Fight or Flight - Handling Fear and Uncertainty

Fight or Flight

Handling fear and uncertainty

By Skye Tan | 31 March 2020

Unprecedented – A term both PM Lee Hsien Loong and DPM Heng Swee Keat used to describe the times we are in as the Resilience Budget was shared recently.

While societies and economies across the globe are grappling with the impact of COVID-19, fear and stress have gripped many families around us.

Social media is both a boon and a bane – we get great information faster, but now that everyone can be a content provider, we have to be discerning of fake news and prevent information overload.

How are we parents, doing in the current climate of unease and uncertainty?

Let us take a heart check. Are you nervous about your kids going to school? Are you perhaps worried about your spouse or your own job security? Do you constantly double-check the sufficiency of food supplies and essential items at home? Do you find yourself frustrated at your young child’s inability to keep his hands to himself in public places? (Don’t touch the railing! Don’t go playground! Don’t touch your face... noooo!)

Take a minute and ask yourself how stressed you are. Take a deep breath and let us see how we can better regulate these emotions of fear and anxieties, and model appropriate responses for our children.

Make peace with the chaos

Most people find being out of control unnerving. In situations like the current pandemic where things are changing rapidly, seeking to control everything can result in stress for ourselves and people around us. In situations when you cannot control certain outcomes, spending energy worrying may do you more harm.

I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of this:

  • What I cannot control, I have to let go of these things – I cannot control the stock levels of household essential items in the supermarkets, and I cannot control how others follow the rules of social distancing.
  • What I can control, I will focus on these things – I will observe my own social distancing, and I will check in on my elderly neighbours and if they lack any groceries, I could help them with it when I next get an online delivery time slot.

Rather than feeling anxious, do your best to put practical measures in place – for example, staying at home more, practising good hand hygiene, avoiding crowded places, and then mentally move on.

Remember those newborn days when you researched and researched but still felt caught off guard by the real deal? Learn to ride the wave on this one too.

Making peace with the chaos is one way we fight the fear.

Stop walking in circles

One of the worst – yet common – feelings in managing hard scenarios is when we feel trapped. For instance, you may want your child to stay home from school. Yet you feel wildly unprepared to do home-based learning or are unable to stay home to supervise him.

When we feel like we are trapped in a situation, our stress levels rise and we go into flight mode. Subconsciously, you may be thinking “Oh man, I want to get out of this situation but I can’t” which adds even more stress on your anxiety-loaded mind and that just creates a vicious circle.

Consider these ways to combat the unhealthy thought patterns:

  • Identify what your preferred action is, then work to make that happen. If subsequently the pieces do not fall into place, you would at least know that you tried.
  • Adopt the law of displacement. If you are having recurring thoughts that are robbing your peace, find another thought to replace that thought. For example, displace “What if we get sick?” with “We are eating well and exercising... we are going to stay healthy”. Or displace thoughts like “Working from home with the kids is impossible!” with “They must be feeling it too. Let’s get through this together. At least we can be together.”

Mirrored responses

We all want our kids to grow up to be resilient, to be able to handle adversity and become great problem solvers.

How can we help them to grow up to be all of that more easily? One powerful way is to model for them how to stay calm, solve what we can solve and be at peace with what we cannot.

Show your kids and your spouse (and yes, yourself!) grace. Apologise when we had a bad day and snapped or was impatient. How we ride out this pandemic could well be one of the best life lessons we give our kids. How we respond to the fear and to the current unknowns will tutor our children on how to handle the many unknowns life will throw at them.

Times may be uncertain but the important things in life remain true – Family, Love, Community, Hope... there are many good things that have not changed and they are worth fighting for.

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


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