During our 30+ years as psychotherapists we never had to address the fear and uncertainty the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic has created. The disruption to individual lives and society is surreal.
There are coping truths that we know are real:
- Everyone copes with horrible situations differently. Some use humor (even gallows humor), some become immobilized or depressed, for others anxiety explodes, some grasp at things that are seemingly frivolous but under their control (like hoarding toilet paper). I watch the news obsessively since I find comfort in information.
- We want our family & friends to cope in the same way we cope. “Why aren’t you acting more worried?”, “Don’t be so obsessive”. “Do something productive.” “Calm down and slow down.” There’s comfort in thinking we are connected and not alone in our own way of seeing and responding to threats, real or perceived. When other people don’t cope the way we cope it makes us nervous, as if something is wrong with them.
- The higher the stress the more the brain reverts to automatic, old, tried and true patterns and coping mechanisms that are basic to who we are and how we are in the world. Our mind-body stress response says this is NOT time to change our normal behaviors and natural tendencies because doing something new creates more stress.
- It’s normal to feel productiveanxiety right now,and while we need to allow ourselves to feel these feelings. Some anxiety is productive—it’s what motivates us to wash our hands often and distance ourselves from others when there’s an important reason to do so. If we weren’t reasonably worried, no one would be taking these measure to help reduce the viral spread.
- Unproductiveanxiety— unchecked rumination—makes our mind spin in frightening directions. Our anxiety is actually trying to keep us safe by focusing on potential threats preparing us for fight, flight or freeze. However, anxiety when constant elevates our stress response chronically which dampens the immune response which is the last thing we want during a pandemic.
In recent weeks we have been doing daily posts on coping with stress, anxiety and social distancing.
Scroll down to see these posts.
Affect labeling—the act of naming one’s emotional state—helps blunt the immediate impact of negative feelings and begin the process of reducing stress.
In a small study* of 30 subjects, researchers conducted a series of brain-imaging experiments in which participants were shown frightening faces and asked to choose a word that described the emotion on display. Labeling the fear-inducing object appeared to:
- Reduce activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain in which the fight or flight reflex originates
- Increased activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which is associated with vigilance and symbolic processing.
- The brain’s perception of the images shifted from objects of fear to subjects of scrutiny.
- Experientially, the fact that there is a name for what you’re going through means that other people have experienced it as well, which makes an overwhelming emotion feel less isolating.
How to “Affect label”
30 seconds . . . as long as you don’t count the 15 minutes of moving.
*The University of California, Los Angeles. Study led by psychology professor Matthew Lieberman,
For more in this series, scroll down.
For tips on social distancing, click here for Curious to the Max
Non-stop writing, stream of consciousness, free writing . . . it doesn’t matter what you call it – it can change your brain, change your day.
I’m not being overly dramatic as there is a body of research which shows that
simply putting pen to paper changes your brain to reduce anxiety & stress.
Write on! by Peggy
Easy Peasy Writing How-to
Choose a focus – a situation, feeling, thought and create a “topic Sentence”
If you can’t think of a specific begin with
“When I ____________”, Right this moment I am thinking . . . ” , “I am feeling . . .”,
“I can’t think of anything to write because . . . “
It can be anything in the past, the present or the future.
- Use a pen that writes smoothly and comfortable to your hand.
Don’t use a keyboard since the act of writing with your hand is important. Your small muscle movement is expressive (much like artistic expression, your handwriting is unique to you). It doesn’t matter if it’s legible or beautiful as your hand movement registers with your brain in ways that tapping out letters on a keyboard do not.
- Set a timer for approximately 20 minutes. It takes that long for your unconscious brain to push through your logical thinking processes.
- Use a journal, a piece of paper, a brown bag- it doesn’t matter.
- Start with your “topic sentence”,thought, feeling . . . just start.
- Write continuously for 20 minutes, never letting the pen stop. If your mind goes blank simply makes loop-d-loops with the pen until you have words to put down. Write quickly, spontaneously, intuitively. It doesn’t matter what you write just put down on paper where your mind takes you.
- Do not be concerned about spelling, punctuation or grammar.
- Do not be concerned if it doesn’t make sense.
Read research: How Writing About Past Failures May Help You Succeed In The Present
Diaphragmatic breathing is the best known and one of the most powerful breath exercises to reduce the stress response, get oxygen flowing to your brain and in your body.
If you’re constantly and chronically stressed out, sleep-deprived, malnourished, or dehydrated over time your immune function will weaken.
Longer, deeper breaths into your abdomen, slows your heart rate and activates the calming, parasympathetic nervous system.
Inhale . . . . . . . . . . . Exhale. . . . . . . by Judy
The most basic type of diaphragmatic breathing is done by inhaling through your nose and breathing out through your mouth. However, exhaling through your nose allows you to do this in public places.
Sit in a comfortable position or lie flat on the floor, your bed, or another comfortable, flat surface.
Relax your shoulders.
To feel your diaphragm move as you breathe place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your ribs on your stomach.
Take a slow, full breath in through your nose for about two seconds. Experience the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, making your stomach expand. During this type of breathing, make sure your stomach is moving outward while your chest remains relatively still.
(your hand below your ribs moves in and out with each breath).
Press gently on your stomach, and exhale slowly for about two seconds through your nose (or mouth) and tighten your diaphragm
(just like squeezing a lemon to get all the juice out)
The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible throughout.
Repeat these steps several times for best results.
It may take you a bit of effort at first to do this cuz it ain’t the usual way you breathe.
With continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing becomes easier, Easier, EASIER.
After you get the hang of it, you can practice diaphragmatic breathing . . . without using your hand.
There is unprecedented anxiety in the entire world due to the pandemic. Fear and anxiety is a normal response to unknown threats to our survival and well-being. The problem for all of us is prolonged and chronic anxiety which elevates the stress response and lowers our immune response.
We have searched all our posts which address stress and anxiety to give you some tools to incorporate into your daily life and better cope with uncertainty.
to CALM, COOL & COLLECTED!
Have a look at these past posts:
How to Reduce Fear and Anxiety in 30 Seconds
Meditation Changes Your Brain for the Better
Coping with family tension
Six ways to meditate for those who can’t meditate
Comfort Eating Actually Comforts
Stressed? How to Activate Your Own Placebo
And from Curious to the Max:
ME a Stress Case? . . . I Don’t Think So. . . This Anxiety Reduction Technique is for YOU
Write On! How to Empty your brain to reduce stress
Click here for “Frankly Freddie: How to Social Distance and be Social” on Curious to the Max