How ODs can deal with fear and anxiety

April 03, 2020
When my dad suggested writing this, I didn't hesitate to say yes. But I asked for a Friday delivery. We've gone a lot of weekends with the market opening down (last weekend being a notable exception due to passed legislation), and I think that a weekend of bad news and no work can take a heavy tolls these days so I want your weekend to start on a positive note. I hope you enjoy.

When you fear a foe, fear crushes your strength; and this weakness gives strength to your opponent. 

- William Shakespeare Act 3, Scene 2, Richard II

Hi, this is Jerry, Natalie’s Dad.

I usually write on things like practice profits, prosperity and wealth. But today we’re talking about the other end of the spectrum. 

I spoke with a private practice OD neighbor of mine this week who heads up his local optometric society in Palm Beach County, Florida to see how he was being impacted by the virus induced shut down. 

When I asked him what his main concerns were, he said without hesitation; “Fear of the unknown”. How long is this crazy scenario going to last? What do I do about my staff? How much money is it going to take to reopen my office when things start returning to normal?

I wish I had some definitive answers to these questions for you, but I don’t. Nobody does. However, I have talked to enough optometrists in the last week to know that there is a high level of fear and anxiety in the air and I do have some suggestions on how to handle that. 

The reason we fear
Remember, the evolutionary purpose of fear is to alert you to a heightened level of danger requiring caution and action. So, any fear you are experiencing over this unprecedented health crisis and related economic slow down is normal. We are hard wired to feel that way in scenarios like this. 

For those who are not actually afraid (me), good for you! But these are extraordinary times and you should be feeling a little ‘anxious’ (me) about staying healthy and how this crisis is going to affect the way you provide for your family, your staff and your patients over the next few months. 

Full disclosure, I’ve dealt with minor anxiety issues most of my adult life. I get it from my mother and grandmother who were both worriers. I did counseling a couple of times many years ago, but in true OD fashion, I have developed some DIY coping mechanisms that work for me. 

Things you can do to reduce fear and anxiety
- For starters, now is a good time to remind yourself that the world, the USA and the economy is going to get through this. We always do. 

- Develop a new daily routine and keep a regular schedule wherever you are ‘sheltering in place’. It’s a metaphor, but the Navy Seals create a ritual of making their bed every morning to set the tone for the rest of the day. 

- I watch no TV news in normal times and very little during this crisis. Their job is to dramatize, exaggerate and scare. And they’re pretty good at it. A steady diet of that stuff is enough to make anybody anxious. 

- Keep a journal. Write down what really concerns you about the future. Be specific in terms of what worries you and how you plan to deal with that. 

- Tap into the wisdom of positive crowds. You won’t have all the answers, so where do you plan to seek guidance? Negative minded ODs ranting on social media? Or support groups like IDOC, Vision Source or HEA that are providing excellent information free to all online? 

- There are also some great resource materials available on Amazon. One of my favorite writers on dealing with anxiety issues is psychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD. I also like New Age author Eckhardt Tolle. There are dozens of quality free podcasts if you prefer listening to reading.

- Finally, create a daily mantra for yourself. Here is one I borrowed from Frank Herbert, the author of the science fiction classic DUNE, and modified for myself.

On being brave
I face my anxieties with courage and see them for what they are.
Thoughts which I can manage in a positive way. 

I permit the fear to pass over me and through me. 
Once it is gone, I turn my inner eye to see its path. 

Where the fear has been, now there is nothing. 
Only I remain, but mentally stronger for the experience.

When we are truly clear about our fears, they fade to almost nothing.

I added some other personal thoughts to my mantra around gratitude, relationships, health and success that are meaningful to me. I print my daily mantra out and read it at least once each night before I go to sleep and first thing in the morning when I get up just like the Navy Seal habit of making my bed. 

This is mind conditioning 101 and it probably takes about 6 weeks to have an impact but it's a huge help to me in terms of reducing anxiety so I can more effectively deal with the task at hand. 

In conclusion
Let’s face it, we’ve just started on a bumpy, scary ride and nobody really knows how long it will last. Perhaps the single most important thing you can do in a time like this is to demonstrate courage and be a strong leader for your family, your staff and your patients. And the first step for that is to get your own normal fears and anxieties under control.


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