’s a way to put you in the driver’s seat, rather than letting fear control your life.
Harvard University Health Services suggests a worry container. It’s a visual exercise and works like this.
First, think about a container or box with a lid on it. Perhaps it’s a mason jar.
Next, focus on the one thing in your mind that you can’t stop worrying about and put it in the container.
Close the box and move it to the side. Even better, put it somewhere like a shelf.
Finally, the choice is yours. Will you take that worry out or will you keep the worry on that shelf and in that container so you can focus on other things?
3. Quiet your thoughts with silence
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with information when it’s flowing fast, and everywhere you look – TV, online, and on social media. Take a break from it all and sit in silence.
Set parameters for how often you check your phone or get updates on a situation. Otherwise, you can become paralyzed by fear and easily consumed by information over which you have no control.
Don’t let fear and anxiety consume you and force you into irrational decisions.
If you run out of toilet paper, it’s not the end of the world. There are other options in your home. You don’t need all to fill your shopping cart with paper products.
Even if your fear is related to a personal situation not shared by the rest of the world, it can still be overwhelming to look at your phone. It may make you feel more isolated in your thoughts and feelings or trigger a memory.
No matter the situation, walking away from your mobile device and focusing on something else is a better use of your time. Plus, self-care and compassion for loved ones or others can improve your mental health and happiness.
Use these strategies to put down your devices, help boost your mood, and manage your time rather than letting technology manage you.
Sometimes doing nothing is more rewarding than doing everything.
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4. Knowledge overpowers fear
Fear may be contagious, but knowledge helps to halt its spread.
Barsade suggests you question yourself. Is there a reason to feel the way you do, or is it because you heard about or saw someone else’s fear on TV or social media?
Different viewpoints inspire the world and lead to persuasive negotiations and often positive outcomes. But the opposite also happens. Opinions can also make it harder to separate fact from fiction.
A pandemic is not a time for personal viewpoints. It’s a time for facts.
Surround yourself with people who don’t include their opinion on a topic. Listen and read articles from experts. Listen to reputable sources like World Health Organization, and the National Institutes of Health.
When they advise you do something, follow their advice combined with your common sense.
5. Be authentic
Authenticity is always important because when you try to be someone else, you can experience avoidable suffering, misperception, stress, and misdirected energy.
You have to be vulnerable to be authentic. It’s hard to be put yourself out there when you already feel so vulnerable with all the uncertainty in life. Some days you may not know what to think or believe, making it easy to say “yes” when you really should say “no.”
Some people are taking social distancing seriously while others are going about their daily lives running errands and hanging out with others.
It’s challenging to be the parent telling your teenage children they can’t spend time in person with classmates when everyone else is doing it. It’ll likely get harder once life starts to return to normal.
Some people will rush back to their schedule while others will take it slow.
People often copy the behaviors of others to fit in. When you do that, you’re not authentic to yourself. It’s ok to say no and live life authentically.
Be vulnerable rather than contagious
It’s hard to be authentic all the time especially in tension-filled situations where behavior is mimicked.
The spread of the outrage in a community is similar to that of a contagious disease, according to Gary Slutkin, a physician trained in infectious diseases and founder and CEO of the nonprofit Cure Violence.
Think about communities struggling with anger after a controversial event or issue. The tension spreads and quickly escalates, sometimes leading to violent protests. Slutkin says this happens because it feels safer to copy someone else’s behavior.
Authenticity takes a level of vulnerability that you have to accept. That’s not always easy to do.
He and his team treat violence like a contagious disease. At a time when a virus worries the world, it’s an interesting parallel because fear is the powerful emotion in both situations. Listen to his TED Talk.
He says the biggest predictor of violence is a previous case of it. People are either exposed to it or a victim of it. In a way, it acts like the flu or another illness where you pass it on when exposed.
So, how do you stop the violence? Just like you would a severe illness? First, you find a person who is angry or upset. It’s like identifying people infected with a virus.
Next, you prevent further spread. In the case of a public health threat, the world enters a lockdown phase. With violence, you need to manage the people in the community who are hanging around with others and likely influencing them.
Lastly, you have to shift the norm. Slutkin does this with violence interrupters. They’re people who can gain trust, credibility, and access to a targeted group. They have training in persuasion, calming techniques, and reframing.
In his first test of this, the group reported a 67-percent drop in shootings and killings in a Chicago neighborhood.
Will it work with the infectious disease facing the nation now? It’ll take courage and cooperation to flatten the curve. Recovery from the pandemic will take effort and sacrifice by each and every one of us.
No matter what emotions you feel, circumstances you face, or experiences you have in life — respond authentically. Don’t copy someone else’s behavior, like stocking up on products you don’t need. These actions just fuel the fear. Be the one to stop the chain reaction.
Now more than ever, do what you feel is right. Be yourself and make your own informed decisions based on facts, not opinions, and based on your beliefs rather than those of others.
You’ll feel better about your choices, your safety, and your current situation. Authenticity also helps strengthen relationships. As a result, your anxiety may ease.
6. Say yes to the life you have
When you live your life authentically, you’re focusing on the present and saying yes to the life you have. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, because you will stumble, but by accepting your mistakes you’ll be able to get back up and refocus your efforts on your values and passion.
When fear rules the world, it’s tough to be optimistic. You’re worried about the long-term impact on your health and budget. Stop yourself, though. As Mark Twain said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Accept life for what it is today. Say yes to the life you have right now and celebrate your unique gifts.
If you’re working to lower your stress or de-escalate your anger, you’re on the path to saying yes to the life you have.
Let go of past regret and inhibitions about the future. When you keep your emotions bottled up inside, they consume you and can fuel anger. Focus on letting go of the past and creating a healthier future.
When you let go of fear, you’ll be able to focus on the positives more than the negatives.
7. Start a self-care routine
Take care of yourself. Don’t worry about what others think. Focus on your needs and goals, and establish a self-care routine. Your body depends on it.
Fear and anxiety are not just mental states of mind. They can change your physical well-being too. You may experience:
- Faster heart rate or an irregular one.
- Weak or tense muscles.
- Heavier breathing.
- Lack of appetite.
- Cold and hot sweats.
- Dry mouth.
Anxiety can also cause gastrointestinal disorders, chronic respiratory disorders, and heart disease.
That’s why you need a self-care routine. It’s easy to neglect yourself until you feel run down, emotional, or ill.
A self-care routine is a powerful way to transform your life. Even if you only focus on the basics – eating healthy foods, physical activity, and sleep – you’re taking action to help build a stronger immune system and boost your happiness.
Once you accomplish the basics, try learning a new self-care habit.
That can be one of gratitude, relaxation, self-reflection, or positivity. These are some of the self-care routines which can put you on a path toward happiness.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. If you’re the type of person, who is always doing something. Take time to do nothing. It’s empowering, and harder than you think.
Want to relax? These are ways to relax your mind and body no matter the situation.
8. Practice gratitude
Use techniques like gratitude to count the blessings in your life, and find the positives. During a difficult time, try these 20 ways to show appreciation to others and reflect on the blessings in your own life.
Gratitude can improve your health, lower your stress, and improve your happiness. You don’t need gratitude daily. Research shows once a week is enough to change your life.
A gratitude journal is a great way to kickstart your journey, accept your life for what it is.
You have unique gifts. Find them and celebrate them.
During this time of self-reflection, think about where you are in life. Are you happy with who you are as a person? Are there things you can do better, like lowering stress? Take action to change your life.
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Plus, small steps you can take to change your life each month.
Establishing these new habits now will empower you even more once life returns to normal.
Focus on positivity in your own life, and surround yourself with others who feel the same way. Remember, fear is contagious. Stay connected with people who share your mindset or who can lift you up when you’re down.
9. Find peace with your thoughts through mindfulness
Mindfulness is another powerful self-care technique. It can help you calm your fears of the unknown by only focusing on the present. You forget about the past and the future. Focus on your breath and the present moment. Channel all your thoughts there, and reflect on them without judgment.
Mindfulness can help you feel less stressed, more connected, and happier.
Mindfulness also lessens emotional reactivity, especially when you’re dealing with negative stressors. Therefore, you can make more sound decisions.
Remember, the illogical ones often made when fear consumes your life. With mindfulness, you may tap your creative side. It can help you make rational choices rather than panicked ones. You’ll be in control of your mind rather than letting fear win.
As everyone comes together, this is also a perfect time to forgive. Let go of what drew you apart, frustrated you, or made you angry. Find a new path forward with forgiveness.
If you’re home with your family, find comfort knowing you’re spending so much time together enriching each other’s lives. Pick up a new hobby, try to cook something new, start a new project.
Many businesses are stepping up and offering products for free during this crisis to enable you to learn something new. Take advantage of this.
Oprah teamed up with The Chopra Center for a 21-day meditation experience. It’s an inspirational journey, focusing on deep wisdom, tools, and insights so you can grow as a person. The sessions include 10 minutes of guidance and then 10 minutes of meditation.
It lasts 21 days because that’s how long it typically takes to form a new habit. Any time you start something new, give yourself the grace and time to incorporate it into your life. You won’t change your life in one day, but taking one small step at a time will set you on the path toward success.
Calm also offers meditations, sleep stories, music, and more to help enhance your mental health and wellness. Their YouTube channel offers many options, including soothing sounds and directions for when to take your deep, calming breaths.
They’re even offering calming body movements like these, to get your body moving while also helping it relax.
The next time you feel overwhelmed or anxious, to name five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. It’s a great way to regain control of your thoughts and emotions and ground yourself by talking yourself through your five senses.
By focusing on your senses, you’re not focusing on your anxiety as it’s challenging to have more than one thought at a time. Focus on making that a calming thought.
10. Quiet your mind with positive thoughts
When you calm your mind, positives fill your mind rather than unknowns.
You’re saying yes to the life you have and choosing happiness every day.
Even in your darkest days, like after the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job, there’s happiness in your life. You may have to sort through your emotions to find it, but they are there.
Reflect on the positives in your own life, and those around you. Reflection is good, but outward signs of appreciation will benefit you too.
Showing thanks to others is contagious. You’ll feel better in return, and that person upon which you bestowed gratitude may reciprocate the gesture to you or pay-it-forward to someone else.
Acknowledge the unfortunate parts of your situation, but spend more time reflecting on the blessings.
Focus more time on the positives rather than your fears.
11. Create structure in your life
If you have more time in your life now, relish the downtime and a schedule less burdened by non-stop commitments. At the same time, create some structure. Structure is especially crucial for children home from school or for those who are unemployed.
Get up at the same time, eat regular and healthy meals, and go to bed around the same time each day. Find a way to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.
You don’t need a gym to get your heart rate up. Look for bodyweight exercises or online programs that you can do with minimal or no-gym equipment.
Structure helps you feel like you accomplished something, so you can again focus on the positives in life.
12. Socializing can calm you down
Socialization can improve your well-being. According to Mental Health America, a 20-year-study which found a person’s level of happiness depended on social connections. Those with a happy friend living within a mile were 25 percent more likely to be satisfied as well.
Remember, emotions are contagious.
If your level of interaction is low, the study found it can have the same effect on your longevity as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. It’s twice as harmful as being obese.
During a time of social isolation, you need to get creative with how you interact with others. Make a list of friends, family members, and loved ones you should check-in on from time to time. You can email, text, speak to on the phone, or schedule a video call. A video call is a powerful tool because you can see each other face to face, relate to each other better, and connect on a new level.
13. Get professional mental health help, if needed
There are many free tools, webinars, and training available to help improve your mental health as fear is collectively felt worldwide. And telebehavioral health services are an option which makes it possible to connect with a therapist even in the middle of a stay-at-home order.
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (CEI) has a series of webinars to help you manage anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. With the strategies and tools, you can build up your self-care routine and create a resilient life no matter what worry you’re facing.
Mental Health America has a list of resources, including mindfulness sessions form The Smithsonian Institute and more.
When you show gratitude and compassion to others, it takes your focus away from your anxiety and forces you to focus on someone else.
Also, seek out help from a trained professional who can offer one-on-one guidance. Many are offering virtual therapy sessions.
If you are in crisis, an additional resource may be the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
14. Listen to inspiring music
Just like calming sounds of nature can help you focus on your breath and bring you to a mindful state, music can replace your negative thoughts with positive emotions.
Music, after all, is the universal language. It can inspire, trigger creativity, and help you channel positivity.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Taste in music is born of one’s experiences, culture, and that which makes you unlike anyone else in the universe.
- I Was Here | Beyoncé
- Memories | Maroon 5
- Imagine One Day | Mashup Germany
- Carmina Burana
- Count My Blessings | The Nylons
- Man in the Mirror | Michael Jackson
- Nocturne Op.9 No.2 | Chopin
- Nessun Dorma | Luciano Pavarotti
- High Hopes | Panic! At the Disco
- Time to Say Goodbye | Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman
- Happy | Pharrell Williams
- Rise Up | Andra Day
- Only Time | Enya
- I Dreamed a Dream | Susan Boyle
15. Follow your passion
Now that you’re calm, inspired by the music, and armed with knowledge put these skills into action.
In times of uncertainty and whiplash-inducing change, let go of the past and things you can’t control, embrace knowledge, and design your life so you take actions that reflect your value and what is truly important to you.
Fill your mind with what drives you toward happiness every day. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it. You can turn your anger into something positive, figure out a way to move past it to find love again, and lower your stress when you focus on your passion.
Take small steps toward a quiet mind
You may find it hard to slow down life when you feel isolated in your feelings, or on a lonely path due to personal circumstances.
Remember, though, be true to yourself and focus on you! Take one small step at a time. It’s a journey.
When the world comes to a pause at the same time, it’s a little easier to take time to reflect. Many feel isolated, and together as a community, people are finding ways to lift others up while practicing social distancing.
Remember that feeling of community when life returns to normal, and seek out those who feel isolated and find time for them in your life. That’s perhaps one of the great lessons of this unfortunate health crisis. Together as a world, we’re learning to care for each other.
Be self-aware, accept that you won’t be perfect, and look for the positives even on a not-so-perfect day. There’s a silver lining somewhere, no matter how difficult your journey.
How are you calming your mind?
This is one in a series of articles that are part of our special COVID-19 toolkit. Get tips to improve your well-being, lower stress, and maintain calm during an uncertain time.
As a physician, healthcare executive at a Fortune 100 company, and integrative health practitioner, Z. Colette Edwards, MD, MBA knows the unique value of a holistic, whole-person approach to health and well-being. She also understands the challenges health inequities can present. Known as “The Insight Doctor,” she offers guidance and powerful tools that prepare your body, mind, and spirit for menopause, stress, and inflammatory bowel disease. Lastly, Dr. Edwards coaches individuals in the development of self-advocacy and health system navigation skills.
(Personal Insight MD, LLC, PeopleTweaker, and Insight MD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are feeling extreme anger with thoughts and actions harmful to yourself or others such as physical/verbal abuse or acts of violence, find yourself self-medicating with alcohol, illicit drugs, etc., expressing your anger in such a way that threaten relationships or your job, etc. seek professional help immediately and call 911 if necessary if you find yourself in an out-of-control situation or have the urge to hurt yourself or others.)