NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Common Reactions to the COVID-19 Crisis: Fear and Anxiety

Aside from worrying about the COVID-19 crisis, many people are concerned that their reactions make them feel "weak" or "abnormal" or "crazy," but most of the reactions that people are describing are common and many people are experiencing the same reactions.  In a prior article, I discussed the common reaction of grief during this crisis.  In this article, I'm discussing fear and anxiety in an effort to normalize these feelings (see my articles: Coping and Staying Calm During the COVID-19 CrisisAccepting Your Negative Emotions During a CrisisCommon Reactions During the COVID-19 Crisis: Waves of Grief and Empowering Yourself During the COVID-19 Crisis).

Common Reaction to the COVID-19 Crisis: Fear and Anxiety

A Common Reaction to COVID-19: Fear and Anxiety
Many people are trying to make sense of their reactions to the current pandemic.  Since we have never experienced anything like this during modern times, it's sometimes hard to know what to feel or to distinguish one emotion from another.

First, let's recognize that there's a difference between fear and anxiety.  Briefly stated, fear is about a known event and anxiety is about an anticipated event (for a more detailed explanation, see my article: What's the Difference Between Fear and Anxiety?).

Some people talk about feeling "strange" or like they're in a "Sci Fi movie."  Many people feel the surreal nature of the experience as they try to grapple with the enormity of the crisis.

Along with many other common reactions, fear and anxiety are the ones that most people mention.  It's easy to understand why people are fearful and anxious on many different levels due to concerns about their
  • Health
  • Emotional well-being
  • Children and grandchildren
  • Jobs
  • Financial situation
  • Future prospects
and so on.

Self Judgment and Self Criticism About Feeling Fear and Anxiety
People who wouldn't ever think to judge someone else for being fearful and anxious often take a harsh stance with themselves about feeling the same emotions (see my article: Self Blame and the Internal Critic).

They think they should do better, especially if they grew up being a parentified child where they took care of their parents emotional well-being instead of being taken care of by their parents (see my article: Children's Roles in Dysfunctional Families).

These are people who, as children, had a heavy burden placed on them which was far beyond their development, so they're accustomed to having unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of themselves.  Unfortunately, these unrealistic expectatons don't stop when they become adults.  They continue to have the same patterns.

Many of them might have internalized a critical voice from one or both of their parents who might also have been parentified children to their own parents, so this appears "normal" to them.

Children who grew up being parentified children often just can't give themselves a break.  It's not unusual for them to think they have to do things and react to things in a "perfect" way, and anything that's less than perfect isn't good enough (see my article: The Connection Between Perfectionism and Shame).

Using Defense Mechanisms to Avoid Feeling Fear and Anxiety
Many people use one or more of the following defense mechanisms to avoid experiencing their emotions (see my article: Understnding Defense Mechanisms).
  • Denial About Fear and Anxiety: For many people, acknowledging their fear and anxiety makes them feel too vulnerable.  Instead of acknowledging their feelings, they deny them instead, "I don't feel fearful or anxious.  What good would that do me?"  So their feelings get swept under the carpet and often manifests in physical or psychological ailments, like headaches, bodily aches and pains, depression and so on.  
  • Rationalizing Away Fear and Anxiety: Another reaction that I often see is for people, who are harsh with themselves, compare themselves to others who are much worse off than them, "I don't have any reason to feel fearful or anxious.  Look at Mary, she has it so much worse than me."  They don't recognize that Mary's situation doesn't negate their own and that they're entitled to their own emotional reactions.  Instead of allowing themselves to feel their emotions, they minimize their reactions by comparing themselves to someone who is much worse.  However, if we carried this to its logical conclusion, each person could find someone who is much worse off as a way to blame themselves for having what turns out to be a common response (see my article: Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception).
  • Projecting Their Fear and Anxiety onto Someone Else: Instead of allowing themselves to feel their emotions, people who use projection project them onto someone else, "I'm not feeling anxious or afraid.  You're the one who feels that way."
  • Intellectualizing as a Way to Avoid Feeling Fear and Anxiety: People who tend to intellectualize as their defense against feeling fear and anxiety are usually able to talk about crises in terms of facts, logical, and data.  But they are too uncomfortable to talk about their emotions because it makes them feel too vulnerable.
How Does a Person Learn to Accept Their Emotions Instead of Defending Against Them?
One answer to this question for many people is to receive psychoeducation in an article like this that their emotions are a common reaction to the current situation. Also, if they talk to another people about it, they will often hear others say the same thing.

People who have unresolved trauma will need more help.  They need to work through their childhood trauma first to have some self compassion about their current emotions.

On a logical level, many people who were parentified children can see that it makes sense (logically) that they feel as they do.  But on an emotional level, they still judge themselves, and that's the old trauma getting triggered, "You should be able to deal with this without feeling afraid of anxious."

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have a history of trauma that is getting triggered now, working with a trauma therapist, who can help you to work through the past trauma as well as helping you with your current fears and anticipatory anxiety, will allow you to cope better.

Many psychotherapists, including me, are doing online therapy sessions (also called telehealth, telemental health and teletherapy) during this period of time (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't See Your Therapist in Person).

Rather than struggling on your own, seeking help can help to alleviate your fears ans anxiety.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

As previously mentioned, I'm currently providing online therapy.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.