Sometimes, it’s just all too much.
If we only knew that the end was in sight, that by X date life would return to normal, that work would resume, income would flow again, stores and schools would open, that you’d be able to tear off that wretched mask, hold your family and friends close, not be at risk of imminent death-by-Covid-19, well, it wouldn’t be so awful.
Because, you see, it’s our fear that holds us hostage. Our fear – whether conscious or not, whether realistic or not that this will never end – will kill us faster than any virus.
Fear underlies anxiety or stress, panic and anger. It’s what is often at the root of depression. Fear has sometimes been accurately described as “false evidence appearing real,” but in this circumstance, too much of our fear is real.
With that, our anxiety levels are pushed up higher and higher, to where anxiety can seriously interfere with our ability to cope emotionally/mentally as well as impact our immune systems adversely.
As we all know by now, those whose immune systems are weaker are at greater risk from the complications of Covid-19, so anything you can do to strengthen your immune system is to your benefit.
Diminishing your anxiety level to where it won’t damage your body’s ability to fight off infection is a prime way of enhancing your immune system.
Along with practicing good self-care by being vigilant about your eating habits (resisting the urge to graze through our fridge hourly), exercising daily (wielding the remote does not qualify as exercise), and not indulging in substance abuse of any kind (even if it is 5:00 pm somewhere), here are some practical, easy to implement techniques that can help reduce your anxiety.
First of all, breathe. Fear kicks our thinking brain right out of our minds and lets our emotional angst take over. You can’t function properly, much less cope with a challenging situation, when emotion overrides your thinking brain.
So, at the first inkling of an anxious or fearful thought, which usually contains the words “what if,” take three deep breaths. Slowly. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of three, exhale on a count of four.
Focus deliberately on the breath coming into your body, feel it filling your lungs, then feel your breath as it leaves on your exhale.
If you can, breathe in through your nose, and exhale through your mouth as that way you can feel the difference between the breath coming in through your nostrils and the one exhaling through your mouth. Repeat this process two more times.
What you will have achieved is what we psychologists call a “pattern interrupt.” You will have interrupted the pattern of anxious or fearful thoughts long enough to get your thinking brain in gear and calmed your body at the same time.
The calmer your body, the better your cardiovascular system will operate, the better your body will be oxygenated, and the less cortisol and other “emergency” chemicals will be coursing through your veins.
Another way of achieving a “pattern interrupt” is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness may sound complicated, but it is summarized in deliberately and fully focusing on something.
For example, I can deliberately and fully focus on the cushion on my couch by carefully looking at its design pattern, by noticing the colors someone chose to use in its creation, by observing how the edges are sewn.
I can notice whether the cushion is plump or thin, how it sits on the couch, and many other aspects. I can do all this without judging or criticizing.
I can use anything my eye lights on as an exercise in mindfulness. My preferred subjects are my dogs and potted plants. Yours can be whatever catches your eye, as long as you observe without judging.
With either or both of these techniques, what you’ve done is shifted your focus off of any anxious or fearful thoughts. You can feel your whole body relax and reset itself and thus ease off its flight-or-fight response which, when held too long, is an impediment to the vitality of your immune system.
No, we don’t know how much longer this Covid-19 state of affairs will be with us. But the more we can take care of ourselves as best we know how, the better we will all come through it.
What anxiety-reducing techniques have helped you? Have you found your anxiety level higher during the Covid-19 shutdown? Please share with our community!