There are so many reasons you might be feeling fear right now. A global pandemic, financial worries, work and educational uncertainties, health and safety . . . to name just a few. And you’re probably wondering (and maybe even worrying about) how to cope with fear in a healthy way.
Fear is often how we respond to a change in our environment that feels unsettling, unknown, or threatening in some way.
And while fear is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable emotions to feel, it often arises out of our body’s desire to protect ourselves.
How to Cope With Fear: Mindfulness Practices Are Key
In historic times, when we encounter a bear in the forest, it is fear that compels our body to run as fast and as far as possible in the opposite direction. In today’s times, fear is often what gives rise to that prickly intuition that perhaps we are encountering someone who is not safe.
So we are faced with a conundrum of sorts. Fear is hard to feel, and yet it arises as a signal, an indication that perhaps we are faced with some sort of danger that we need to be aware of.
We avoid fear, and yet we need fear.
So how do we find our middle ground, where we can make peace with fear as an inevitable and important force in our lives? The answer can be found where answers are almost always found – in our mindfulness practice, both on and off the cushion.
Mindfulness is our capacity to connect to our own stable, steady awareness – the awareness that watches thoughts, emotions, and body sensations rise and fall away.
Mindfulness reminds us that we can observe our internal and external experiences with curiosity, while not getting lost or swept up.
Mindfulness reminds us that we can become curious about fear too – watching how and why fear arises within us – while not over-identifying with fear, or getting overthrown by it.
Try These 4 Mindfulness Practices to Help You Cope With Fear:
Here are a few mindfulness-based practices that can help us become friendly with fear, during these especially challenging times.
1. Find Your Ground
Fear can feel destabilizing, and therefore a difficult emotion to “sit with” right off the bat. Grounding practices can be a way to stabilize ourselves.
Feel the sensations of one hand in another, or the solid grip of your feet on the earth beneath you. These are ways to feel more centered and grounded when we feel like fear is overwhelming.
2. Remember Impermanence
The truth of impermanence reminds us that everything comes and goes, including fear. In meditation, we can watch our fear arise, and if we sit with it long enough, we can watch fear fall away.
Fear is not permanent, nor will it consume us. Fear waxes and wanes like everything else internal and external. Our stable awareness can watch fear, without becoming fear.
3. Connect With Compassion
Sitting with difficult emotions like fear requires compassionate courage. We often become critical of ourselves: “Why am I such a scaredy cat?” or, “Why can’t I just get over my worries?”
Self-criticism makes it difficult for us to be with our emotions in a truly friendly and curious way. Instead, approach your own fear the way you would for a dear friend.
We can use phrases like, “Fear is normal” or, “It’s going to be okay.” You can even put a hand over your heart as a way to offer kindness to yourself.
4. Seek Support
Fear that persists might be a sign that more pervasive anxiety is starting to develop. Sometimes we simply need to release how we are feeling to a friend, family member, or loved one and discover that we are not alone.
Other times, when our usual practices and coping skills don’t seem to provide relief, or we are finding it difficult to function, we may need professional support. It can be helpful to reach out to your therapist, psychiatrist, or primary care physician for more help.
Mindfulness Practices to Cope With Fear: The Takeaway
These are trying and unusual times. Fear is a normal, natural response to that which feels unknown and threatening.
Global pandemics certainly count as unknown and threatening. During stressful times, we are provided with opportunities to practice mindfulness, both on and off the cushion.
Mindfulness is not magic – it doesn’t make fear disappear. Rather, mindfulness allows us to become more comfortable sitting with fear, and being kind to ourselves and each other as we do so.
So, let’s practice. Together, we will find our way through.