How To Turn Fear Into Possibility During A Global Pandemic And Beyond

This post was originally published in Forbes Magazine on March 23, 2020. You can read the post on Forbes website here. Laura Maloney is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council.

Like hundreds of thousands of people around the world living through the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve felt generally ill at ease and unable to focus with occasional moments of optimism. I’ve been through and have managed major disasters that have required significant sacrifices from individuals and communities before. This pandemic – though unlike anything many Americans have ever seen – felt eerily similar to me, though I couldn’t quite articulate why. Recently, several friends from New Orleans who, along with my husband and me, were part of the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, reached out to ask, “Does this feel strikingly reminiscent to you?”

It finally occurred to me that there may be a Katrina aftereffect rumbling in my subconscious. In addition to having my normal life’s structure – such as my essential exercise regimen involving a group cycling class and weights that are currently unavailable – upended, I’m also concerned about how COVID-19’s economic impact will affect my family’s and the country’s future financial health.

As an executive coach, I’ve turned to a few essential tools that have helped me meet my anxiety with curiosity in order to address the root cause. The following are a few strategies anyone can use to move from fear and uncertainty toward feelings of hope and possibility.

Investigate your fear.

Many people feel panic without ever getting to the root of their fear. In times of global crisis, when almost everyone we know seems anxious, it may seem logical to assume our fear is the same as everyone else’s. But when we don’t clearly identify our own unique fears and investigate how grounded they are in plausibility, we can’t move past them. Instead, we get stuck in a state of worry.

While it’s perfectly normal to worry, worry left unchecked can begin to paralyze us. While none of us can predict with certainty what will happen, we can plan for different scenarios we’ve determined to be in the realm of possibility. A good way to do this is to journal or talk with a trusted friend. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Keep asking yourself this question until you’ve articulated the worst case scenario.

Most of our suffering stems from uninvestigated thoughts and emotions. Fear holds the most power over us when it is allowed to remain nebulous and elusive. When you decide to deliberately think through your worst waking nightmare, however, you may find it makes so many extraordinary leaps that it is almost as implausible as the nightmares your subconscious creates when you sleep.

A great resource for those who want to dismantle their fears is Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is. I highly recommend listening to the audio version of this book, as the author uses examples to break down deep-seated fears. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Insight Timer talk, Facing Fear With Compassion, in which she discusses her process for dealing with fear, is another great resource.

Assess your priorities.

Ironically, extreme situations can actually help us achieve balance. Instead of dwelling on the loss of our old routines, framing disruption as a chance to reevaluate what is truly important to us can lead to happier, more productive and creative lives than we may have ever imagined possible.

If necessity is the mother of invention, imagine how many entrepreneurs will be born from the coronavirus crisis, which has fundamentally altered how we work, learn, socialize, exercise and even shop for groceries. The beauty of environments where we can’t do and have the things we’re conditioned to think we want is that they force us to ask ourselves what we truly need to be healthy and happy.

Without our usual routines, we’re more able to recognize what matters most to us. Without the pull of your daily routine (coffee run, office, gym, etc.), what stands out as “vital,” versus “important” or “nonessential?” How might you shift your life post-COVID-19 so that it is more aligned with what you truly value?

Determine your core values.

As you appraise your energy expenditure, it’s helpful to gain clarity about your core values. This may seem simple enough, but it can be surprisingly challenging to whittle everything you value in life down to the few that are most central to your overall wellbeing and happiness. Core values define who we are, not who we would like to be or who we think we should be. Rather, they represent our individual essence and how we relate to others in the present moment. When we have greater clarity about what drives us, we can make more rewarding choices in our personal and professional lives, no matter what is happening in the world around us.

Simply be.

Times of crisis can also be good times to simply “be.” What would it feel like if you had no agenda other than giving yourself some white space? Some of our most creative ideas are born from simply “being,” when we’re free to let our minds wander and be curious about the ensuing feelings, thoughts and ideas that bubble to the surface. Use times of uncertainty to play and remember who you are when all else is stripped away. You may be delightfully surprised by the ideas that germinate.

Find moments of joy each day.

Often, we find joy in life’s simple pleasures – a rich cup of coffee or petting our beloved pets. Finding those joyful moments and making note of other things for which we’re grateful can be very grounding. A good exercise I practice and recommend to others is writing down a list of at least three things that brought me joy each day. When we simplify life to our most elemental sources of energy, when we release ourselves from fear and worry, we free up so much time and space to create meaning for ourselves and for others.