Putting our Finger to the Wind: Mastering Pandemic Fear

Many of us might remember that expression, “a finger to the wind”.  It is something someone would do to get a sense of which direction the wind was blowing. It would help the individual be informed so they could make the best decisions moving forward. It is not an act to be taken lightly and it has great meaning. It is a sign of being deliberate and prepared.  Clearly, there is much more meaning figuratively to that expression. All of us, hopefully, have attempted to gain a sense of which way something is going before making a decision. The alternative is to disregard the direction of the wind and allow ourselves to be swept up by the wind and carried by currents and movements not of our choosing.

Perhaps at no other time in our lives has it been so important to have our proverbial finger to the wind. As we approach late summer the winds of change are again blowing.  There is very much a sense of uncertainty on the horizon. We are much like individuals on a ship trying to gauge gathering storm clouds on the horizon. Will they break and pass us, or will they gather strength and thus force us to button down the hatches and brace for a storm? After a rough past year and a half, many of us are ready for some normalcy and putting the pandemic behind us.  Nevertheless, much to our dismay, we are dealing with another surge at a time when many of us thought this would be over. When we put our finger to the wind, we can feel the winds of fear blowing again. We see and hear news alerts and public policy decisions that can make us fear that 2020 is happening again.  However, reality is, we are “old pros” at this pandemic business. We are not rookies or fresh recruits. We’ve done this before and we are battle hardened veterans. As much as some of us may fear it, it can never be 2020 again.  We know too much now, have too many tools, and none of this is novel.

Nevertheless, there are winds blowing now in many different directions. We would do well to choose: do I want to be passive and just allow myself to become storm-tossed and blown around by the changing wind, or do I want to put my finger to the wind and get a good sense of direction, so I can make proactive decisions rather than reactive ones?  Will I be fearful, passive, and reactive or will I be informed, prepared, and proactive?

When we do not put our proverbial finger to the wind by remaining uninformed, and allow ourselves to be blown around passively, we can easily begin to feel powerless and helpless. This increases feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and even depression. However, if we make the effort to put our proverbial finger to the wind, by researching, reading, becoming informed, and using critical thinking before we react, we find that we are not helpless. In fact, we are being proactive rather than reactive, which helps empower us, gives us greater confidence, and gives us a healthy sense of control.  It is important to not only rely on what we hear on the news.  The news can be very helpful in gauging where the fear-meter is at in the world and whether it is based one more emotions or real fact. We also must have the maturity and humility to know when we have been wrong and be willing to change how we have been living, such as changing pandemic-related practices, etc. Flexibility is a must so we can adjust to changing data. We would do well to read many articles on the pandemic, the vaccines, the stats and case counts in our local areas, and watch for the ebbs and flows of the virus. Reacting and making decisions based on facts, rather than on fear, is far healthier. Being informed allows us to feel more confident and less likely to be swept away by the powerful current of fear. In essence, we develop an internal locus of control rather than be victim to an external locus of control; the latter one being far too common this past year and a half.

The reality is, though we are disheartened to see another surge, there is much for which to be hopeful. As we have seen before, it is but a matter of time before this present variant runs its course and the numbers begin to dramatically drop, just as they did last spring.  Perhaps even we could see this happen by the end of August or early September. However, even if not, and there was a new variant, perhaps the worst-case scenario is that we learn to live with this virus, make vaccines available, and learn to live with it just as we do the seasonal flu. Would we not survive this? Clearly, covid is worse than the flu. We take it very seriously. However, the covid vaccines have greater efficacy than flu vaccines and so perhaps this equals the playing field so to speak. These are not opinions, but rather are based on science.

It is important when confronting uncertainty, to learn to identify, confront, and sit with the worst-case scenario. So often, it is never as bad as we think it will be. We also learn that we can survive it and that perhaps the scenario is not as deserving of all the fear we have given it. Perhaps some of us have a fear of dying from the virus. However, even then, we can identify the real percentage of a chance that could occur. Almost always, we see that the small percentage of a chance of the feared scenario happening, does not support the amount of fear we are feeling. All of this is written in the spirit of mastering and knowing our fear rather than letting our fear master us.

About Fr. Joshua Makoul

Fr. Joshua Makoul has been serving as the Dean of St. George Cathedral in Pittsburgh since 2012. Before that time, Fr. Joshua worked in the Counseling Field for 16 years. This involved work in a family-based, school-based, and an outpatient setting. Fr. Joshua received two years of training in family therapy at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center and completed a one year certificate course in Cognitive Behavior Therapy at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. During his last six years working in a small outpatient group, he was supervised by Dr. Jesus Salas who supervises at the Beck Institute in Philadelphia. Fr. Joshua received his Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia and his Bachelors in Psychology from Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. He is licensed in the state of Pennsylvania for counseling. For seminary he attended Holy Cross Seminary in Boston and received an M.Div.

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