Fear is a survival mechanism that teaches us to avoid possibly dangerous situations in the future. Since we know that the coronavirus is very contagious, it is wise to take precautions-but buying all the toliet paper shouldn’t be at the top of our list. Logically, we understand that stockpiling mass quantities of toilet paper is not logical, however when we see other people pilling it into their carts, anxiety becomes contagious.
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps us plan for the future by making predictions based on our past experiences. If we don’t have enough information to safely predict what will happen, then we feel anxious, nervous or worried. It’s normal to have anxiety during this time. However, when anxiety levels spike, we can experience sudden panic-a feeling of terror or uncontrollable fear that causes the rational part of our brain to go offline. Sudden intense fear can also lead to shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, dizziness, shaking and confusion. Panic attacks tend to have a quick onset and typically peak after about 10 minutes; however, they can also last for hours. So what can you do?
Don’t repress your feelings or run from them.
Avoiding or not acknowledging how we feel only intensifies our feelings. It’s helpful to acknowledge your fear and notice how you’re responding. Are your actions keeping you safe and helping you survive? People often act impulsively when they are panicking because the rational part of the brain is offline.
Soothe anxiety with deep breathing
Deep breathing settles your nervous system and puts the prefrontal cortex back online. Pausing helps interrupt our habit of jumping to worry. For example, if you have a thought like “I just itched my face-now I’m going to get sick!” Instead of jumping to conclusions, look at the facts. When is the last time you washed your hands? Have you been in large social groups, hugging and shaking hands? Simply asking questions can start to re-engage our rational mind, instead of being hijacked by our survival brain. Slowing down can help us see that we have been taking the steps needed to stay healthy.
Talk to family & friends and seek counseling when needed
Let trusted friends and family know how you are feeling. Simply expressing your feelings to people who are supportive can go a long way in reducing our fear. When friends and family are uncertain of how to help, consider journaling or meeting with a licensed therapist. Talking to a therapist can help you process your feelings and learn effective ways to manage your feelings more effectively.
Focus on what you can control and have compassion
No one will regret taking reasonable safety measures at a time like this. It’s logical to wash our hands for 20 seconds with warm soapy water. Try singing the happy birthday song twice, set a timer or come up with your own routine that will help you get into the habit of washing long enough to be safe. It’s logical and compassionate to practice handing washing and social distancing and it’s always good to be kind. Remember to have compassion when people around you are feeling anxious. When we acknowledge our feelings without judgment, it lowers anxiety. When we validate and acknowing the feelings of others with compassion it lowers their anxiety and makes us feel better at the same time.
In times of uncertainty, especially unprecedented circumstances like these, it is normal to feel everything you’re feeling-don’t judge yourself or others based on how you or others are responding. Take a moment to breathe, slow down and turn your logical brain back on so that you can feel confident in your decisions to keep yourself healthy and safe. You are not alone-lean on family and friends during this time and reach out for help if you need it. Remember that you may also be someone that others need to lean on, so go forth with a compassionate heart and use this time to draw close to those you care about and even take the opportunity to show kindness to strangers. These times can be scary, but potentially an amazing opportunity to pull together and focus on all the good there is in this world.
Take care of yourself and each other-
Counseling: If you are in the Charlotte area and would like to learn more about counseling (including video counseling), click this link to learn more: Counseling. Video/Tele-Therapy appointments are available and are confidential, safe and secure. Online scheduling is available so that you can secure your session right away.
A Keen Mind Podcast: Episode #39 Calming Anxiety with Meditation
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