Conquering fear during COVID-19

Are you having difficulty coping right now?

“The first thing to acknowledge is that what we are facing is a not a crisis but a threat,” says Nova Scotia senator and psychiatrist Dr. Stan Kutcher. “It’s a threat that has the potential to make us, or the people we care about, very ill or die.”

When there is a clear and present danger in our environment, it’s important to understand and distinguish our emotional responses to it. “The appropriate, useful and natural response to a threat is fear,” Dr. Kutcher says.  “And, the antidote to fear is courage.”

“However, if we use the term anxiety to describe how we feel, that can encourage us to avoid the threat, which withdraws us from action. Whereas if we call what we’re feeling fear, it directs us to attack a threat such as COVID-19.”

There are other words Dr. Kutcher says we can use to describe our emotions that also   support action:

  • disturbed
  • worried
  • concerned
  • upset
  • uncomfortable

 Now that you’re starting to reframe how you feel, here are some actions can you take to lessen fear:

  • follow the directions from Public Health
  • coordinate emergency planning with family
  • leave the house only for essential items
  • practice excellent hygiene at home
  • adhere to physical distancing rules
  • help others who have greater needs (i.e., call neighbours and friends who are lonely for a chat or a drop-off of supplies)
  • look for reassurance (i.e., the daily updates with Dr. Robert Strang and Premier Stephen McNeil are comforting, measured and informative)
  • stick to credible sources of information

What if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder?

 If you have an anxiety disorder, then this current situation can exacerbate your symptoms.  Please check in with your health-care provider to see if there may be additional psychotherapy that might help or if you are taking medications, if there may be some changes in your medications.

Both fear and anxiety are under the control of the brain and are experienced by the body’s nervous systems.  There are a number of activities that you can engage in to help lessen the intensity of your emotions.:

  • breathing exercises
  • laughter—it’s hard to laugh and be afraid or anxious (for example, nervous laughter can be a natural stress release)
  • try prayer, meditation or mindfulness exercises
  • talk with friends or family—staying connected to others (even if its electronic) can give perspective and help you focus on other things
  • yoga and exercise
  • activities that engage your full attention—video games, puzzles, colouring

Make this an opportunity for change

“Remember that in every crisis there are opportunities for change,” says Dr. Kutcher. “The reason we have emotions is to recognize that we have an opportunity in our lives to act. That’s why emotions are there. That’s their purpose.”


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