help, helping hands, heal, karyn shanks md

Find Your Strength in the Midst of Fear

This past week brought with it a tsunami of emotions as a result of the election. Throughout this presidential campaign, no one has been immune to the expressions of anger, fear, disbelief, shame, grief, and hatred that have permeated our social spaces, leaving many of us feeling vulnerable and exhausted. Whether it be a highly contentious election, economic insecurity, health crises, or the other myriad life challenges we all face, these experiences bring us smack up against the uncertainty that is an inherent part of our lives and our futures. We have been catapulted right up against uncertainty–this is what we fear the most.

Fear clouds our vision for the future. I see it manifesting as despair, hopelessness, harsh judgement, and a sense that the worst is lurking just up ahead.

As humans, we fear change and uncertainty more than anything. We are wired to resist change–it’s what kept our ancestors alive as they confronted the enormous challenges of uncertain and unstable environments. But we are also wired to succeed at change and to face the inherent uncertainties of our lives, coming out the other side stronger and better than we were before. We all have inner wisdom and guidance to draw from, we are innately optimistic as we get up each and every day believing that it will be better than the one before, we are courageous, we are innately curious, and we have all succeeded at change before–success at change that we can draw from now. (See my recent article on how we are wired for successful change.)

Transform Fear Into Strength:

  1. Be true to yourself: own your emotions without blame or shame.
  2. Give your emotions the respect and space they deserve: your body’s wisdom is telling you the absolute truth. Know this for sure.
  3. Seek the comfort of community: speak your truth, share your truth, let there be healing in that within the safety of your people.
  4. Claim your anger: let it galvanize your intentions and energize your actions. Anger is healthy, it helps us transform our fear and helplessness into courageous forward momentum.
  5. Know that the inherent uncertainty of our lives is a challenge that we are wired to succeed at. We must resist sabotaging ourselves with senseless worry. We must help one another stay positive and to place one foot in front of the other as we move forward in our lives, no matter how hard.

Fortify Yourself With Self-Care:

For all those who want to rise up to become the agents of change and peace in this world, please hear this: You must start with yourself. This is an immutable law of nature. Change starts with us. Always.

  1. Eat well: bathe your brain and stress systems with the nourishment they need to stay strong for you.
  2. Sleep well: give yourself this time for deep rest and restoration that you need.
  3. Move: get into your body. Pound the trails, hit the gym, bend and twist in yoga–whatever your body needs.
  4. Connect: be in the presence of those you love and who love and accept you and the truth of what you feel. Block out the rest.
  5. Stay grounded: fear tends to send us straight to our heads. We need a respite from our stories (don’t worry, they aren’t going anywhere) by getting into the truth of only this moment, in our bodies, feet planted on the ground, strong in ourselves.

Fear Transformation 911:

  1. Power Poses: Do power poses to instantly shift your stress response and help you feel the strength that resides within. Stand tall, feet hip distance apart, glutes and core engaged, torso strong, chest open. Raise your arms up over head in a large V shape and look to the sky. Hold this for thirty seconds to two minutes. Punctuate with affirmations that strengthen you like, “I am an agent for peace and healing in this world, I am filled with light, love and compassion.”
  2. Heart-centered meditation: this is a profound way to shift the energy of fear into love with just a few breaths. Sit or stand comfortably, close your eyes, take two to three deep, letting-go breaths and make some noise on the exhale–a large sigh of letting go. Breathe light in through the top of your head and let it infuse your heart. See it. On the exhale let that light expand from the center of your chest throughout your body. On the next inhale, let the dark smoke of fear, anxiety, and worry pass down out of your body, into the earth. Exhale, watch it pass out, feel it leave your body. Again, inhale and breathe in the light to fill your heart space. And so on. Try to stay with this for at least three rounds, more if desired.

Work to be in your strength and power as you contemplate your next steps to make this world a better place. Own your fear, name your fear, and step forward with courage. I am proud of you all!

In gratitude,


Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.


    Thank you for sharing your view point and information on self care. I would love to share it, if only the image were hands of two different races. The presumptions people are making are so defensive and hostile. It’s hard to give any positive info without fear of being attacked by someone.
    Perhaps I’ll share it anyway.
    Thank you!!!


    I thought of that too. It’s a photo I have of myself and a dear friend and co-worker who shares my
    humanitarian views, so it felt good to me to use it. Thank you for your kindness!


    I needed this sorely. I am very isolated from family now, working in another state for two months. I am shifting from disbelief and depression to anger. I shall go forward, galvanized. Thank you for you wisdom and leadership!


    We’re all in this together Shari. I’m with you all the way!
    I’m grieving too and trying to remember my self-care tools for
    strengthening and fortifying. This world needs us to be strong!


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