By Kim Douglas, MS, LPCC | Outpatient Therapist | The Village Family Service Center
Nonstop news and headlines about the coronavirus, mass disruptions to our schedules, sold out shelves of toilet paper, water, and flu meds have many of us on edge. This is understandable. “Social contagion” is the spread of emotion, like anxiety, from one person to another.
When we are stressed or anxious, it’s difficult for our brains to absorb any facts, much less decipher fact from fiction, and we go into survival mode. Intellectual information doesn’t register because we are running away from danger. When our brains perceive safety, our brain can “come back online” so to speak.
When we’re anxious, our brains aren’t set up to store new information. It’s like saltwater – we are thirsty for more information, but the more we drink, the thirstier we get. And the cycle of anxiety continues.
Knowing this about our brains (and about anxiety) is a good start in helping ourselves during these trying times.
Then, we need to ground ourselves, take a few conscious, deep breaths. Practice mindfulness. A good way to do this is to consciously feel your feet on the ground. Go ahead and do that right now. Pay attention to how they feel in your shoes. Are your feet hot? Cold? Comfortable in those shoes you picked today? Notice the wind on your face or the cold on your cheek. If you’re inside, how does your face feel right now? Listen to the sounds in your office or home, or wherever you are right now for 30 seconds. What can you hear that you never noticed before? Can you hear the sound of the furnace or a floorboard cracking? Are people laughing or talking? Is there a tick or clack you never heard before?
After you’ve done a few of these things, have you noticed that you stopped thinking about your worries, your fears, the coronavirus? This is the beauty of mindfulness and of training your brain to shut off. Your brain CAN be trained. You CAN shut off the worries and the anxiety. Practice these mindfulness techniques as often as you need to; several times a day, several times a week … whatever suits your needs.
Give your brain a break! Shut the news off. Call a friend who makes you laugh. DO NOT go on social media! Watch a funny show. Read a book. Listen to your favorite music. Set a designated time each day that you will check in with the news for an update. Once a day; that’s it. Then assign yourself a designated “worry half-hour” or “worry hour” if you need a little more time. And then decide, that’s it for today. Tomorrow, you can worry more at the same time, but for today you’re done.
Then go find that fiction book you’ve been meaning to read. And take some deep breaths. Don’t forget that.
Kim Douglas, MS, LPCC is a solution-focused, dig-in-and-get-it-done farm girl from Foley, Minnesota. She graduated from Saint Cloud State University with a bachelor's degree and enjoyed a 17-year career as a radio broadcaster before going back to get her master's degree in Mental Health and Addiction Counseling at the University of Mary. She now provides outpatient counseling services at The Village's Fargo office.