Choose Your Response: Keeping Calm in Anxious Times

It can be hard to keep calm and positive in the midst of our current Coronavirus pandemic. If you are struggling with worry and stress, know that there are steps you can take to feel calmer and more resilient through this stressful time…

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In difficult times, such as the ones we are all currently experiencing, one of the hardest challenges can be dealing with uncertainty and the sudden lack of control over our own lives and events.

Some of us may be worried about catching Coronavirus – or  Covid-19 – while at the same time trying to work out what we’ll do to keep our children entertained and busy if schools close (if they haven’t already). We may be concerned about how we are going to survive financially, especially if we are self-employed or run our own businesses. Or we may be feeling upset about having to cancel holidays or special events like weddings and other family celebrations.

It is hard to manage these worries at the best of times, not least without having to deal with a global pandemic.

The advice may be to Keep Calm and Carry On but how do we actually achieve that? Telling yourself to stay calm is like accidentally cutting yourself on a sharp object and telling yourself not to bleed.

The simple truth is, life will always throw challenges our way; this is something we will never have control over, however much we feel we do. What we can control, however, and what can help us stay calm and more resilient, is how we choose to respond.

 

Reaction Versus Response

When we’re in the grip of a powerful emotion like fear or anger, it may feel as if we have no choice or control over our thoughts and feelings whatsoever. But we do.

How people have responded to the Coronavirus pandemic is a case in point.  On one hand we see people rushing to the supermarkets and panic buying toilet roll and soap. On the other there are people rallying together to form community groups to look after the elderly and vulnerable in our society. Two very different ways of dealing with potential threat.

A completely natural response to perceived danger is the stress response – fight, flight or freeze. Our bodies and brains are hardwired that way and, for the survival of the species, have to be.  However, our brains have a difficult time deciding what is real and what is perceived threat – danger is danger to the brain. It’s black and white.

But whereas panic may be our brain’s first automatic response, what comes next is completely within our control, however much it doesn’t feel like it.  And that is: we can choose how we act.

 

How to stay calm when all around us feels overwhelming

Every day we face a constant barrage of external stimuli – from people, situations, the news, the weather, our environments, the list goes on. Without us even being conscious of it, these external stimuli trigger a thought, which leads to a feeling which leads to an action, This is called a Looping Thought pattern – the diagram below shows how it works.

Keep calm in anxious times - choose your response

By understanding our own Looping Thought patterns, we can break the negative cycle of fear, stress and anxiety.

When we pause to examine our thoughts, feelings and actions, we can re-wire our own ingrained responses to stressful situations and choose better, more positive thoughts and feelings which lead to healthier actions. This results in a positive feedback loop, as calmer actions then calm the body’s stress response leading to calmer thoughts and feelings. Instantly,  this creates greater resilience and stronger coping mechanisms.

If you are struggling to stay calm in times of panic,  uncertainty and stress, try this simple exercise.

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A Calmer Response Exercise

1. Trigger: Take a piece of paper and write down what has happened – the event/person/situation – to cause you to feel stressed or anxious.
eg: reading an alarming headline about the spread of coronavirus.

2. Thought: Then write down the thought this trigger had created.
eg: What if we all have to self-isolate. What if the shops run out of supplies? What if my business suffers?

3. Feeling: Write down the feeling that follows this thought.
eg: fear, anxiety – include the physical symptoms that accompany these feelings.

4. Action: Then make a list of what you usually do next after you’ve had this thought and feeling.
eg: Start to panic, google Coronavirus symptoms, and read more news articles looking for reassurance but which only makes me feel worse.

5. How can I respond differently? Now think of a more positive action you can take following the thought and feeling.
eg: Informing yourself (getting the right information from official sources so you are prepared instead of feeling panic); distracting yourself (reading, listening to music, doing some exercise); comforting yourself (making a cup of herbal tea, chatting with a friend); or being proactive (thinking of positive ways to respond to the situation).

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Once you have thought about more positive actions you can choose to take in response to events or situations that usually cause anxiety or stress, visualise yourself taking these actions. Close your eyes and rehearse how you will act differently, what you will say that’s different to what you usually say, and what steps you will take to stop the negative thoughts and feelings in their tracks.

This takes practise. Changing old habits of behaviour is just like changing or stopping any habit. Practise, be patient and be kind to yourself.

If anxiety or panic is becoming an issue for you and interfering with your daily life, please get in touch to discuss how Rapid Transformational Therapy can help.

 

Additional Resources:

This Simple Breathing Tip Helps Reduce Anxiety
Inner Calm Meditation
UK Government information – Coronavirus information
World Health Organisation – Coronavirus information

Try the Inner Calm Meditation

Banish the stresses of the day and unlock inner calm and balance. This 15-minute guided meditation is designed to calm frayed nerves and soothe the body’s stress response, allowing you to  slip into your own personal inner oasis of peace and calm.


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