It is only natural for anxiety to elevate in the current situation with coronavirus, or COVID-19. After all, many worries far extend the virus. There are several things to understand, however, to prevent fear from controlling your life choices, and instead transform fear in ways that boost your sense of self, health and wellbeing.
1. Know the symptoms of anxiety and panic as disorders
Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety or social phobia, consist of intense, excessive and persistent worry about everyday situations, and these feelings of anxiety and panic are characteristically out of proportion to the actual danger, and they interfere with daily activities, for example, causing avoidance of certain places or situations in attempt to control anxious feelings.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety disorder include:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling weak or tired
- Thinking and concentration is disabled by worrisome thoughts
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worrisome thoughts
- Cope by avoiding things that trigger anxiety
Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense and irrational fear that can cause the body’s survival response to produce physical reactions seemingly without apparent cause or danger. Many have a panic attack or two in their lifetimes, and the problem goes away when a stressful situation ends. When panic attacks reoccur, and interfere with daily living, i.e., job, education, relationships, the symptoms may meet the criteria for a panic disorder.
In addition to the above symptoms, panic attacks typically also include the following:
- Fear of loss of control or death
- Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
2. Understand healthy fear versus “irrational” fear
There is a key difference between “healthy fear” and fear experienced in anxiety or panic disorder. First, it must be said, however, that fear or stress in itself are vital to building resiliency, growing courage, strength, awareness. At low levels, when the stress hormone cortisol is released into the blood stream, it can boost your awareness, clarify thinking, prompt you to take action or precautionary measures.
Your amazing body naturally releases a higher level of cortisol every morning, for example, just to motivate you to get out of bed with some sense of purpose or goals. Humans are hardwired to seek to meaningfully connect, contribute, and make the most of each day
In other words, healthy levels of fear serve to guide, teach, push you out of old comfort zones, consider taking new actions, etc. Fear is a great companion, a guide and teacher, and at some level takes part in all creative endeavors and transformation, expanding our capacity beyond limitations, discovering miracle-making capacities you’d questioned.
In contrast, elevated and intense fear, when prolonged, is held in place by spiraling-loop “irrational thinking” patterns, characteristic in all anxiety disorders, panic or phobia. Irrational thoughts are ones that activate feelings of powerlessness, and desperate actions that may temporarily lower fear, such as avoidance, but make the overall pattern worse.
And that’s the difference between healthy and irrational fear! Healthy fears prompt you to take actions that grow your resiliency, and stretch your capacity to deal with stress in the future. In contrast, irrational fear can lead to toxic thinking and beliefs, such as catastrophizing or fear of rejection based on inadequacy.
How do you know fear is out of proportion to the actual danger? When the level of cortisol released in your bloodstream clouds you ability to think clearly, make decisions, and take optimal actions on what you can control. That’s never true. You are not your thoughts. You are the producer, director and creator of your thoughts — or you could be, if you really, really want to be — and you knew and understood that, as a human being, you’re totally wired with everything you need to make this possible. It’s just a breath away.
3. Get to know the two modes of your brain and body
Your brain and body have two operating modes, depending on whether your autonomic nervous system is in “learning mode” (parasympathetic division); or “survival mode” (sympathetic division).
Your subconscious mind tunes in to your interpretive beliefs and thinkingare perceptions that interpret the events in your life. What you say to yourself repeated, to your subconscious mind, is true. It’s true because the subconscious cannot tell the difference between what is real and what you imagine. Your body’s autonomic nervous system listens attentively to your thoughts 24/7, a fact you cannot change; it’s how your brain and body are wired.
Consider the following. If you were a snake handler or a lion tamer, for example, you would have beliefs that allow you to handle snakes or wild cats without triggering your survival reaction. You’d be able to perform what you do, and maintain your body and mind in relaxation mode, or the brain’s “learning mode.” For most of us, however, even the sight of a snake nearby (outside a glass enclosure) would likely activate the body’s “survival mode,” right?
The brain and body are always primarily in one mode or the other. Your body’s autonomic nervous system listens attentively to your thoughts 24/7, a fact you cannot change; it’s how your brain and body are wired. When the cells of your body are eavesdropping on your inner self-talk, your subconscious is tuning in on what is thinks is factual information about what is going on around you.
Your thoughts and emotions are wired to work together. Emotions are molecules of energy that move the human body’s autonomic nervous system in one of two overall directions, either safety and love or anxiety and fear. In other words, they either keep the body energized to remain in overall feel-good (love-based) emotions or overall feel-bad (fear-based) emotions. When you feel safe, you feel loved, and vice versa, when you feel loved, you feel safe, and when you do your body releases higher levels of the love and safety hormone, oxytocin, to let you know that you do. This hormone has a healthful nourishing effect on the cell of your body.
In sum, stress is not the problem. The quick fix ways of “coping” with stress that you habitually learned are the problem. Whenever a stressor appears, for your protection and defense, your subconscious mind automatically reacts with an old programmed reaction.
Thoughts are more than airy pieces of information that enter our minds and then disappear. The words we think or speak are energy. They produce emotions and feeling sensations. Feelings are energy. Together, they energize action, or immobilize. They have the power to activate neurochemical changes inside, and thus can have a profound effect on our ability to achieve the goals that we’ve set.
In part 3, a list of 10 tips to take the reins of lowering fear and boosting your sense of self, health, and immunity.