The fear of Covid-19 triggers our emotional “ancient” brain, and sends us messages that we are in danger. This activates the “Fight Flight Freeze’ response.
Our brains are hard-wired to notice things which endanger us, and are not so good at noticing the good things in our lives – this is a short term survival response. In modern life, the news is designed to highlight the threats constantly. This in turn increases our anxiety.
In order to build resilience to the fears associated with Covid-19 we can intentionally choose to run our own brain; this means taking control of our ancient survival brain.
It is easy to experience anxiety when we feel things are out of our control.
- Try this activity. Draw two circles; write down the worries that you have some control over in one circle, and the worries you can’t control in the other. Work on the things you can control, for example, only watch the news once a day, turn off news feeds which stimulate our threat system; try to let go of and accept the things you can’t control. This can help you manage your worries, and give you a sense of agency.
- Try the Box Breath Practice, which is taught to fire fighters and police officers for use when they experience a moment of ‘startle’. Inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for 4, exhale for 4, hold out the breath for 4. This constant breathing regulates our nervous system. The counting requires our ‘rational’ brain to stay online, the rhythmic breath activates our soothing system. Do this regularly throughout the day – practice really does work.
- Have a healthy morning and evening routine. This may mean avoiding scrolling through your phone, and doing something else instead like reading a book, taking a shower, going/looking outside at nature.
- Choose your news source; keep yourself up to date with Covid-19 information by looking on websites such as the WHO which tend to be factual and less dramatic than news stations.
- Choose to focus on what is going well, both with regards to Covid-19 and in your own life. Practise writing these down, in a journal, or keep a Gratitude diary – list 5 things to be grateful for every day.
- Take the right precautions to stay safe, i.e. hand washing, keeping your distance from others, only making essential journeys.
- Keep healthy, in terms of physical exercise. At times of stress our bodies need to be physical; we are designed to fight or run when in danger, and physical exertion is a way of discharging stress hormones and encouraging feel-good hormones.
- Practice self-care. Make sure you are eating healthily, getting enough sleep, giving yourself some ‘down-time’. For example, do quiet mindfulness activities, talk to a good friend, have a warm bath, take a gentle walk, read an uplifting story.
- Do good in your own sphere. Reach out to others. For example, offer to get some shopping, give emotional support via phone calls or video calls. Showing care and compassion always makes us feel better.
- Spend some time focusing on the future when this is all over. Remind yourself that this crisis will pass.
- Avoid putting expectations on yourself to be productive or creative during this period if you don’t feel like it; this can add to your anxiety. It’s okay to not be “doing”, and if you need to take some time out just “being” and you feel that is benefiting you, then that’s okay, in fact it’s great!
- Try to step back and use this situation in a positive way. This is an opportunity to learn and grow. Draw on your inner resources.
Thanks to Vanessa Brown, one of our Counsellors, for sharing this with us all.