Use This Advice to Stop a Coronavirus Anxiety Spiral

If you often find yourself imagining the worst-case scenario, there’s a powerful way to retrain your thoughts.

fizkes / Shutterstock
fizkes / Shutterstock

As we continue to navigate this epic health crisis, staying calm and positive might be more of a challenge. With so much loss and suffering, and a steady stream of distressing news, it’s easy to feel a sense of dread and even hopelessness. In fact, in a Thrive Global survey of 5,000 respondents about coronavirus pain points, more than 65% of people reported feeling helpless when it comes to the health crisis. 

While a pull to jump to the worst-case scenario is common, this type of thought pattern isn’t helpful. “Catastrophizing, or thinking about the worst possible outcomes, provokes a fear response in the brain,” Inna Khazan, Ph.D, a health and performance psychologist and lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, tells Thrive. In the state of fear, parts of the brain responsible for problem-solving and decision-making become less active, she explains. 

On the other hand, if you can remain steady and stay present instead of catastrophizing, you’ll lower stress and feel better, which will mean you’ll be better equipped to deal with any challenges — and make clear decisions. Khazan suggests trying this technique if you find yourself experiencing negative emotions you feel you can’t control:

“Give a brief descriptive label to your experience — naming it ‘fear,’ for example, or just ‘catastrophizing,’” says Khazan. “Research shows that this skill, called ‘affect labeling,’ changes the pattern of activation in the brain, reducing activation of the fear center while increasing activation of the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and problem-solving.” 

Ultimately, says Kazan, naming your experience reduces distress and allows you to better regulate any difficult emotions, so you won’t feel as frustrated or hopeless.

Another technique to try is reframing, which entails looking at what is happening in a different light. Although our brains are hardwired to worry (a survival function called “negative bias”), focusing on a single negative word can ramp up activity in the amygdala — the “fear center” of our brain — releasing neurotransmitters and hormones that interrupt our cognitive functioning, especially with regards to logic and reason. So instead of viewing the pandemic “as a nightmare,” you could see it as a challenging situation and remind yourself that you have the resilience and strength to get through it. 

It all comes down to understanding that while we cannot control outside events, we do have a choice about how we respond to stressful situations. Course-correcting our thoughts in the moment makes it possible to strengthen our mental resilience.

Start with this simple but effective Microstep:

Microstep
If you notice yourself imagining negative future possibilities, pause and take a breath.
Catastrophizing is counterproductive and impedes our decision making.

Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving. 

Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    simona pilolla 2 / Shutterstock
    Well-Being//

    6 Ways To Boost Your “Inner Zen” Right Now

    by Patricia Karpas, Palma Michel
    Community//

    How to Break Free From Catastrophizing, Confabulating and Other Confusing Messages

    by Louise Stanger Ed.D, LCSW, CDWF, CIP
    HappyAprilBoy/ Shutterstock
    Well-Being//

    If You Constantly Build Up Situations in Your Head, Here’s How to Stop Catastrophizing

    by Rebecca Muller

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.