I admit it: After eight months of being hit relentlessly with world-shattering crises, I’m getting annoyed at the frequent well-intentioned messages about resilience and courage. When a wave of fear and dread washes over me, resilience seems to be a distant reality.
You know what I’m talking about: the fears about a deadly pandemic that’s got the world in its grip, threatening the health and very lives of everyone we hold dear, upending our livelihoods and economy and cutting us off from the hugs and closeness of family, friends and community. The dread about increasingly devastating wildfires and storms battering our planet. The realization of how much suffering is still being caused by the racial and economic inequality embedded in our country. And on top of it all, the days are getting shorter, it’s getting darker and the temperature is getting lower.
Sometimes it feels like every psychic nook and cranny is filled with fear, leaving no space for any other more-positive emotion. The trouble with this scenario is that it can lead down into a rabbit hole that is really tough to climb out of.
One choice is to push very hard against those feelings of fear and dread, try to ignore them, try not to talk about them. But for me, that simply doesn’t work for long. As a matter of fact, the harder I push them away and try not to feel them, the more powerful they seem. Another choice, seemingly paradoxical, is allowing myself to “be” with those feelings and let them guide me. Yes, sometimes I can just say: “This is what I’m feeling right now, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll be feeling this forever.” I also can say: “There are a lot of other people feeling these same emotions right now, and I’m not alone.”
Now that you’ve acknowledged those feelings, take a step back and ask yourself: “Can I identify and name this feeling? Is it fear and stress or discomfort, inconvenience and annoyance? Labeling what we’re feeling can lower the flame under our emotional soup pot from a rapid boil to a slow simmer. You might even find ways for these feelings to help propel you into action, the way athletes use the stress of a competition to pull out all the stops and step up their game.
What happens when I’ve allowed myself to be with these feelings? I’ve discovered that I’ve made some space, even just a little, for my inner strength. What’s that inner strength? It’s different for each of us. For me, it’s the commitment to seeing the essence of others and being a lighthouse for them in the storm. What is it for you? The awareness of beauty around you? Creative activity that brings joy to others? Inspiring others through your professional or volunteer leadership? Loving dedication to keeping your family healthy and emotionally sustained?
The surprising thing is that your strength will emerge not from pushing down or ignoring your fears, but from letting them in. Your fears and inner strength are emotional roommates. Occasionally, they argue over who gets more space or who’s leaving too much of a mess. But if these roommates acknowledge and honor each other, your emotional space will end up more expansive and accepting.
Leah Nadich Meir, MSW, is a professionally trained life coach, specializing in personal and professional transitions. Sessions are held virtually—telephone or video.