So many people are experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression due to all of the chaos in the world right now, feeling like they might be getting misinformation, not knowing who to trust, unsure of the future and completely helpless. Panicking and buying more food and supplies than they need, criticizing others for the choices they make and their opinions, some people even rebelling and getting angry that they can’t go to their favorite restaurant or buy the things they want at the store.
These reactions are highly emotional, frightening and distressing. But it’s important right now, maybe more than ever, that we realize that our heightened feelings are a result of unresolved memories and traumatic events from our past. When we go into panic mode our brains and bodies don’t realize that we are not in imminent danger. The fight, flight, and freeze responses are automatic. When we panic, or even shut down our pre-frontal cortex goes offline. That means our fear is the only thing in charge of our executive functioning.
Think about that. We are literally putting fear in the driver’s seat.
When our pre-frontal cortex is offline, when we are overly anxious or depressed because of this uncertain landscape in front of us, we don’t have access to any of the adaptive information that we’ve learned throughout our lives. The information that helps us navigate the world. We’ve all had difficult experiences that we’ve been able to come out of on the other side with more knowledge and internal resources than we had before. That knowledge is inaccessible to us when we are being driven by fear.
Please take a moment to remember the earliest time you’ve felt this way… It is very likely it was when you were a child. Children are mostly helpless, unable to care for themselves, completely reliant on authority figures to care for them and provide them with accurate information. They don’t have choices. Now as adults we are being sent back to re-live those childlike feelings of helplessness, hurt and disappointment in those we depend on.
As adults we have choices, resources, skills and experiences that tell us that we will get through this, and be smarter and stronger on the other side. The way to get out of the panic mode is to ground yourself in the moment. Ask yourself how old you are, and say the answer out loud. Look around the room and find 4 things that are your favorite color. Say your phone number backwards out loud. These might seem like silly exercises but they are the way to take back the driver’s seat and navigate through this using all of the adaptive learning you’ve done through your lifetime.
When you are triggered again and begin to feel distress, notice it, acknowledge it, understand it’s part of you that wants to be heard. Pushing it down, getting angry with it, or ignoring it will not help. You can invite your distress to come along with you, but make sure it sits in the backseat. Let it be your yoga partner, or take deep breaths with you. Remind it that you are a grown adult and that you’ve got this.