We live in crazy times. Life today seems closer to something out a movie script, like the pandemic in the film Outbreak. I don’t want to diminish the seriousness of what is happening in the world. Covid-19 is wreaking havoc. Stock markets everywhere are swinging wildly as volatility increases in direct proportion to the economic impacts the world is facing. We’ve seen the biggest one-day-drop on the Dow ever, a clear indicator fear is taking hold. Then there are the social impacts to deal with. And, we still have to function in this environment, and that’s really challenging right now. As challenging as it is to be calm, we owe it to ourselves and to our community to look at what we can do about getting a handle on ourselves. Especially when the world is gripped by fear to the degree, it is.
We are neurologically hard-wired for fear: It’s part of what has kept us alive. There is, however, a real difference between fear and danger and despite us living in dangerous times, if we let our fears run away with us we’ll be in a worse state than if we stay on top of our fears. Yes, you can manage your fear. Distinguishing fear from danger makes a huge difference in managing our minds and therefore our ability to cope and act. Even just knowing this can make a difference. Let’s face it, it ain’t easy to be calm when it seems like everyone wants you to join the hysteria. The pull is strong.
We’re not meant to be subjected to constant stimulation. The 24-hour news cycle is not our friend. When we are constantly stimulated our lizard brain, the one hell-bent on keeping you alive goes into over-drive. That overstimulation triggers the fight, flight or freeze response. Right now, you can’t go anywhere or do anything without the fear of the implications of the pandemic of Covid-19 seeping into your reality. No wonder so many of us are gripped by fear. Once we recognise our lizard brain has been triggered, we can take charge and give us back a measure of control. This can and will make a huge difference to who we feel and how we experience life, even if the threat is unchanged. Below are some practical steps I am using to stay calm.
Get the facts
There is a lot of misinformation flying around about Covid-19. Knowing exactly what we are dealing with matters. Fact-check like a scientist so that you know the difference between scaremongering, conspiracy theories and complacency. Given the circumstances, complacency is equally as dangerous as inaction. When you know the facts, you can deal with what is in front of you and do so appropriately. Which brings me to another point.
YOU control the flow of information into your mind
Choose where you get that information from. There are plenty of reputable sources of information from experts. It’s important to stay up to date as the landscape is changing and the situation constantly evolving. Staying updates needs to be balanced with relentless exposure to the same information over and over again. If you mindlessly consume the information around Covid-19 you are likely to program yourself to be constantly on the lookout for threats and be gripped by fear. Looking for potential threats is something your brain needs no training in. It has threat detection down pat. It really is up to you as to what you think about or give air-time to by shifting your focus. Be intentional about taking time out and focusing on the things that make you feel good.
Become the observer of your thoughts
You are not your thoughts. You have thoughts and the substance of your thoughts is not you. Once you accept this idea then a profound change takes place. It allows you to see your thoughts as separate from you. You can observe your thoughts without judgement or prejudice. Being able to observe, accept or decline your thoughts enables you to free yourself from the tyranny of mindless thoughts effecting your every living moment. By mindless thoughts I mean all of the “What if’s”. Which leads us to…
Label thoughts as helpful or unhelpful
This probably needs little explanation. Your thoughts will either support what you are about to do, or they will take you in another direction. Labelling your thoughts as helpful or unhelpful can assist you in getting clarity and avoiding a downward spiral.
Use your breath to calm your mind
The body and mind are connected: Impact one and you can influence the other. This strategy is about restoring calm once we have been triggered. When we become stressed or triggered the brain sets off the alarm, blood flow is directed away from the major organs, resulting in an increase in your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. Once the threat has been removed it takes 20 – 60 minutes for the body to return to its pre arousal levels. Deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing can calm both body and mind. This can help restore the body and mind to balance. Consider giving mediation a go. Not only will it make you feel better, but it will also increase your ability to deal with stress by improving your immune system.
Exercise and get the endorphins flowing
Exercise is a great way to take your mind off of a stressful situation. It also allows the body to release physical tension that builds up in the body and helps rid the body of stress hormones that have a built-in response to threats. It doesn’t matter if those threats are real or imagined, the result is the same. Exercise and give yourself a healthy dose of endorphins which are the body’s feel-good hormones. Exercise is important at the best of times and if we are self-isolating as some have been asked to do, this matters more than ever.