Shirley Marais Counselling Service BedfordTherapeutic Counsellor
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COVID19 AND ANXIETY

ANXIETY is really hitting people in the UK right now. I wanted to do a quick post to help understand why this is. It is really important to understand what anxiety is because once you do, that is the first step to working with it.

The body is designed to become anxious. It has been a survival mechanism ever since human beings walked the earth and is likely to be around for as long as human beings walk the earth. You won't be able to eradicate it because when in control of it, it is useful and you don't want it to go anywhere even if you think you do.

The body is designed to become anxious when there is threat to life - when there is a risk of dying. Well right now in this current health crisis there is reason to feel threat to life. The virus can be a threat to life.

However, our brains will also be responding to other perceived threats to life. 'Perceived' is the word to be honing in on here. Many of us will be becoming anxious about other things right now - we have to stop and think whether these things are an actual threat to life because if they aren't then anxiety has no business being present because it will stop you making rational and logical decisions and here is why.....

We have two parts to our brain - a front brain (the computer) and a back brain (the old brain). When we slip into an anxiety response, our computer shuts down. This is the place where logical, rational thinking happens. When anxious this thinking will shut down. When we are trying to survive an actual threat to life, we don't need to be thinking at depth, we need to be surviving. Our old brain takes over - this is very good at getting us our of danger and threat to life by using the fight and flight mechanism (it is also useful to know that there are two other Fs - freeze and flop). This mechanism will shut down vital bodily functions, for example, digesting food (is why we might be sick - or the other end - when anxious as is the body's way of getting rid of food so it doesn't waste energy on digestion) or our reproductive system will shut down (no need to be making babies when we are fighting for survival). This mechanism will increase our senses - we will see better, hear better, smell better etc. It will also blast our bodies with adrenalin - that butterfly feeling you get when anxious - the adrenal glands are in that area and they are pumping adrenalin. Out heart will beat faster to get oxygen to our extremities ready us for fighting or fleeing. You have to agree - it's an amazing biological function, all geared up for survival.

However, it becomes a problem when anxiety kicks in because we perceive a threat to life when we aren't in danger of actually dying. If we are in a situation that is stressful or feels overwhelming but there is no actual IMMEDIATE threat to life then we can allow our computer to be online. We need to tell anxiety that it has no purpose right now (almost thank it for trying to protect you but ask it to leave for the time being) so that we can use our computer to rationally and logically think things through. This won't happen if we allow the anxiety to take over.

The breath is an amazing thing. It sounds so simple but just by simply taking deep controlled breaths (in for count of 7 out for count of 11) we are taking control of the anxiety at a biological level. This in turn means that once we have calmed our body we can then use our computer to decide what to do and how to approach something. But we have to remember to breathe in the first place.

Having a coping tool kit to help relax us and keep calm when anxiety is not needed is useful. I wonder what might be in yours. I have my cats, my dogs, my books, a walk, exercise, cooking, baking, talking to someone, my own counsellor. Some have a cup of tea, baking, rescue remedy and other things like this. It's important that the toolkit contain 'healthy' things so excessive alcohol, drugs, controlled eating, self-harm can exacerbate and make the anxiety worse even if perceived as a coping tool in that moment.

I also find giving anxiety some kind of physical form (what does it look like. Is it human? A different more fictional form? What colour? What features? Does it speak, if so what does it sound like? Does it have a smell? When anxiety appears we can visualise this and ask it for evidence of being there. Cross-examine it as if it is in the dock of a courtroom. If it can't give you evidence we need to thank it for trying to protect us and send it on it's way. Where would you like to send it I wonder?


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