How to manage your anxiety in response to a pandemic

Posted 26 March

By Elaine Corcoran, Clinical Director at Brain Training Australia, Perth, WA

The world is in troubled times. The WHO (world health organisation) has
deemed the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, and the world feels anxious.

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to the stress of not knowing how this virus will impact your life. It creates a feeling of fear or apprehension about the future.

Many people will try to bury their heads in the sand and hope the problem
goes away. Others will engage in counterproductive practices such as panic buying and unnecessary hospital visits. Instead of suffering the wave of anxiety sweeping the world, we encourage you to not hide from the current situation.

Instead, we suggest you prepare yourself and your family. Be ready to tackle this problem head-on. Here we provide practical solutions you can
implement today and show you how to reduce your level of anxiety.
If you feel your anxiety levels are affecting your life right now, please contact us. We provide neuro coaching services which combine applied neuroscience and performance psychology to engage your whole nervous system and promote wellbeing.

What is anxiety, and how can altering your mindset help?

Anxiety stems from fear and stress. When you feel stressed or threatened, your somatic nervous system will activate your “fight or flight” response.
The effects of stress and anxiety begin when your adrenal glands pump
cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin into your body. Your heart beats faster, and you begin to sweat. Your breathing becomes shallower, your blood vessels dilate, allowing more blood to your muscles, and your blood glucose levels increase to provide an extra burst of energy.

Chronic stress can cause physical tissue damage and may induce
anxiety. When feelings of anxiety become persistent and interfere with your daily life, it is considered an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are associated with uncontrollable worry, avoidance
behaviour and sometimes panic attacks. Speaking to a mindset coach can help you deal with anxiety by equipping you with strategies to manage the
symptoms and keep these attacks under control.

Signs of anxiety include headaches, insomnia and a feeling of disconnectedness. The longer you feel stressed, the more likely you are to
suffer anxiety, which is why it is so important to learn how to manage your mindset as quickly as possible.

Anxiety may lead to unwise decision making. Right now, it is essential to
learn how to keep your mind focused and remain clear-headed.
The neuroscience behind changing your mindset.

All humans have an innate desire to improve, but this requires change. Our brains generally do not like change. The fact that you are alive and well provides evidence to your mind that the status quo is fine, no change
required here.

Of course, there is more to life than just surviving. Our limbic system
(metaphorically called our Lizard Brain) plays a role in inhibiting our change.

On your own, you may not know how to counteract your anxiety and let your higher-order thinking take over. That’s where a mindset coach can help.  Coaching, facilitates you getting to know your brain better. It helps you create healthier habits that can override the basic instincts driving your anxiety.  Your coach can help guide you toward a more productive, less frightening
future.

Why anxiety can make you feel disconnected.

Photo: StockPhotoSecrets

If left untreated constant anxiety can make you feel disconnected from
people, reality and your own mind and body. The  Mayo Clinic  describes two aspects of disconnectedness quite well. Depersonalization can feel like you’re seeing yourself from outside your body. Your limbs may appear distorted.

Derealization is more about your sense of the world around you. This can
make you feel emotionally disconnected from people you are close to, and
your surroundings may appear distorted.

Improved understanding of the limbic system and Geschwind‘s concept of
disconnection has pointed to the role of the amygdala and the connections it has to the medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices. These brain
structures are intricately linked with our emotions. Disconnection occurs
when the neural pathway connecting one brain area with another is
disrupted.

It is the derealization aspect of anxiety that can be severely affected by the
social distancing we are now practising to stem the tide of the virus.

How to reconnect while practicing social distancing.

Courtesy of social media, fear and dread have spread faster than the virus.
Managing your anxiety will help you to reconnect, it will help improve your immune system, and it will even improve the health of those around you.

Follow the tips we have listed below.

  • Focus on what you can control. Focusing will help to bring your mind back to your present situation as it is a form of mindfulness. The best method to manage your anxiety is by taking control of your immediate situation. Remember that actions are empowering. Here are some tips on what you can control such as your own thoughts and behaviours:
    • Your positive attitude
    • How you follow CDC recommendations
    • Your kindness and grace towards others
    • Turning off the news
    • Your own social distancing
    • Limiting your social media
    • Finding fun things to do at home
  • Be aware of things you can’t control so that you can let yourself off the hook and let go of such as:
    • If others follow the rules of social distancing
    • The actions of others
    • The amount of toilet paper at the store
    • Predicting what will happen
    • Other people’s motives
    • How others react
    • How long this will last
  • Use the telephone, Skype or Zoom to connect with friends and family. Keep in mind that discussing the virus is only positive if you share accurate information. Before you talk to others, find a reliable source of information like the CDC website.
  • When you speak about the current climate, keep a tone of reassurance in your voice. This helps to relieve your anxiety and that of the person you are talking to. Limiting your time with television and social media will also help. Smiling, laughing and listening to music are much healthier ways to spend your time.
  • Avoid using future based language.  Worrying about things that haven’t happened yet will manifest anxiety.  Instead of thinking “What will I do?” as yourself “What can I do?”  There is a massive difference and it will keep your brain behaviour on track to the present so that you can keep focused and constructive.
  • Use relaxation techniques. To reduce signs of anxiety, perform deep breathing exercises, meditation or even just rest quietly in a dark room. Taking a relaxing bath or performing gentle stretches can also help.
  • Connect with your Mindset Coach or Mentor to help rewire your thinking. A coach can empower you to be the very best version of yourself and lead you through these troubled times. Your mindset coach will avoid giving you direct advice but they will help you to solve your own problems. A mindset coach can help you become more self aware, accountable, motivated and self-reflective.

Photo: StockPhotoSecrets

  • Regular physical exercise improves your self-image. It also triggers the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones that stimulate positive emotions.
  • Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. Writing exercises where you list your negative thoughts, cross them out and replace with positive thoughts. Visualisation exercises where you successfully face and conquer the virus can prove beneficial.
  • Build your support network. You know at least one family member or friend who is eternally positive or incredibly supportive. Don’t suppress your feelings of anxiousness around these people, discuss them.

Focus on the things you can do right now to lessen your worry about future possibilities. If you struggle controlling your thoughts be sure to reach out for assistance.  We are in this together and things will get good again.