These are scary times: we’re living with much uncertainty and many unknowns. As a psychotherapist, my clients, friends and family frequently ask me: “I’m scared. What can we do?” One thing I am doing with my clients to lower their fears and worries is to help them make a list of the things that frighten them.
“Why would anyone do that?” you may ask, “Won’t that just make me feel worse?”
No. Not at all. This exercise will give you a clear idea of what you can control (so you feel calmer) and what you can’t (so you can let it go). I call it “The Action Plan Exercise”.
On a piece of paper, create three columns:
Column 1: Write down what you’re afraid of
Column 2: Write down what you can’t control
Column 3: Write down what you CAN control: this is the key to your peace of mind. This is the most important column. It gives you an action plan. Here’s an example:
Column 1 (my fear):
I’m afraid I’ll get the coronavirus, get really sick and die.
Column 2 (what I can’t control):
I can’t control the people near me in the grocery store or what’s on every single surface that I touch.
I can’t continually sanitize every square inch of my home.
I can’t control my loneliness and how much I miss my friends.
I can’t control my immune system.
Column 3 (what I can control):
I can control what I do in the grocery store (wear a bandana and gloves), how close I get to other people, which grocery store I go to and how often I go.
I can regularly clean/sanitize the objects I come in contact with the most, like my phone.
I can keep in touch with my friends by calling, texting, FaceTiming and going for walks with them (maintaining proper distance, of course).
I can do my best to help my immune system: practicing yoga, walking, working out/exercising at home, meditating, eating the best I can, taking vitamins, minimizing coffee, alcohol and sugar.
Column 3 becomes your Action Plan. Having an Action Plan gives us a sense of control and helps life feel more predictable, less chaotic and uncertain. It gives our mind a safe and secure place to go, where we feel more “in control”.
In addition to creating an Action Plan, here are some other ways to feel less scared in this time of the pandemic:
Stay in the present: most scary things happen in the future, and it’s the future that we worry about. When we focus on the present, things are usually okay. We are safe and healthy, even if we’re tired of watching “Pinky and the Brain” or “Schitt’s Creek”.
Find things that work for you, whether it’s meditation, solitary walks or bingeing on Netflix. It’s really very individualized, and there’s not necessarily a right or wrong. So listen to your intuition and do what works for you. Your best friend may not agree and your parents may think you’re crazy, but no one can take care of you better than you! Rely on hobbies, books, music, friends, movies, activities and foods that you already know make you feel better.
Try this mantra: “This crisis period is temporary; it will end”. In my tele-health sessions with my clients, I’ve been – naturally – hearing a lot of concerns associated with the pandemic: financial fears, job losses, concerns about older parents, and disappointments over cancelled trips, concerts and events. Plus, you probably feel pressure to perform well at your job (if you still have one) working at home, all the while meeting the new demands of this crazy pandemic world.
My advice? Keep the big picture in mind. This will pass. It may be difficult… there may be some scary times between today and the end of the pandemic, but the end will come. And every day that we’re in quarantine, we’re closer to that time. Create your own Action Plan, feel more in control of your life and keep those places that scare you at a safe distance.