I don’t know about anyone else but sometimes you just get to the point when it all gets a bit too much. I was at that point at 4am this morning! My mind was whirring around, I was mentally drafting blog posts, wondering what do to about planned classes and events, worrying about friends and family, worrying about people who can’t buy a few extra tins of soup or bags of pasta when they go shopping, worrying about how long this might go on for. And it’s only a few steps from thinking ‘it might only be a couple of weeks of restrictions’ to ‘society’s going to collapse, there’ll be no electricity and it won’t be resolved by next Easter even…’.
The inbuilt survival system is activated by a good bit of fear (the proverbial tiger or bear). Fear, stress, anxiety and worry activate the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, and as I’ve blogged about previously, these are mostly fine in the short term like for an interview, but not so fine in the long run if they go on and on (much like the pandemic might). And even living with a short bout of stress isn’t fun
With the covid-19 pandemic [ooh, the beginning and end of the word spell panic!!] there is no known end period of when this will all be over, we have little to no control over global changes, and uncertainty and lack of control fuel fear, stress and anxiety.
Add in to the mix relentless media, news, social media, hype and mass hysteria and we have a very unhealthy mix which many people are highlighting is having an effect on people’s mental health already. Fear is actually contagious, and also reduces our ability to think rationally and sensibly.
So what can we do? Trite phrases of ‘think positively, it’ll all be ok’ are well meaning, and are on the right track, but when you’re in the stress loop it’s difficult to short circuit it.
What we can do is activate our relaxation response or the ‘rest and digest’ response, which is the opposite of the stress response, and starts to dial down the over-reactive nervous system. We need the brain to think that we’re ok, that there isn’t a crisis, that we’re safe and not under threat, so it doesn’t need to activate the stress response (survival mode) thank you very much.
How can we do this? Do things like:
- Deep ‘belly’ breathing aka diaphragmatic breathing (in the nose, let the belly rise on the inhale, long exhale)
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Calming yoga
- Massage, hugs, cuddling an animal
- Activate the vagus nerve (which most of the above do) – see this useful article
- Doing things that make you feel good, happy and relaxed
For me, this morning I did my usual basic morning yoga routine, fussed my cat, meditated, did some exercise, then I walked to town, admired some daffodils, took part in ‘normal’ life including cafes, watching a live band and a local gymnastics group perform at a free event, chatted to people, ate excellent vegan chocolate & mint cake, then played some music at home at high volume wrapped up in my fluffy heated blanket! I’m now more able to have some perspective that was lacking at 4am and what small areas I can control in order to keep things in perspective in the future. I don’t feel stressed and irritable.
Your list of things to get yourself out of fear/panic/stress mode might be quite different. But I strongly recommend trying some deep breathing and meditation in terms of the bodily changes those can bring. You can listen to my free guided breathing mindfulness tracks here and download my free stress handout here. Some lovely free guided yoga nidra tracks are here by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli. There are also various free guided meditations on fear by Tara Brach e.g. this 11 minute one.
And if things become more than you can manage, do speak to friends, family and professionals who can help.
PS I’ve also been pondering how people (in the West) have responded to the pandemic crisis in the way they haven’t to the climate crisis, but that’s for a future blog post!