Coping Amidst Fear and Uncertainty

Written by Vitoria Lin

As I settle into the new “normal” of life under the coronavirus, there seems to be two versions of myself. One goes through the motions of daily life: work, home schooling, and chores. The other resides in a nether world of feelings: anxiety, uncertainty, and perhaps something even deeper that I can’t quite name.

As parents and caregivers, we deeply feel a range of emotions. Joy, love, exhaustion, hope for the future, and sometimes, worry about survival. In those early days after my daughter’s birth, I remember closely monitoring her belly button scar, so wary of any threats that could harm her. And although she is mostly a healthy child, she nevertheless racked up more emergency room visits for minor falls and infections than I care to admit. 

We strive to create a safe world for our children, so they can be confident exploring further and further from the safe harbor of our arms because they know that we remain there for them. But the need for safety is not only for little ones. This is how we as human beings fundamentally function: We seek safety not to only survive but thrive.

A pandemic shatters our sense of safety. In order to keep it at bay, it has forced us to radically alter our way of life. It takes our natural urge to protect our children—and other vulnerable loved ones—and leaves us feeling out of control. How can we shield our families against something invisible? We nevertheless try, acting out unnerving rituals of sanitizing door knobs and dodging people who veer too close for comfort. Worst of all, we wonder: What if my family already has it?

In this time of fear and uncertainty, here are some ways to cope:

Remember you are not alone in your anxiety

Sometimes, just confiding that I feel anxious takes a load off my shoulders. Nothing brings me more relief than friends commiserating that they too have fallen into similar patterns of checking temperatures and googling symptoms because someone had a dry cough. One friend even shared a funny story of how her overzealous disinfecting of everything with bleach irritated her lungs, which then led to a dry cough.    

Accept how you feel—in all its depth and complexity

Our anxiety is not only for ourselves and our loved ones, but our communities, our country, and humanity at large. Given the state of world, the word “anxiety” does not even fully capture the full measure of our emotions. The Harvard Business Review comes right out and says we are feeling grief, in particular, anticipatory grief:

Anticipatory grief is … more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming …. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety.  

I sometimes chastise myself for having needlessly worried over a stretch of dry coughing (likely allergies). I sometimes wonder why I feel nauseated after a day spent working and coaxing my resistant five-year old to do her school work. When I reflect on it some more, I realize I also spent the day reading update after update, grieving about families and medical workers in China, Italy, King County, and New York City, my old hometown. The same article asserts:

There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us.

It is clarifying to recognize what I am feeling, and it gives me the freedom to accept that this is who I am right now. 

Develop a plan for your family based on Public Health guidance

When we are able to take time to breathe and process our emotions, we should plan for what happens if we or a family member becomes ill. Reach out to relatives and friends. Public Health-Seattle & King County offers information on what to do if an adult or child becomes ill. If your child is sick, build your plan around this response. 

Find your joy

Finally, remember the things that bring you peace, contentment, and yes, joy. It is both strange and reassuring to watch spring progress as usual, even as our human world is so transformed. Things grow, life continues. We will rebound.

I feel more deeply connected to my loved ones than ever before. I summon that feeling I have when I snuggle my child or hold my partner’s hand. I imagine what it will be like when I see my friends and co-workers again—how we will come together with a more profound appreciation of our connection to one another. Until then, I will continue to love my community by staying at home with my family and connecting with others from a distance.

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