The first thing is to accept that it is normal that we are feeling anxious and afraid. The events happening at the moment will be triggering the fear centre of our brain and our survival instincts are activated.
Why are we feeling so anxious?
If we already have reason to fear death and illness (from previous past experiences), then we will have these experiences and feelings triggered as well. This can be very unpleasant, but it is normal. It is our brain telling us that this danger happened before and it feels like it is happening again. We will be in fight/flight/freeze mode as a result.
The other reason is because there is very little certainty over exactly who/when/how or even if we will be personally affected. We don’t know. Uncertainty is uncomfortable and can make us feel very anxious because it triggers a sense of powerlessness and helplessness.
What is anxiety?
We are anxious because something bad might happen, and we might not be able to do anything about it. These are the central two themes of anxiety:
- Something bad might happen, and
- I won’t be able to cope with it.
It is a state of mind where we are future-focused on what ‘might happen’ and underestimating our ability to cope. Our brain and body then work to activate us to deal with this potential threat. We are likely to feel many different sensations: tension, hot, nauseous, headache, tight stomach, wobbly legs, dry mouth, short, shallow breathing, irritable with those around us, maybe even more angry.
How can I cope with this?
First remind yourself that you have coped with things before and you can cope again. Find people around you who help you feel supported and safe. Spend time NOW with those people you care about, and bring yourself into the PRESENT moment, and away from future-focused worry. Actively check in with your body to notice the tension, and breathe slowly to bring yourself down a notch or two.
Accept that you or people around you might be more nervous/on-edge, and be compassionate with yourself and others if you can. Imagine that you are all just trying to do the best you can.
Bring your mind back to the present if it races too far ahead to what ‘might’ happen. When we are anxious our thoughts go straight to ‘worse case scenario’ thoughts. Notice this and bring your mind back to the present and what you can deal with right now.
The Worry Tree can help
There is a technique called The Worry Tree which can help bring our minds back to problem solving and away from anxiety-inducing future-focused worry. Here’s a link to it, but it essentially asks you to ask yourself one question: “Can I do anything about this RIGHT NOW?” If you can’t do anything right now, let it go, or tell your brain when you are going to do something about it. I find my brain needs a schedule and needs to know ‘when’ I will deal with it before it will let me let it go.
One of the things that can help keep us in a state of anxiety is constant checking. This is a normal behaviour that our brain does, to ‘scan’ for any threats. Unfortunately though, it can keep us in a cycle of anxiety – checking – reassurance – anxiety – checking – reassurance. Social media notifications and news reports can feed this. Each check is like putting another log on the fire.
Reduce this checking behaviour and balance out your social media and news consumption with stories and information that is not connected to corona virus. If you can seek out people and stories that help you feel connected and safe.
We can get through this
Be compassionate and understanding. Do what you can to encourage a sense of safety and connection with the people in your life who matter. And if you can, try to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can as well. Let’s all use this as a way to practice the coping strategies that we all have inside us.
This article was written as a follow-up to an interview with BBC Radio Shropshire Monday 16th March 2020 9.45am with Jim Hawkins. You can listen to Jim Hawkins and check out the BBC Radio Shropshire website here.