All of us feel fear and despair sometimes. I do, and I know you do, too. This post is about how we can deal with these painful feelings we all have.
I am not going to lie to you. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that you will never have bad things happen to you. And I can’t tell you that you will never experience sadness and loss. I can’t say that people won’t ever treat you badly. And I can’t tell you bad and violent things will never happen in the world.
You already know this, and that is why I am not going to tell you these things. Also, it would be dishonest to tell you them, and I don’t want to be dishonest with you.
Here is what I do want to tell you.
Despite all the hard things in the world and in life, you are going to make it.
You are going to figure out what you need to know for today.
And you are going to move forward.
You are going to do good and constructive things.
And you are going to have a meaningful life.
You are going to feel joy and happiness again.
You are going to experience good things again.
I know it is hard to believe this sometimes, especially when we feel anxious, depressed, and despairing about life. When we feel this way, it is easy to focus on everything we lack.
And by the way, there is nothing wrong with noting the things we lack. We can only act well if we have proper information. And part of having proper information is noticing the things we lack.
However, what we lack is only part of the story. And it is not even the cool part of the story.
We do indeed lack some things. But we also possess a lot of gifts and resources. And if we don’t focus on those, we cannot act well either.
One of the things I research and write about is the types of dispositions that help people hope and persevere in the midst of adversity. And one of the things that helps us maintain hope is to focus on resources we have so that we can build our sense of power, love, and connection.
So below, I have written a list of resources all of us possess. You possess them right now. I do, too. I have also included practices you can use to help you tap into these resources.
When we feel despair and fear, one of the most important things we can do is remember to breathe deeply. This may seem like a trivial action, but it is not.
When we breathe deeply we calm ourselves down, and we sooth nervousness and anxiety. We also think more clearly, and we strengthen our physical and mental health.
Spiritual traditions such as Sufism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism note this, but so do contemporary medical studies.
And it is not that breathing deeply solves every problem we have. It is that breathing deeply helps us become still and calm. It is incredibly important to create this space for ourselves, especially when we face violence and tragedy.
We have the power every day to cultivate calmness and clarity.
Practice: Each day this week, take time 1-3 times a day to sit or lay down and breathe deeply from your diaphragm. (You can read more about how to do this here.)
You can also meditate on this quote, which describes the type of emotional tranquility we can achieve when we practice peaceful breathing regularly:
“When we train in meditation, the first step is to allow our attention to be calm. Why? Because it is in the atmosphere of calm that intelligence and compassion naturally blossom. As water clears when undisturbed, mind clears when undisturbed.” ~Choki Nyima Rinpoche and David R. Shlim, M.D.
Two: Recognizing Unconditional Value and Internal Resources
One of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to recognize and respect our unconditional worth. I think of our unconditional worth as our Wise Selves or the Light of God in us.
We clearly recognize this aspect of ourselves in babies. Babies don’t have to prove their worth. We just love and care for them.
Somehow, however, as people get older, we treat them as though they must continually prove their worth in order to be treated with dignity. This can cause feelings of anxiety, rejection, depression, and fear.
While we cannot make people honor our unconditional worth, we can always honor our own unconditional worth. And we can show our own selves love and care. Doing this can bring emotional healing and relief to our lives.
Our unconditional worth flows from a place of original goodness and love inside of us. I like to think of as the Wise Self in all of us. You can think of this place as the Light of God’s love or as the seeds of goodness we all possess in our hearts. (If you would like to read more about our unconditional worth, you might like this post.)
When we acknowledge our original goodness and love, we do not deny the bad things we do. Rather, we recognize that this badness is not our original state. It is a consequence of us forgetting our original state of goodness and love.
When we recognize our unconditional value, we water the seeds of love in us. And we move closer to the Wise Self. The more we do this, the more we find the power of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our life.
These are the best resources we could have to help us address problems and to keep moving forward.
Practice: The list above of powerful resources we find in our Wise Self is a quote from the book of Galatians in the biblical New Testament. These powerful resources are referred to as the Fruits of the Spirit, and they are available to anyone who sincerely seeks after truth and goodness.
This week, spend some time daily (perhaps before or after your breathing practice) to meditate on the verse below. If you believe in God, you can ask God to help develop these character traits in you. And if you don’t believe in God, you can just be willing for these seeds to grow in your heart and envision them doing so.
Three: Recognizing External Resources
Not only do we have a Wise Self, everyone around has a Wise Self, too. Some people are really, really good at connecting with their Wise Self. They have been doing so for decades and so they have developed their Wise Self resources. What is even more wonderful is that they have written books about it to help us.
Any difficult thing you are going through, someone has likely experienced it and written about it, too. These writings are a rich treasure of external resources that you can use to help you cultivate love, compassion, wisdom, and creativity.
Practice: This week, find a book online, at your local library, or on Amazon that helps you connect with some wise external resources. Spend time consistently every day or weekly reading and thinking about the wisdom in these texts and about how you could apply them to your life. Here are some of my favorites right now:
The Bible—I especially like Proverbs, Psalms, and the book of James in the New Testament.
Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love.
Daily lessons from A Course in Miracles.
The DaoDeJing. (Here is a link that provides daily passages from the DaoDeJing for meditation.)
Daily Inspirations from spiritual traditions around the world.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Grit: The Passion of Power and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
Four: God or Love Mind
One of the scariest feelings is the feeling that we are all alone and that we have to figure everything out all by ourselves.
I want to assure you today that you are never alone. It is not all up to you, and you do not have to figure out everything by yourself.
If you believe in God, please know that God loves you and wants to envelope you with love and shower you with the best gifts. God wants to guide you every day. You are a reflection of God’s light, and S/He is super jazzed about you. God continually works to help your light shine as brightly as possible.
If you don’t believe in God, or if you believe God doesn’t intervene in our everyday lives, it might help you to think of something I call Love Mind. Love Mind contains all of the most beautiful spiritual elements of the humans like love, compassion, creativity, kindness, imagination, etc.
These spiritual elements are constantly reaching out to the world because they are transitive. This means they communicate themselves to other things or people in the world. For example, creativity must express itself with things or people. So must love and compassion.
In additions, spiritual elements like love and compassion love to combine with more love or compassion in the world. When they do, they become more powerful. Whenever spiritual elements meet like this in the world, they form a really powerful Love Mind, and a powerful reaction happens.
For instance, Love Mind can catalyze movements for civil rights and liberation that we have seen all throughout history. Love Mind also helps build beautiful family relationships, healthy friendships, and romantic relationships.
So please know that whenever you reach out to God or Love Mind, God or Love Mind is reaching back to you. And even when you doubt, God and Love Mind are still reaching out to you. They always want to help us know the next good step to take. And they love to bring as many people into the party as possible.
Practice: You can use this prayer to help you connect want to connect with God or Love Mind:
May I remember that there is something bigger reaching out to me in love.
And may I remember I am not alone in the world.
May I remember that wisdom is calling to me daily, and I can always choose to listen.
And may I remember I can always open my heart to more love for my benefit and the benefit of the whole world.
I am willing.
Five: The next concrete step
You are not required to know how things are going to work out next year, next month, next week, tomorrow, or even ten minutes from now. What you have is right now. And all you have to do right now is take the next loving, concrete step.
When I say “next loving, concrete step”, I mean a practical step that you can take that honors both your dignity and the dignity of others.
For example, the other day I was feeling really overwhelmed. And I found myself getting increasingly more anxious throughout the day. When I realized what was happening, I decided to focus on the next concrete steps I could take to bring more beautiful things into the world.
Here is what I ended up doing:
One: I wrote to my senators to ask them to protect transgender rights.
Two: I asked God to expose racist and other prejudice policies and mindsets in politicians and people. And I prayed that they would be overcome by rationality, love, and courage.
Three: I went on a walk to remind myself of the beautiful things in the world.
Four: I wrote a blog post about exposing toxic body and beauty lies. This is one way I can fight hate.
Five: I painted.
Six: I decided to research and write an article on the ethics of border and immigration rights. My goal is to be a better ally to immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, etc.
Practice: The next time you are feeling really anxious and worried about something, think about this. Your problem is like a mountain of dirt that needs to be moved. It feels overwhelming, but if you keep scooping out one cup of dirt consistently, you will move this mountain eventually. Worrying won’t move the dirt, but scooping the dirt, even if it is just a bit, will. (Thanks to Confucius for this metaphor.)
Take a minute to write about this: What is one concrete, positive step you can take towards solving your problem or lessening its severity? Can you list two or three more? Which one will you do today?
Friend, you are going to face hard times in life. I am, too. No one can make them go away. They are normal. We cannot take away the pain of these hard time, but we can build our hope and confidence by focusing on the resources we have and the tangible things we can do. Peace to you today. Breathe.
If you found this post helpful, please consider sharing it on social media.
 See breath expert Sharon Mijares’s book, The Revelation of Breath, pg. 1-2
 Ibid, pg. 3
 Harvard Health Publishing. “Relaxation Techniques: Breath Techniques Help Quell Errant Stress Responses.” January 2015. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
 I started a deep breathing practice this year that has brought tremendous benefits to my life. You can read more about this here.
 Please note that even though it is right to honor everyone’s unconditional worth, it is still right to set appropriate boundaries. Protecting ourselves with appropriate boundaries is a way we honor our own unconditional worth. In addition, sometimes people act in such a stupid and cruel way that we must walk away from them and/or honor their worth from afar. Honoring people’s worthy requires that we always first honor our own. You can read more about this here and here.
 You can think of Love Mind as God’s light and power working in us. But you can also think of it in a non-religious way as the combination of the best of human spirituality at work in the world to heal, solve problems, and liberate.
Published by shellypruittjohnson
My name is Shelly Johnson, and I am a writer and philosopher with a Ph.D. in philosophy. One of my primary personal and philosophical interests is how we can learn to love ourselves and each other better in order to cultivate personal and political resilience. I teach ethics and a variety of other courses at a local college. I am the author of the blog Love is Stronger. I am also the author of three logic and critical thinking books for high school and middle school: _Argument Builder_, _Discovery of Deduction_ (co-author), and _Everyday Debate_, published by Classical Academic Press. You can reach me at email@example.com.
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8 thoughts on “Help for Fear and Despair”
A very comforting post – especially for someone like me who has terrible anxiety!
I am so glad you found it comforting, M.B. It was comforting for me to write it!
It’s so important to know that everything will work out, and there are things we can do to take care of ourselves in the meantime, and make it so much less intimidating!
Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. I especially needed to read your “Next Concrete Step”! YES!
I am so glad you found it helpful, Angelina! That “next concrete step” thing really helps me.
Such truths in your post and how amazing the way you lay them down! I agree wit every single thing you say – it is not always easy, we are always going to move ahead from where we are, there’s a lot of support that we can choose with being kind and courageous in our own self. Powerful!