February 25, 2021
“But I’m afraid.”
Working in mental health, I hear that regularly. But over the last year, it’s something I hear much more frequently, sometimes even daily.
Fear is a basic human survival tool. A perceived threat triggers the emotion, signaling our bodies to respond to the danger with a fight or flight response. It is an essential reaction to keep us safe. But when we live in constant fear, our bodies and minds don’t function properly. When the fear pathways ramp-up, the brain short-circuits the rational processing paths, slowing functions not needed for survival (like the digestive system) and sharply focusing our attention on the threat, whether real or perceived. The brain stores lots of details about what we’re facing, and classifies it all as negative. Even after the threat is long gone, our bodies and minds retain the feelings and cues from the fear. Similar sights, sounds, or details in the future can bring back the memory or push us into fear again, sometimes without us even realizing why.
It’s important that we understand how fear affects us, because we’ve all been living with fear for many months now. It could be the fear of someone getting sick, losing a job, helping our kids succeed, or the myriad of new anxieties and worries the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us. Constant anxiety and ongoing fear sometimes push us to react in ways different than we would in ordinary times. Maybe we lash out, hoard things, have trouble getting out of bed, or cry at the drop of a hat.
The most recent fear our therapists have been discussing is the COVID-10 vaccination. Like anything in our lives where we don’t know all the answers, the vaccination can feel scary. That’s why, as mental health professionals, our staff looked at the science, looked at our fears, and got vaccinated against COVID-19. We are committed to keeping our staff, families, clients, and community safe, and we know the best way to do that is by being vaccinated. One staff member says, “Getting vaccinated this weekend was such a relief – to know I’m protecting myself from this awful virus but also protecting my family. My husband is a cancer survivor, and my elderly mom is part of my ‘bubble.'” Another staff member shared that important of protecting their clients: “I believe protecting myself and my clients is very important, and that the vaccine is what is needed to get back to normal. I encourage all to get this vaccine, as soon as you are able to get it!”
Fear is a normal part of life, but we do have a choice about letting it control us and our actions. As the Chinese proverb says, “That the birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change. But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”
– Erin Peters, Executive Director
Facing Fear and Anxiety – University of Minnesota
Nervous about COVID-19 Vaccination? – UNC Health
COVID-19 Vaccination – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention