top of page


The world around us appears to be amid some kind of transformation. Change abounds. And wherever there is change, there is usually fear. Change violates our expectancies and our need for predictability, and our nervous system sees this violation as a threat. This threat triggers fear and fear triggers a behavior response that attempts to remove the threat and restore predictability and safety. Often our efforts to make our fear go away stem from old behavior patterns born of traumatic or highly stressful events that are no longer adaptive and can even exacerbate our fear. We nonetheless double down on our efforts, insisting our fear go away - it is a terribly uncomfortable feeling.

But that is not how fear works; we cannot make it go away. It is not designed to be wired out of our neurophysiology—that would be disastrous. Fear is a wise, discerning, and often lifesaving emotion. It is an emotion that can offer guidance during times of stress or uncertainty, it can help alert us to potential risks in the pursuit of our goals, and it can inform decisions regarding matters of the heart. But sometimes it is the case, like right now, that the conditions of the external environment feel so threatening and uncertain that our fear overwhelms us, and we lose our ability to use the wisdom it offers to inform our choices and light our way.

Our struggle to experience fear as guidance comes, in part, from our childhood where, often, we are not taught to understand and have compassion for our fear. Rather, we are told to “get over it,” or we are advised to ignore it or override it with logic and reason. Often, as children, we sit alone in our fear, with no one to comfort us and reassure us that everything will be okay. In such cases, we are left to our own devices to figure out what to do with our fear so we can successfully adapt to our environment, and feel safe and secure in our attachments to those we love and who are responsible for keeping us alive.

Lost in this approach to fear is the opportunity to learn the valuable role fear can play in our choices. Also lost is the opportunity to become skilled at regulating our fear so that it does not overwhelm us and cloud our perception. Moreover, when fear is deemed negative, feelings of shame for the fear we are experiencing arise and become associated with it. Shame and fear then become linked up and are carried into our adulthood where we often feel ashamed if we are feeling afraid, worried, anxious, or overwhelmed. “What’s wrong with me? Other people don’t feel anxious about these things.” This, or some version of this, is a common refrain I hear in my practice. And it is simply not true.

With the pandemic, I have seen a heightened fear response in my patients and in my observations of the people around me; responses that often appear to be informed by historical experiences of fear that remain wired in their nervous system, informing their present perception of reality, and therefore their response to it. Even I have experienced old fear response patterns lately, reminding me of times when I felt powerlessness in the face of threat. Thankfully, the insight I have gleaned from my own therapy has helped me to see that my reaction to the pandemic is, in part, informed by old traumas. This awareness helps me to regulate my reactions to the uncertainty around me. This is the work I have been doing with my patients as well—honoring the natural fear reaction to the pandemic, while also helping them to see how their present fear response is also informed by their past trauma or past fear-based experiences wherein they felt powerless in the face of threat or overwhelming situations or circumstances.

bottom of page