Your Helping Hand Is the Antidote to COVID-19 Fear
by Anthony Fleg, MD
DCG DADvisory Team Member
A version of this post first appeared 4/15/20 on Dr. Fleg's blog Writing To Heal with the title, "Service to Others: Antidote for Fear," and has been reprinted here with his permission.
It started with a trip to the zoo. The gorilla exhibit, to be exact.
Our youngest daughter Sihasin, meaning “to have hope” in Navajo, was quite afraid of these creatures. They looked and acted just a bit too much like humans. Giraffes – beautiful and tall. Hippos – wet and splashy. Both intimidating in their own right, but it was the human-ness of the gorillas that got to her.
I had an idea.
“Sihasin, can you hold my hand please? I am scared of these gorillas. Please.”
She turned to me and forgot her own fright, reached for my hand, and proceeded to gently walk me past the gorillas.
“Dad, it’s okay. Don’t be scared.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic settles in, all of us are scared. All of us see the gorilla and want to know how to overcome the fear it causes. (Trying hard to avoid cliché mention of the 800lb… Whew, almost!)
I would say, on behalf of Sihasin who could not be here tonight due to “bedtime rules,” that reaching out to hold someone’s hand is the best antidote we can find.
There is so much we can do to serve others, to hold their hand right now – delivering food boxes, sewing masks, and spreading kindness are becoming infectious in an incredible way.
What happens when we turn the TV and news off, turning our hands and heart into a more positive direction? For you. For your neighbor. For those in dire need.
Back to Sihasin.
We found that this technique worked quite well with her in many situations. Loud noises from trucks, vacuum cleaners, and the like really rattle her. But without fail, once we show her our fear of that same item, she loses all sense of fright and goes into helping mode.
Think for a moment. I bet you have witnessed in yourself a moment that illustrates this principle in your own life. Maybe even a moment in the past week, as this pandemic has given us lots of "gorilla exhibit" moments. For the parents and grandparents, maybe you have seen this technique work with your little ones.
But there was a moment that stunned me, reminding me of the innate wisdom our little ones have. We were in a public place, which for a 2-year-old immediately sets off an alarm located in the bladder.
“Daddy, I need to go potty,” she wiggled and wriggled.
Off to the potty we went. Uh-oh. Vacuum cleaner. A loud one.
The ritual began: her expressing fear, daddy expressing my own fear. Sihasin reaching for my hand, pulling me toward the bathroom.
But on the way out, she did something brand new. Remember that two minutes in the bathroom is an eternity for a little mind. So, I prepared to replay the same ritual as we got done washing our hands.
Instead, before I said anything, as we left the bathroom, she grabbed my hand and rushed me past the still loud, obnoxious, threatening vacuum cleaner.
“Dad, it’s okay. Don’t be scared.”
She had made the connection without me having to prompt her. She didn’t even ask if I was scared. It didn’t matter. What she had figured out for herself was that the best way to overcome her fear was to focus on being there for me.
Whether the gorilla or vacuum cleaner analogy works better for you, put this into action today around your fears in this moment and when life returns to normal. Find someone whose hand you will hold, knowing it is a win-win proposition.
Symbiosis in its simplest form.
Some of us will need some prompting; for instance, an email/text/voicemail of desperation that becomes the outstretched hand that we will reach to grab. Or maybe, like Sihasin, we can go one step further, reaching out our hands, trusting that someone else will be there to grab on.
In a non-pandemic moment, the question might be “What do I get out of this?” or “Whose hand am I about to touch?” or “What if there is no hand there to hold?” Often, this line of questioning convinces us to not reach our hand out at all.
Our current situation, with a globe unified in its suffering, helps us overcome those questions and helps us see how and who we can be, now and always. This moment teaches us that the hand that meets ours will lead us both to a better place.
Translated to Sihasin’s world: to the hippos and giraffes.
Anthony Fleg, MD, is a proud daddy of four, husband, son, and brother. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, he has called New Mexico home since 2008. He is a family physician and educator at the University of New Mexico's Department of Family and Community Medicine and College of Population Health. He's also a Coordinator/Co-Founder of the love-funded partnership,Native Health Initiative (NHI), and its Running Medicine program.