Have you ever stood in line at the grocery store wearing your mask, and had the urge to cough but tried so hard to hold it back in fear someone may think you have COVID? 

Have you ever heard someone cough or sneeze and you moved away out of fear they may have COVID? I have, my children have, and many of my friends have.

Fear stems from an uncertainty about the COVID-19 virus, a fear that has gone viral. We have all experienced some sense of fear about these unprecedented times.  

Fear is not always a bad thing. It is a natural human emotion that arises when danger is present. When fear interferes with your everyday life, however, it can become problematic and take a toll on your immunity.

We know that there are, and will continue to be, psychological ramifications of COVID -19. The emotion of fear is a common outcome during pandemics. But the fear related to the Covid-19 pandemic falls on unfamiliar ground because the virus is continuously evolving. There seems to be no end to the news stories. We are constantly bombarded with news, and, depending on who you follow, consumed with fear, about the pandemic via television, friends, families, social media platforms. 

This fear can create dissonance, a lack of harmony in how we think and what we believe to be true or not. This dissonance creates a misalignment of our thoughts and behaviors. The constant daily reminders can alter our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors and possibly result in a phobia.

The physiological effects of fear don’t discriminate.

Our body doesn’t care what we are afraid of. Fear stimulates our inflammation system, thereby releasing stress hormones. Fear can increase our blood pressure and heart rate, resulting in dizziness or a difficulty in breathing. Fear can affect our sleep and appetite.

Preoccupation with the virus is a cognitive effect, how we mentally process all the COVID information we receive. If we spend a significant amount of time being afraid of contracting the virus or staying isolated, the potential outcomes can trigger emotional responses, such as sadness, anxiety, guilt, and anger. Preoccupation may alter our behavior, disturbing the overall quality of our everyday functioning and our immunity.

Last year, researchers created a term for anxiety and fear specific to Covid-19: Coronaphobia, which is “an excessive triggered response of fear of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19, accompanied by excessive concern over physiological symptoms, significant stress about personal and occupational loss, increased reassurance and safety-seeking behaviors, and avoidance of public places and situations, causing marked impairment in daily life functioning.”

We know that the virus is real, and we know what to do to be personally responsible: wear our masks, wash our hands, and avoid contact with sick people. But what can we do to help manage our fears and strengthen our immunity?

Four Steps to Help Manage Fear

The first step: stop talking ONLY about the virus.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 44 percent of adults say they discuss the coronavirus outbreak constantly, in person, online, or over the phone. The continual talk about the virus and the fear of it raises stress levels and weakens the immune system.

The second step: understand that what you think about grows. 

Whatever you occupy your mind with is magnified in your life. Choose to think and talk about wellness, not illness. Think about the blessings in your life. Focus on taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep and feeding your body healthy foods. Focus on moving your body by walking or exercising. 

The third step: create a safe community where you can talk about anything

Research shows that small groups of people who can talk about anything have stronger immune systems and experience more significant meaning in life. Get involved in a group or be of service. 

The fourth step: do acts of kindness.

Our brains have positive reactions when we do simple acts of kindness, releasing chemicals that improve mood, decrease blood pressure, and strengthens our immune system.

The most important takeaway about managing fear is maintaining a healthy lifestyle, getting enough sleep, eating healthy fruits and vegetables, moving your body, and working on creating your inner peace. Be kind and be gentle with yourself and with others. Taking care of yourself will enhance your willingness to be of service to others and, in turn, will boost your immunity, increase happiness and feelings of self-worth.

Remember, every one of us is a blessing.