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  • Grace Stevens

Handling anxiety throughout COVID times

What is anxiety? Physically, there may be an increase in heartbeat, sweating, an upset stomach, an inability to focus or concentrate, a need to fidget, difficulty sleeping, or overall uneasiness and an unsettling feeling. Ultimately, anxiety begins as an emotional response to a perceived threat. The reason one may then experience the physical response within their body is because the limbic system or fear activation area of the brain has been triggered. Our brain then releases an array of hormones that prepare the rest of the body for physically responding to a threatening situation. These hormones would prompt us to respond appropriately if faced with a dangerous threat such as running away from a bear in the wilderness and escaping danger.

However, after we have escaped the danger, our body must be able to regulate itself back down to a baseline level, lowering the heart rate and decreasing the output of the muscles and organs. If one remains in a continuous state of perceived threat, the body is unable to return back down to its baseline and the activated hormones become overloaded to dangerous and unhealthy levels for the body.

2020 has been a year of uncertainty with threat lurking around at every turn. This threat is not visible to us, like the wild animal confronting us in the wilderness. It is invisible, potentially hiding on any area surface or nearing body. However. remaining in a constant state of hypervigilance against this threat is actually diminishing our body’s own natural ability to fight off this invisible virus, if it were to attack. The fear-based body will have overload itself to the point that it could no longer properly respond or be prepared. It’s as if you’ve been running from the bear day after day, but you’re not even sure that the bear is still there, nor do you have the energy to keep running.

In order to be properly prepared for the actual threat of Covid-19, we need to develop a life style that allows time and space for our parasympathetic system to kick in and return our body back to a baseline state of relaxation after feeling threatened. The first thing that we can do is eliminate the amount of content we take in each day. Watching the news and accessing information regarding the current status of the threat is going to activate and intensify the fear response system in the brain. Though it’s important to be educated on the issue in front of us, it’s equally important to regulate the balance of our own system in processing this information. After setting this time each day or week where you hear the current updates on COVID, make time for yourself to process what it means for you and your life. When the brain is responding emotionally to threat and fear, the frontal lobe that helps us to use logic and reason is disabled. Therefore, a person is unable to problem solve or think rationally at the same time.

In order to effectively make it through these times of uncertainty, we need to take the space to push a reset button in our lives. Some options would be to do some form of regular physical activity, which helps boost the serotonin in your brain, enhances mood, and promotes better quality of sleep. Another option is to create a space that is soothing and uplifting to your wellbeing, burning a comforting candle, listening to music, or finding a creative outlet through cooking, landscaping, drawing, painting, or poetry. Self-care is individualistic to each person. However, we sometimes misconstrue it as a means of being selfish or indulgent.

In order to counter balance, the amount of negative information that can overwhelm and overload us, we need to expose ourselves to more or at least, as much positive and stimulating input. Unfortunately, at this time, the positive and inspiring stories are not given the same spotlight, as the stories that create a sense of threat and fear. We are therefore left to our own devises of creating this positive counterbalance on our own. Our media outlets lead us to believe that if we are not worrying then we are not actually prepared or responding appropriately. When in actuality, our worry itself is eliminating our ability to find solutions, be proactive, and prepare our immune system for actual exposure. Instead of doubting our ability to cope and recover, we must recognize that our body is designed to take care and protect itself. Instead of leading yourself to belief that you will not be prepared unless you tune into every update on Covid or remain in a perpetual state of worry, recognize that setting boundaries with the content you intake and promoting your own self-care will assist you in overcoming any threat headed your way.

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