Anxiety and fear are not the same things. Fear is what you feel when you perceive danger in your environment. Anxiety is a reaction to a potential threat that may or may not happen. The body reacts to both the same way and both trigger a cascade of bodily responses.
In our current situation fear and anxiety are legitimate and universal responses to the COVID 19 pandemic. There is a real external danger and it threatens consequences for each one of us that may or may not happen.
The limbic system signals DANGER and the cascade of internal reactions begins. The hippocampus, responsible for memory, becomes activated and the amygdala sounds the alarm. This leads to the hypothalamus beginning to dump hormones and neurotransmitter chemicals into the system. The autonomic nervous system prepares for fight, flight, or freeze.
“A review by psychologist Dana Rose Garfin, PhD, at the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues found people who experienced acute stress in the weeks after a traumatic event were more likely to have negative long-term mental and physical health outcomes, including poor general health; increased pain, disability and mortality; increased depression, anxiety and psychiatric disorders; and more family conflict.” (Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Vol. 112, No. 1, 2018).
Here’s the truth: we can’t help being triggered. But we CAN make choices about how we respond. We can interrupt this cascade and calm ourselves down. And when we do that we protect ourselves but we also protect those around us from the contagion of our anxiety.
In order to promote our own and the health of others, let’s do what we can to quell anxiety.
Here are 3 things you can do:
Take a deep breath through your nose to the count of 4, then exhale through your mouth to the count of 6. Do this at least 3 times. Keep doing this until you begin to feel your anxiety abate. If you already have a meditation practice, draw on that.
Develop a self-soothing physical practice or ritual. A ritual is a practice that very quickly creates a state of mind. For example, when a person enters a church and blesses herself, she signals that change. Develop a calming ritual for yourself. Light a candle, make a cup of tea. Wrap a cozy blanket around yourself. Play soft music. Massage the back of your neck. Place one hand on your heart and the other below your belly.
Turn to music.
Use this situation to nurture and soothe yourself and those around you.