In times of stress or traumatic events (and the pandemic does constitute a very real and powerful threat) our natural reaction is to well…react! This isn’t a moral failing of will; this is due to our limbic cortex—a structure of the brain responsible for our “fight, flight or freeze” response. Although we’ve evolved, our brain stem is the same anatomy present in the brains of our earliest ancestors.
We’ve evolved as higher thinking humans because of our prefrontal cortex. It’s the part of our brain that is responsible for our more adaptive ability to reason, calm ourselves and think straight. Unfortunately, this evolutionary upgrade is also one of the first parts to go “off-line” under extreme duress. When we experience stress or threat the primal fear response hijacks our ability to think straight and reason.
Many who are experiencing an increase in stress and trauma may be reacting to what feels imminently threatening—as if life will end tomorrow. The difficulty here is that, for some, it is real. For others, that threat feels real, but is not as imminent as they perceive. Knowing the difference between what is highly stressful versus imminently life threatening calms our fear and restores balanced thinking. Therein lies the problem; the pandemic is a global reality and for some, a strong enough and powerful enough reason to perceive imminent threat.
Knowing the difference between what is highly stressful versus imminently life threatening calms our fear and restores balanced thinking.
The job of our fear response to threat is to warn us of danger. Being mindful and taking a pause allows us to remember that although we feel very scared, we are likely going to be here tomorrow.
Fear based energy needs to be discharged. Spending money for immediate gratification (unless it is buying you an instant jaunt on a treadmill) will only momentarily calm your thinking but do nothing to discharge energy. In fact, the reverse is true.
Compulsive spending creates more duress and stress down the road—as does excessive eating, gambling, compulsive sexual behaviors or other pleasure seeking activities. These activities activate and stimulate our reward system. In addition, they only deliver the hope of calm but do little to facilitate calm in your system.
What To Do?
- Do jumping jacks, deep squats in place, push-ups, or run on a treadmill, if you have one. Engage in some physical exertion to discharge energy created by your nervous system. It’s healthy, brings oxygen to your brain, helps calm the nervous system, and restores thinking.
- Jump on a call or video-based 12 Step meeting to help with compulsive or addictive behaviors. It will help your brain to stay in the moment and center yourself. Meditation, yoga, deep stretching exercises are important and valuable ways to calm your overreaction.
The vast majority of humans will live through the pandemic. You chose to read this article. Why? Because, there is a strong part of you that does believe you will get through this time and be here tomorrow. That is the logical part of your thinking that is balancing the more reactive and emotional reaction. Good job!