A couple of weeks ago, I introduced you to the concept of F.U.D.G.E (Fear Uncertainty Doubt Guilt and Exhaustion). I will begin and, over time, will break down the elements of F.U.D.G.E, beginning with F for Fear. We can nibble on F.U.D.G.E and overeat at times, and as I like to say, “we can have our F.U.D.G.E with nuts.” (Uh, that’d be me, or you and me).
Fear. First of all, I’m going to capitalize that word here, Fear. Because I respect it.
You’ve probably heard there is healthy Fear and unhealthy Fear. Some of us go overboard on the unhealthy part, but I have great respect for Fear and its place in my life. I’ve gone overboard on unhealthy Fear, and I was not even aware that Fear was what was at hand.
It took some education, some life experience, and the unpeeling of that onion to see Fear and to get Fear where it was no longer hurting me. In my work now, I often see the kind of Fear that hurts or cripples, Fear among patients or the folks that love them, the caregiver and the care recipient. Fear can hold us captive, but I am here to say that it can be less so.
Seems none of us escapes having some Fear in their lives. There’s a lot of Fear in healthcare: Understanding it, making decisions, receiving care, and in caregiving. From where I stand, as a Patient Advocate working in aging (while aging – I’m 65), there’s a lot of Fear while navigating aging.
Fear can be present, and it can work us, work on us. It can be ever-present. It rides along with us, sometimes for days, weeks, or a lifetime. And it can dominate. Fear can show up at the most inopportune moments.
Fear grips, and Fear distracts. Fear can prevent action if we let it. It can arrive fast. It can nag.
I propose that we can use Fear. We can harness it and use it to our advantage. Think about it, haven’t there been times when your antenna went up about a situation? Was that Fear warning you of danger? Do you, or have you ever, as a child | parent | caregiver | or work supervisor, had a time when you see the signals that something could go awry? Did it open up an opportunity to mitigate or to educate? Was this a teaching moment for you or for others?
Some Fear is good and for our benefit.
I have a healthy Fear when I see my car’s Check Engine light come on coupled with an oil light or a strange new sound. I may understand some significance to “idiot lights,” but I know my limits, and so diagnostics at a repair shop is where I’ll be headed.
There are ways to get a grip on fear (rather than the other way around).
There are ways to get a grip on fear (rather than the other way around).
We begin to arrest Fear by acknowledging its presence. Then we can assess it, and then we can sometimes control the level of fear. I call this process: Acknowledge – Assess – Assign.
Acknowledge: We can begin to better understand Fear by acknowledging its presence. Let’s acknowledge that it’s here or may be present at times. Certain situations make fear pop up. Our true challenge is not the Fear but how we meet it. The Fear may not be the problem or concern or the main issue at all, but how much attention and power we give Fear is important.
Assess: Like a racehorse jockeying for position, we can determine the threat that Fear is signaling as it competes for our attention and action. Are we neck and neck, or can we take ‘im?
Once we recognize its presence, we must assess to what degree it is impacting us, where it may be coming from, and even if the Fear is germane to this situation. Is it manageable, is it a portion, or a powerful player?
Seeing Fear for what it is can be the first step.
Assign: Is this something we need to grasp, obey or ignore? Or must we deal with this before our other matter or in tandem with it? We may find ourselves at an intersection. Our power comes with proper assessment: assigning the appropriate level of concern.
Fear is there to protect us, it’s a fundamental emotion designed to have us give pause or to heighten awareness.
In healthcare, I believe that a healthy amount of Fear is good. In fact, that is likely so in healthcare or caregiving, or planning or making decisions when aging. Fear is there to protect us, it’s really a fundamental and valuable emotion designed to have us give pause or to quickly heighten awareness.
What about when Fear holds us back? Slows, or even cripples? Can we do something to mitigate that or begin to turn it around? Plenty of people call me for consultation when they are sensing change or challenge in situations that are unfamiliar or for which they are unprepared. This is a healthy response because it’s likely I can help get you where you need to be if it’s in my wheelhouse. If not, I certainly will help you further your inquiry, making suggestions on how you might research further or where we might ferry your question next. So already, there is hope and help.
We can dig out of Fear and decide how we will use it.
- Talk about it. Fear loses some of its power when you talk about it with somebody else. Obtain another perspective. For me, stuff often seems to make sense when I’m talking about it. I realize things when I’m sharing what it is that humbugs me. I’ve been able to solve my own problem when I hear the words coming out of my own mouth. I sometimes realize how insanely out of proportion I’ve blown them because I can’t defend the enormity that I’ve allowed them to take hold in my mind.
- Another way is writing- a similar experience. As I write, I can evaluate the proper proportion to assign it and how much real estate I’m willing to give this problem in my day, my life, or in this instance.
- A third way for those who don’t feel comfortable sharing or do not wish to approach writing could be to break it down in careful thought. Stop and think about the Fear, address it and assess it.
I’m reminded of that familiar query, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Where’s the Fear coming from? Is this impacted by a previous event? Is this an old reaction to a not-quite-similar circumstance, and you are projecting old emotional parts over onto this present thing? (There’s your self-preservation, but is it true in this case?).
There is the power, the choice, the option to put the Fear in its place. You get to assign the proper level of attention or grant the amount of real estate it will occupy in your mind. You have then assessed! And you can move forward in whatever’s going on with the right impact of Fear assigned.
A quick check can help us come out of Fear, also.
Other times we emerge from the mire because we call upon that notch we have in our emotional toolbelt – we’ve seen this before, or something similar. “That’s right! I saw John or Joyce go through this (so I can also), so I’ll ask for their perspective”. If others can, I can also.
Plenty of people have found themselves overwhelmed, stuck, and mired in Fear. Being in that state is Fear-full. (One of my best made-up words. I realized the power of the extra “l” from a typo. ..or was it…?). Talking through what that Fear looks and feels like is one way to release its grip. Once we can get some relief and pull ourselves up and out of the quagmire, the view looks different.
In retrospect, we can often see where we may have assigned too much importance to what we were so certain was reality, only to later realize that whatever it was, it was not that bad | not so hard | I gave it too much importance | I gave it power over me.
Information is the biggest and best tool I’ve seen for addressing or combating fear.
Information is the biggest and best tool I’ve seen for addressing or combating fear. This is how I help folks as a Patient Advocate. I explain how stuff works, guide toward the right path, and help folks avoid mistakes and missteps.
If you’re like me, my mind can go to all kinds of places until more is known. Facts fight Fear. Getting more information shines a light on the worry and begins to illuminate the path to solution. And y’all already know how much I talk about moving “Out of the problem and into the solution.” It just feels better.
Early in my Patient Advocacy practice, a physician wrote a series in my local paper. She told stories of how she wished healthcare could be different. She longed for Person-Centered Care long before anyone had heard of such a thing.
Dr. Elizabeth Dreesen wrote of an intern she had in tow as they rushed through rounds, leaving behind them a path of confused patients and loved ones. She wrote of her counsel with that intern:
“He fantasized about having “an explainer” who would follow his team on their rounds.
“I want to tell the patients not to be disappointed,” he said. “I want to tell them ‘the explainer’ is a couple rooms behind us. We doctors don’t have time to talk now, but the explainer will be along soon, and they’ve got all the time in the world to talk with you and be with you.”
Dr. Dreesen and her intern loved the idea of “the explainer,” someone who could fulfill the needs of patients for both information and comfort, needs that her interns sensed but knew they couldn’t meet.
Stories like this cry out for a Professional Healthcare Advocate. I’ve felt compelled to be “the explainer” ever since I began my practice in 2013.
Between feeling compelled to assist and believing that we often have more choices than we first realize, I found Patient Advocacy to be of true service to the Client* and one heckuva great fit for me. I have the honor of journeying with folks, often through Fear-full times, and we Acknowledge – Assess – Assign. Whether it’s on the fly with a quick check or peeling the onion to find Fear’s origin so as to then assign Fear its truth, we move through Fear.
We can move through with Fear.
Hoo, the first time someone ever told me that I could “move through fear,” now that was a revelation – and the circumstance a story for another day. But have you considered this notion that you can handle whatever comes at you while having Fear?
Fear does have its place in whatever’s going on. It’s a signal, an alert. We can have a lot of choices in how we deal with Fear. Those choices are to remain overwhelmed and confused or seek information and climb out.
My point is that we mustn’t always greet Fear as a negative. We have acknowledged that it can serve us at times. Fear may be trying to get our attention, and it can protect us. Our quick check and assignment of importance are how we can benefit. We can move through Fear.
Let’s have a conversation about Fear and quick checks and peeling the Fear-onion. I believe that we can fight Fear with information and a little love.
Is your Check Engine light on? Might you need help with patient advocacy, healthcare navigation, or elder care matters? Caregiving or successful aging? Want to run some diagnostics with someone who is experienced and even certified to assist? Contact Nancy (the “explainer”) at 919.628.4428 nancyruffner.com
*You will often see me capitalizing the word “Client.” It is one way I honor and respect them, and capitalizing serves as a reminder to that end.