The novel coronavirus is not only affecting our physical health but also our mental health. This pandemic has created an environment of uncertainty for people all over the world. Research suggests, the human brain is particularly vulnerable to uncertainty. This uncertainty causes feelings of fear, anxiety and worry. In this scenario, what do we need to do to calm ourselves and our anxieties?
First, we should admit that our mindset has now shifted from ‘living’ our lives to ‘surviving’ this pandemic. Our brains have become accustomed to look for danger. Refer to Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory; if the brain stops perceiving threats prior to reacting, we won’t be able to survive.
The fight-or-flight response
The brain usually responds to threat by shutting down the logical prefrontal cortex, and activating the amygdala – an emotional, fear center of the brain. With the amygdala activated, our bodies are in survival mode – our fight or flight response kicks in. Chemicals such as cortisol are released in our body which increases our heartbeat and makes our muscles tense. This reaction prepares our body and mind to run, as we become more focused on the danger at hand.
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Similarly, the complex interaction between our brain and mind, is diverting our attention towards the information related to the coronavirus.
In the prevailing crisis, physical escape isn’t possible. This leads to anxiety and even paranoia. When the amygdala takes over (referred to as an amygdala hijack) – our behaviour becomes impulsive and irrational and sometimes even selfish. For instance, realistically we know there is no need for hoarding and consuming more food, but unconsciously due to the fear, we’ve become involved in this practice.
With our brain suffering from amygdala hijack, our bodies full of cortisol and our mind in hypervigilance – all our emergency response buttons have been pushed. Hence, our mind is trying to regain some control. In this quest for control whilst our rationality has escaped, we tend to make fear-driven decisions that can make things worse. In such circumstances, our thinking becomes restricted to ourselves and our near and dear ones.
Fighting our anxieties
The take-away from the above is that now we need to learn to calm ourselves, calm our anxieties – move from a fight or flight response to a rest and digest response. To do this, we need to first accept that these are unusual times and we are not alone in it.
Other methods include:
- Deep breathing
- Taking a walk, sitting out in your garden, roof or terrace
- Exercise and engage in healthy activities
- Practice mindfulness
- Start a gratitude diary
- Stay connected with your loved ones
- Consult a counsellor just to vent or learn more about fighting anxiety.
Many similar methods help us calm our amygdala. As a result, in pandemics, we need to think about more than just us – we need to focus on our community at large and do our bit to help and support those in need. This can happen only when our mind and brain is calm so we can take informed decisions. Remember, we need each other to pull through this successfully.
Falak Zehra Mohsin is Founder & Counselor at Holistic Minds (Facebook page:@H0listicMinds), Visiting Faculty at IBA (Karachi). Twitter: @Falak_Z_M. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.