We have been asked to help explain why we are all feeling anxious right now. Please share.
- Our natural response to fear
Right now we are constantly receiving horrific warnings from the media and each other triggering a range of fears, particularly the ultimate fear of dying. We know that one day this will happen to ourselves and those we love yet being exposed to our own mortality makes us feel incredibly fearful.
On top of this is the fact that we were not prepared for this. This has completely disrupted our normal routine. Us humans need and crave predictability, we need things to be clear as this helps us cope. However, so many things feel uncertain right now.
We are hard wired to protect ourselves as a response to threat. When in this mode several threat-based emotions get triggered (e.g. anger, disgust, sadness and anxiety).
- Anxiety is Vital!
It warns us when we are in danger and helps us have a response e.g. fight, freeze and flight, which focuses our attention to the perceived threat.
Anxiety is helping us with COVID-19. It is helping us think about what we are touching with our hands, motivating us to increase our hand washing, social distancing ourselves and focusing our attention on keeping up to date with the news.
Anxiety is helping us take some actions so we can feel more in control strengthening our beliefs that we can cope.
So many things feel uncertain right now:
‘Will I get it? Will my loved ones get it? ‘How bad will it be? ‘Will I die?
‘When will I see my family again’ Will my business survive? ‘Will I get paid?
As we are having these thoughts or even reading these words, part of our brain- the amygdala- is doing its job and sending alarm signals to us, triggering more anxiety. This is reinforcing the feeling that something is wrong, we are in danger.
THIS IS NORMAL
Our brain is doing the job it was designed to do- to create the worst-case scenarios but if left unchecked anxiety will hijack our behaviour. The greater the imagined threat the stronger the internal sense of desperation and the more self-focused we become.
- Anxiety Hijack
We become excessively hypervigilant. We listen and read more and more. We are not able to filter the quality of the information. This is escalating our anxiety maintaining a belief that we are not safe.
We become overly competitive. We are in ‘ME’ mode rather than ‘WE’ and at risk of stockpiling toilet roll, pasta or anything we can find on the shelves, whether we need it or not. We are social beings and we are at risk of following the behaviour of others. We try and take back control and stockpile material items even at the detriment of others, as we need to feel safe.
Our perception becomes biased. We start seeing others as a threat and interpret their behaviours as threatening. Such as giving angry looks to anyone who coughs, avoiding Chinese food or products and people start stealing masks, gel and toilet roll from hospitals.
What can we do?
Recognise how our fear and anxiety is becoming as contagious as the virus its self. We are at risk of creating a PANIC PANDEMIC. Some of us will be really struggling to access our thinking mind as we are hijacked by anxiety and fear.
Here are some ideas to help us in these moments. The VITAL part is that after we have tried these ideas, we need to lock these experiences into our brain. We are hired-wired for reward-based learning, so we need to start asking “WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?” so our brain starts seeing these skills as a ‘better offer’ than the anxiety hijack loop it currently experiencing.
Top five things to help
- Know how your mind works. Understand the role of anxiety and how we can get hijacked by FEAR.
- Be Curious. Notice WHERE you feel anxious in your body. Ask yourself is it the right or left side, front or back.
Ask yourself: What did it feel like to be curious as to where you it is in your body?
- FIVE Finger Breathing exercise. In a moment of panic or high anxiety, PAUSE and CONNECT with your body. This breathing exercise is a way of bringing you back to your body, allowing you to focus your mind on a task and help crowd out the background noise of our mind trying to ‘freak out’.
Hold out your hand “like a star,” take your index finger from the opposite hand and begin to trace along the hand that is fanned out. Breath in through the nose as you trace UP the outside of your thumb, then breath out through the mouth as you trace DOWN the inside of his thumb. Breath in as you trace UP your index finger, exhale as you trace DOWN the inside of your index finger…and so on and so forth. Conscious attention applied slowly has a calming, awareness building, and relaxing effect.
Ask yourself “What was that like?”
- Limit how often you access the news. Anxiety thrives on trying to find certainty, constantly checking the news is like playing a slot machine in a casino. We check and no update, check again and no update, check again and no update, check again and there is an update ‘JACKPOT’. This is intermittent reinforcement and can become highly addictive. Limit the amount of times we check the news. Try to avoid checking as the first thing we do on waking and the last thing we do before going to bed.
When you check the news ask yourself:
What did I get?
Was that rewarding?
Do I feel more anxious?
- It’s OK to feel vulnerable and scared. Give ourselves permission and space to express these feelings. When we try and ignore them, they don’t go away, they can make us feel more overwhelmed over time.