Feeling Fear Finding Comfort
Have you ever done the "Bean Boozled Challenge" or tried the "Harry Potter" jellybeans? If you are unfamiliar, these jelly beans have two flavours per colour: if you select a lime green jelly bean, it could taste like lime....or it could taste like lawn clippings. Aside from their flavour, they are completely identical: you don't know what you're going to get until you bite into them. If you have tried these beans before, can you remember how you felt as you picked up your jellybean? Maybe you were scared, and maybe you reached for a plastic bag to spit into, just in case.
Fear and anxiety are normal feelings. This emotion is super useful: can you imagine if we didn't feel fear or anxiety if we saw a bear on our walking trail? Fear is real and fear is valid; this emotion is incredibly powerful and, in some cases, can be all-consuming and overwhelming. Sometimes, we can do some wild things just to avoid feeling this emotion--or, during certain times of the year, we crave this fear, and pay to feel it! Haunted houses, scary movies, haunted hayrides...around Halloween, we might try to be scared!
If you have a journal, grab it. If not, grab a sheet of paper. Write down something you were afraid of when you were little. If you can't think of anything or don't remember being afraid of something as a kid, think of a friend's childhood fears or the fears of a book or movie character. Think about that fear: how many times have we been afraid of something only to find out that it wasn't that bad? Maybe you feared the dark as a kid; was it really that bad? Were there actually monsters under your bed or inside of your closet? Probably not.
Telling yourself that it was okay, though, probably didn't help. Telling yourself there was nothing to fear may have felt like a warm, secure hug at first, but after a few moments, that security may have faded away, leaving you with that cold, prickly sensation of fear once again.
Think about what you're afraid of today: maybe it's public speaking, maybe it's the future, maybe it's flying on an airplane. Now, I can't tell you what your peers might have written down, but you might be surprised to know that they likely wrote down something similar; many young folks are scared of growing up, failing a class, spiders....the list could go on and on. Think about your body when you feel fear, now. Where do you feel fear? Draw the outline of a body (or print one from Google) and circle where you feel fear (for example, my palms sweat when I get nervous or scared, so I would circle the hands on the drawing).
Next time you feel scared, pay attention to where you feel anxiety and fear. It is normal; tell yourself these feelings are normal and focus on your breathing. "Oh, look at that, my palms are sweating! That's kind of funny" might be something you tell yourself next time you feel anxious when public speaking or going to a dark basement to get something out of the freezer.
It is okay. You are okay.
Think about the following questions and connect with someone close to you on these. Normalize your fears; talk about them with someone you love and trust.
1) When is it the hardest to remember not to be afraid?
2) When you think about the future (think the next 3-5 years), what causes you fear or anxiety, if anything?
During this very strange and unprecedented time, I want you to remember that you are not alone, and that your feelings of fear and anxiety are completely valid and normal. Turn off the news, tell someone you love them, and keep track of the positives. Keep a "positivity jar"; every day, write down something good that happened to you--it can be as simple as "my latte was delicious". You'll be glad you did.
Stay strong. You are loved and you are never alone.
Nicole Macmillan, B.A. Psych.
University of Cape Breton
MSc. School & Applied Child Psychology Student
University of Calgary