Managing Fear and Anxiety: Covid-19 and Beyond
Back to School Series
Fear and anxiety are words that carry a lot of associations for people, especially these days. Our Counsellor Veera Grewal, RCC, shows us in the first part of her 4-part series on Mental Health and Covid-19 how to effectively manage fear and anxiety so that you can focus on releasing tension and finding calm in otherwise heightened states.
Welcome to the blog edition of Video 1 in our 4-part series on Mental Health and COVID-19 as we focus on living in the moment to combat Fear and Anxiety.
Fear + Anxiety
Humans are social creatures; we need connection and touch to thrive, things which the advent of COVID-19 has made more difficult, but still possible. With more sensational information on the rise, people with pre-existing anxiety or mental health challenges have found themselves with more confusion and uncertainty about the present and their future, and what society may look like as we slowly return to social situations.
COVID impact on Mental Health
Some common reactions to the presence of COVID-19 are grief, anger, anxiety, fear, stress, depressive symptoms, insomnia, and denial. All of these emotional states have one thing in common – the loss of control. So, what can we do about it?
A. Fight, Flight, Freeze
Physiological symptoms like increased heart rate, shallow breathing, peripheral vision and hearing improve when we enter fight/flight/freeze mode. These are survival strategies that we have been hardwired with to protect us from danger. Our limbic system is activated (right side of our brain; the emotional side of the brain in overdrive, shuts down the left part of the brain – the cognitive, logical part of our brain) Our emotions are heightened and we go into overdrive.
- rage, anger, frustration, aggression
- panic, anxiety, worry, avoidance
- numbness, dissociation, shut-down
We can also lapse into depression and/or anxiety.
Depression is inadequate energy when our body isn’t activated enough.
Anxiety manifests when we have too much energy and our bodies are very activated.
B. Window of Tolerance
The key is to find a middle ground between these extremes; a window of tolerance. It’s in this space where we are in a regulated and calm state, an optimal sense of presence where we are able to connect with others and regulate our emotions.
Here are some tools to bring ourselves back into the window of tolerance:
1. Maintain Social Connections
We want to promote a sense of safety within ourselves. We can do this through our social bubble, with the help of technology, and through increased efforts to connect with others and ourselves. We can connect with others by making an effort to maintain eye contact in public, and with ourselves by engaging in mirror work paired with positive self-affirmations. When we are brushing our teeth, we can tell ourselves “I love you and I’m here for you”. Our relationships with ourselves predicts and sets the stage for our relationships with everyone else in our lives, so we should make an effort to nurture this primary connection.
2. Living in the Moment (Mindfulness)
Mindfulness is a form of ancient knowledge that originated in Asia some 1500 years ago. It is an awareness of the present moment with acceptance, curiosity and compassion. Research shows that mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety, depression. It is also associated with increased brain growth associated with emotion regulation, learning and memory. Try these exercises to improve your mindfulness:
This is an easy one that is great to bring you back to the present when you’re feeling really activated. Get comfortable, and list the following items to yourself:
5 things you see; 4 things you can touch, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, 1 thing you taste
Afterwards, observe how you feel and the changes that have occurred within you.
Body Scan, Meditation, Mindful Journalling – look forward to future videos for these tips!
3. Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing (Belly)
When we’re stressed, we breathe through our chest, which maintains anxiety. This is because we’re using muscles in chest, shoulders and neck to breathe, which takes up more energy. Breathing from the belly promotes a state of relaxation since we’re using only one muscle (the diaphragm). Try these steps for some Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing:
- place one hand on chest, and the other on your belly
- ground your feet on the floor
- focus on your rib cage and belly expanding as you breathe in
- breathe out through your mouth – long, loud exhale
C. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
We carry chronic stress in our bodies without realizing that we have tension and eventually get used to it. PMR involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in our body; reminding us what relaxation feels like. Here’s how to try it out:
- focus on a targeted muscle group and the change in sensation of your body
- inhale + tighten muscles, focusing on the tension
- exhale + relax your muscles, releasing the tension
D. Cognitive Reframing
This is a helpful tool when a particularly invasive thought is affecting us. When we feel emotionally and physically calm (after our right brain has calmed), then we can work with the left part of our brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for making logical decisions and resides in the left part of our brain; we can harness it to restore and maintain calm.
Some fun facts:
- 80% of our daily thoughts are negative, irrational
- 85% of what we worry about never comes true
Given these numbers, we can rebalance our thoughts to better manage stress.
Think about something that is causing you stress; hold the thought, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it 100% true – and is this particular thought in the past or future?
- Does this take into account multiple perspectives?
- Would you say this to someone you love when they are in distress?
- How can I remove this thought to eliminate emotional distress?
Remember that you cannot control or look into the past or future.
Here is an example of a distressing thought that we can reframe:
- “This is the worst year of my life and I will not recover from the impact of COVID-19”
We can reframe this thought to:
- “This year has been full of challenges and uncertainty, but I have been and will continue to be resilient. The impact of COVID-19 has taught me the value of health and social connection. “
Thanks for joining us for this blog. See the links below for further resources and videos in this series.
Resources and Other Videos in the Series
See other videos in the series
Video 2 examines “Tools for Parents/Caregivers to Support Children”
Video 3 focuses on Caring for Yourself and Building Resilience
Video 4 explores “What is Counselling Really Like & How Can It Benefit You?”