To fly or not to fly: that was the question. Ten weeks into staying at home in the new COVID World Order, my 21-year-old son needed a road buddy to make the marathon drive from Texas to Idaho where his summer job on a horse ranch awaited. How safe would it be to fly from Baltimore to meet him? Welcome to the battle of two internal parts: the adventurous mom versus the worrywart.
As our world is changing to accommodate safety precautions, it’s reasonable to debate where the line resides between giving into fear and being careful not to contract or spread the Coronavirus. When do I know that I have gone overboard establishing safety measures? I understand the neuroscience behind anxiety. Therefore, I recognize that my mind often catastrophizes data to underscore everything that could cause harm; even before the virus. And now, my brain is riding a communal wave of collective fear.
Not too long ago, I would invite my clients who struggled with anxiety, to reflect on the questions: “Is this thought or behavior motivated by fear and can I lean into my fear as a way of robbing it of its power?’” As a long-time PhD-level psychotherapist who specialized in the treatment of anxiety disorders, it’s my job to equip people with tools to manage anxiety, worry, and panic. My book Taming the Anxious Mind is filled with practical suggestions to approach one’s anxiety and reclaim a peaceful life. Yet, here I sit struggling with my own turbulence this virus has thrust upon me. Most of my clients battle fears that are brought on by the “what if’s” and worse-case-scenarios of an unruly mind. This virus, however, is a real threat and some of the people I know have lost loved ones to this disease.
So, here I sit in an airplane with sixty other people at 30 000 feet in the sky, heading west. Strangely, the anxiety has subsided. My body and brain are not ringing the alarm bells quite as loudly anymore. Everyone on the flight is wearing masks; it brings about a mysterious solidarity between us strangers. I am excited to see my son and looking forward to our drive together. God knows, these opportunities are fading as he heads into adulthood.
Did I take a risk flying during a pandemic? Possibly. Did I take the necessary precautions to mitigate any negative consequences? I believe so. Have I discovered the Goldilocks zone between fear and caution? I am still working on it but in this moment the mom in me has taken the lead. The Goldilocks zone looks different for each one of us. It’s an act of internal discovery and should occur without judgment, filled with self-compassion and patience. As a result, Covid-19 offers us an opportunity for personal growth by way of leaning in.
About the author:
Dr. Heidi Schreiber-Pan is the author of the popular book Taming the Anxious Mind – A Guide Book to Relieve Stress & Anxiety, a successful psychotherapist, the clinical director of Chesapeake Mental Health Collaborative, and a sought-after nationwide speaker on topics of resilience, anxiety, neuroscience, and occupational burnout.