If you are not already aware, we are facing a global crisis with Covid19 sweeping across our world infecting numerous people and causing thousands of deaths. We are hearing updates each day on the spread and increase of more and more infected; while seeing the impact on us financially with stock markets plunging, and often the need to not work because we need to self-isolate. The other impact of the Covid19 pandemic is that of what might be going on psychologically for people. We are seeing human behavior that is unusual such as hoarding toilet paper as the first thing that people can think about buying. We are seeing people making decisions like punching a cashier because they put restrictions on the amount of toilet paper people can take.
There is no doubt that there is a feeling of panic, fear and anxiety sweeping across our world and there are a number of things that we should be aware of when we are in a state of crisis.
The first thing that comes to mind in regards to fear and anxiety is what is actually going on in the brain, which would explain why many are doing irrational things like stockpiling toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Something that I like to tell people is that our bodies our made to respond to threats and if we imagine ourselves in prehistoric times coming across a sabretooth tiger, chances are our instincts will kick in. This is where we have a release of cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine to kick us into fight, flight, or freeze mode. What happens next is that the prefrontal cortex, the place that takes care of logical decision making, and our executive functioning or our “air traffic control system” that plans and executes goes slightly offline and the amygdala kicks in to fight, flight or freeze mode. This part of our brain functions when there is a threat and can help us when we really do need to fight, flight or freeze. This part of our brain is actually good because it helps us to kick into high gear when we are under threat. In fact when our brain kicks in so fast to respond to threat we sometimes call it the lizard brain, because the lights of logic and reason go out and its all primitive.
This can be great when we really need it. Unfortunately as of recently it seems that because people have not experienced such a threat to their life, livelihood, comforts, finances, stocks, health, safety, fill in the blank________, they are responding in ways that seem so weird to us. I wonder though, if it really is that primitive, survival brain kicking in. I wonder if its people who are experiencing levels of fear that they may have never had to face before.
So why toilet paper?
There are a few thoughts on this matter. Have you ever had a bathroom dream, where you cannot make it to the bathroom, or you make it and you run out of toilet paper. This is an anxiety dream that many of us have had. Toilet paper is one of those things that in North America you may wonder how you will survive without it. It is generally something people need daily and essentially we could see it as vital to our survival…I wonder if this might be one of the most important things people see for their survival. If I have toilet paper, somehow I feel safe and secure. If I don’t, there is urgency, I am uncomfortable, messy, out of control, anxious.
What is toilet paper a symbol of? If I don’t have it, I am not safe.
What I suggest is that people are in anxiety mode where there survival instincts are kicking into overdrive, that they are not thinking clearly so they are making decisions that are not helpful to them self or anyone else. We are seeing reactions of fear and panic, with not a lot of rational thinking.
Something that we have to be careful with is how we are responding to a pandemic. If we are responding with fear and anxiety, we will all be running for the toilet paper, but if we take a step back and breath, follow protocols and balance our fear with some self-care strategies to reduce our body’s response to threat, we are going to be in a better place for ourselves and for everyone else. We have to understand that while it is normal to have feelings of worry, fear, and anxiety, that our bodies need a break from the constant surge of stress hormones.
1. 4-7-8 Breathing: one of the ways we can reduce the stress in our body is to take some breaths. This technique of breathing is when you take a breath in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds and release for 8. One of the reasons why we release for 8 seconds is because when we release longer than the in breathe we can actually release oxytocin, which is the connection hormone. The in breath activates the sympathetic nervous system which helps us to get enough air so we can exert energy, get oxygen to the brain and muscles. The out breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is the brakes and helps us to relax.
2. Inform ourselves of the facts: When we can remind ourselves of the facts and rationalize what is truth, from what we fear will happen and the what if’s of what is not yet happened, we can turn the logical part of our brain back on again. A straightforward and informed place to access the latest scientific and up to date information is the World Health Organization.
3. Be mindful of what you are filling your mind with: How much news are you watching? What negative thoughts are coming into your mind. Can you put a limit to how much you are focusing on the current events?
4. Taking a vacation in your mind: Sometimes I tell people to imagine themselves in a peaceful place and take in the 5 senses. What are 5 things you can see, what are 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, 1 things you can taste. Is there anyone else in this image. We can do a lot with our imaginations.
5. Mindfulness: this is a buzz word and literally means being in the present moment, on purpose without judgment. This does not mean we are thinking about past or future, but taking the moment to notice what is right before you. This could mean taking 10 minutes while you drink your coffee to notice the smell, the taste, the texture, the enjoyment that comes from it, the relaxation you find in this routine.Notice how your body feels as you drink it and relax. This could be mindfully eating, or going for a walk. When you have a Covid thought, simply acknowledge it and bring your attention back to your task. For the month of April we are running a FREE 4-week online connect groups on mindfulness. Check it out here.
6. Talk it out: Talking to a therapist can help you as a way of exploring the fears, anxieties, or core beliefs that this might be triggering for you? What is this season stirring up for you? what are you afraid of? being able to talk about these emotions with a professional can be beneficial in this time. The last thing you need is to talk it out with someone who is not going to validate you for how you are feeling. It can help to have an outside support who can offer therapeutic guidance. Band Together Community is offering FREE online groups to connect with counsellors for the month of April. Check it out here and register to attend!
7. Share your story and connect: Share your story anonymously, while also engaging in conversation with others who may be going through the same thing.
8. Get Exercise: Go for a run, a walk, some kind of vigorous exercise to move your body and get endorphins going.
9. Writing in a Journal: Some of the best country songs were written out of a place of feeling low, out of control, or dealing with uncertainty. Writing is a good way of processing your feelings.