It’s hard to escape the coronavirus updates, especially when it’s talked about all over the media. As much as it’s important to stay healthy physically, it’s also important to stay healthy mentally—and not go into panic mode.
As a social being, you are conditioned by the environment to respond to changes in everyday circumstances. When those changes are registered as atypical and exceed the “normal” threshold, you may worry. When those changes take place without your control, you may become anxious. When you sense heightened levels of unpredictable change or experience an imminent threat, you may panic. It is important to stay physically healthy and use precautions; it is equally critical to develop healthy mental habits to support your emotional health.
Here are seven ways to not trip the panic button.
Take a Breath
Did you know that breathing and thoughts are connected? When you feel anxious and stressed out, your breathing becomes shallow and rapid, and occurs from your upper chest. Mindfully directing the breath can trigger the brain to reduce the number of anxious thoughts and restore wellness in minutes.
Begin by taking an extended deep breath from the belly and release it through your mouth for 4-6 rounds. This simple breathing exercise can bring attention to your body and trigger a rapid relaxation response.
Close the Chapter on Storytelling
Storytelling happens when one thought is connected to another thought; they are falsely categorized in the mind as fact. The mind generates more worrisome thoughts when they are assumed to be fact. Thoughts are linked together with memory and emotion. When connected together, they become a storyline. It can start with something like this: “The last time I ate dinner at that restaurant, I got a stomachache. It is possible they don’t use proper handwashing techniques. I need to avoid that restaurant now more than ever.”
Although there is a remote possibility, there is a correlation between the stomachache and the restaurant, it is more likely, however, that avoiding the restaurant is based on a fear associated to a negative memory. To close the chapter on storytelling, make a distinction between thought and fact.
Become Aware of Rapid-fire Questions
What if I have to travel for work? What if there is someone next to me on the plane who is coughing, do I move to another seat? Will they cancel the flight? What about a refund?
Do these questions sound familiar? Rapid-fire questions occur when there doesn’t seem to be a way to control an outcome. Restoring the sense of physical and emotional safety becomes paramount. Simply notice that you are asking several questions simultaneously. The act of noticing will help you step back, become aware, and feel safe again. Giving yourself the space to allow the presence of mind to guide you. You may decide to call the airlines to check for flexible travel, review the company’s protocols, or choose to discuss your options with a trusted source.
Reduce the Number of Conversations About Coronavirus
Everyone is talking about it. It is natural to vent because humans are socialized to “air out our problems.” You may think by doing so it can help you feel better; however, more times than not, it leads to more worry.
When you are pulled into a conversation that can increase your anxiety about this disease, ask yourself what purpose does continually talking about it serve? If it works to educate, inform, or take protective action, it is helpful. If it does not, what are other proactive ways to help support yourself and the other person?
Become Selective About the News
The 24/7 news broadcasts are overstimulating. They create a sense of urgency. “Stay tuned” messages from the media are a way to signal that you stick around for further analysis, Q&A and more statistics that heighten anxiety.
Unless you are directed to stay on top of the news in your area by state officials, due to a state of emergency, or other directives by your state or government (or health care provider) turning off the news for a few hours can help you de-stimulate the brain.
Take 5-10 minutes to mindfully journal. Within a few minutes, you will notice that your head begins to settle down.
Simply write down the flurry of thoughts running through your mind and circle only the ones that are facts. Now, highlight those that are simply thoughts or storylines as described earlier. The act of writing often discharges pent-up emotion and allows for a cathectic release of energy.
Take Time to Meditate
Meditation is key to de-stimulating the brain and resting the body. It allows you to bypass thoughts, trigger rapid healing and slip into a place of stillness. In essence, it allows your brain and body to rest and recharge at the same time. With regular meditation, your brain shifts out of the “fight and flight” response that is triggered in times of stress, and helps you to sort through situations with clarity and ease. Start setting aside a bit of time each day to meditate.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with the news about the coronavirus, seek sources that support your well-being and health. Acknowledge the prevention strategies you might already have in place, including the strategies offered by the CDC and health officials, and begin to give yourself permission to relax. You have complete control over your emotional outlook, thought by thought, instance by instance. As we learn to guide our own thoughts, the greater our control over our body-mind.