How do you cope with fear?
Events in Newtown, CT last week brought back an unwelcome emotion: fear. My sense of denial, the thing all of us need to get up and leave the house everyday was damaged when I had a massive heart attack at age 35 while pregnant with twins. In a matter of minutes, my world view changed. The world was no longer safe. I knew for certain bad things happen and suddenly the world was too scary.
For months I had to daily talk myself into going out the door, living life despite my fear, I was pretty good at it, but felt alone in the struggle. Then came September 11, 2001, and the world became scary for the entire nation. I felt a guilty sense of relief. Everyone felt like I had for months – scared. It was suddenly okay to talk about how to cope with fear publicly. I was relieved to know others felt scared too, and my coping strategies seemed to help them.
Today is another day in our nation when the world seems too scary – when we are all too aware that bad things can and do happen. I am too quickly reminded of how it feels when your denial is torn away. To again have to answer for myself the questions:
How do you get up, go out the door, and continue to live your life?
How do you cope when the world seems too scary?
By convincing yourself “it’s okay”.
It’s okay to feel the way you are feeling:
Sometimes I’d feel euphoric to have survived, sometimes angry at the loss of what I expected my life to be, sometimes guilty or unworthy for the gift of a second chance, sometimes fearful of what I could not control, sometimes sad, just sad – these emotions shifted and I rarely felt on solid ground. It is okay to feel whatever you feel. Saying, “I shouldn’t feel like this,” doesn’t allow you to process what your feelings. Feel it, name it, find a way to cope with it. Which leads me to my next point:
It’s okay to need:
You’d seek help if you cut yourself deeply, this is a wound too – you just don’t see the blood. It’s okay to seek help from a professional, or to find someone who has experienced something similar. You may need medication to help you cope. (Please don’t, however, medicate yourself. Turning to alcohol or misusing drugs isn’t a long term solution.) Early in my recovery, sleep did not come easily, because of the fear I wouldn’t wake up again. I needed someone to be in the room with me while I slept. Even though it seemed childish, I asked my mom to sit with me while I napped. That’s what I needed. Get what you need.
It’s okay to ‘What If’:
One of my most helpful coping strategies is to “what if” a situation that scares me. To some it may see morbid – or as if I’m dwelling on the negative – but I need to think through all the things that could go wrong and figure out what I’d do. Upon entering a new place, I quickly scan for AED equipment (used to restart a heart). When traveling, I know where the nearest hospital with a heart center is located. This makes me feel more secure. I don’t want my daughters to be held back by my fear. Whenever they go off for a school event or new adventure I have to “what if” though the possible dangers in my head, think about what is likely to happen, talk to them about reasonable safety measures (take your phone, stay with the group – not to scare them, but to make sure they are safe) and talk myself into letting go. Sometimes I need to talk about my fears with my husband, do a reality check, to get past my fear. Being afraid isn’t bad, letting fear stop you, or the people you love, from living fully is a problem. Talk it through, get help if you need it, and find a way to “what if” past your fear in a situation and move forward.
It’s okay to laugh:
Not to be all, “laughter is the best medicine” on you – but the endorphins released when you laugh truly help restore your ability to cope with fear. While it may seem inappropriate to laugh when there is so much sadness and grief, it isn’t. Finding humor in a stressful situation is an excellent way to cope. Seeking out humor when you are feeling sad, fearful, or depressed is essential. Watch a funny video or movie, talk to a witty friend, read something to make you laugh and take advantage of the endorphins. One of my friends posted a link to the 25 Funniest Autocorrects of 2012 on Facebook yesterday. It is definitely an adults only read – but I laughed so hard I was wiping away the tears. Just what I needed.
Coping when the world seems to scary takes time and effort – all injuries take time to heal. There are good days and bad days. There will be times when somethings makes it feel worse, and other days the sun shines and you’ll feel better.
Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time. Seek help when you need it.
Laugh and live life fully, even when it is scary.
Women’s Wellness Speaker Eliz Greene works with busy people to improve heart health, so they can live longer, feel better, and stress less.
She is a heart attack survivor and the author of the Busy Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Heart as well as 3 other books on wellness. She writes one of the top 50 health and wellness blogs and is a sought-after women’s wellness & stress management keynote speaker. Eliz was recently named one of the Top Ten Online Influencers on Stress and is the Heart Disease Expert on Answers.com