Remaining Calm In Anxious Times – How Caution, Not Panic, Serves Us
In times of uncertainty, many people will allow panic to rule them. They become caught in a destructive spiral of anxious rumination, often catastrophizing whatever situation(s) they find themselves faced with. While a certain degree of concern may be justified, some people find themselves so overwhelmed with worry that they can be destructive to themselves and to their relationships. Worst case scenario, or, “catastrophic thinking” shows up in many ways, and during times like the coronavirus pandemic, you may find it showing up in your own mind or in the thinking of those around you.
SEE ALSO: 3 Tips To Conquer Self-Doubt
An example of this kind of exaggerated panic could be when it takes longer than we were hoping to receive a response to a message we sent. When we sent the message, we wanted a response delivered in a certain tone within a certain time frame. However, if the response did not meet our hopes and expectations, we might feel threatened or fearful that the reason we did not receive a response from that person the exact way we wanted it was because of something that is painful to us.
Let’s say that message was sent to a romantic partner, and when they don’t text back, we become angry thinking they must be romantically involved with someone else. Maybe we become scared that they were in a fatal accident. Maybe we assume they were robbed, and their phone was taken from them or that they simply lost interest in us and decided to vanish.
Then, a response finally comes in, and we realize that they were held up in an important meeting, or left their phone at home, or were stuck on a flight at a different time than we expected. We realize our imaginations got the best of us, feel silly and try not to do it again, although many end up returning to the negative thought pattern that led them to their unnecessary state of anxiety. This is not to say dismiss instinct. We do have instincts that often serve us, but it’s necessary to distinguish instinctive concern from distorted dread.
Calm in the time of a pandemic: 8 things to remember
During the time of the Coronavirus outbreak, when we are assaulted daily with a slew of information that we may not completely understand and aren’t sure how to process, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with panic.
A barrage of what seems like all bad news is no pleasant thing to deal with, but it’s important to remember how to manage our emotions. Our health depends on us not unnecessarily exacerbating a situation, whether they be unexpected changes due to a pandemic or lapses in communication with our loved ones. The necessity of remaining calm, as individuals and as a society is important for our ability to function. Everything is connected. As our emotions break down, so does our physical health and overall wellness, so it is critical to put things into perspective so we can feel and be healthy, whatever we’re facing.
Of course, CDC regulations are in place for a reason. Caution during a time like this is important and we should act with consideration to ease the impact of the illness and respect our fellow humans. Caution could be considered awareness paired with reasonable, careful behavior. Panic, on the other hand, is hysteria. Unlike its grounded, intellectual counterpart caution, which assists us in maintaining our well-being, panic is an impractical, emotional ball of excited negativity, which actually detracts from our overall health. If you are magnifying frightening information about COVID-19 and feel overly panicked, remembering some of the following may help you maintain your cool:
1) You have total control over the most important thing
The only thing that we actually have control over is the way we react to things we cannot control.
If you are worried about those who have fallen ill, or those who may not have enough supplies and resources to last the duration of quarantine, or how the healthcare workers might hold up, you must understand that there are entities in place to take care of the things you can not. You may not hear about them or see them, but there are systems that exist to determine solutions and provide assistance in ways that you might be unable to. Trust that their work will be done and focus on doing the best work that you can do, which is to exercise your ability to release the need for control.
2) Someone qualified has control over the other important things
Have faith in something greater than yourself.
Our inability to understand everything about the systems put in place to handle particularly challenging situations may make us forget that there is something greater and more capable than us to handle things we are not qualified to handle. Have faith that, just as you are taking care of yourself, there is something larger and more capable than you, who will be taking care of the things outside of your scope.
3) Put your oxygen mask on before assisting others
The best way you can contribute to the good of society is making sure you are healthy. It’s important to remember that the greatest way you can help is to keep yourself calm and strong. If you are compromised, you will compromise those around you. We can only be good support systems to others if we, ourselves are stable, mentally and emotionally.
4) Obsessive worry is a program you choose
The more time you spend in negativity, the deeper you will be stuck there. Repetitive thoughts reinforce neural pathways. You can create positive neural pathways instead by opting to think differently and then committing to those reframed thoughts, even if that feels insincere at first. This thinking may require different actions. Perhaps this means seeking out only good news. Maybe it means listening to different music. It takes discipline to reprogram ourselves, but if you are uncomfortable with your current feelings, the work will be worth it.
5) Disrupt broken systems
Examine and make necessary changes to your daily habits. Does too much TV, news or social media bring you down? Stop tuning in to the negativity. Set restrictions for yourself, reduce your screen time and increase your productivity. Maybe you’re busy but unhappy because you’re not feeling challenged enough by the tasks at hand. If you are unhappy with your work, consider what you can do to change it so that it’s more mentally satisfying. Become a solutions expert rather than a victim.
Are you eating healthy on a daily basis (not yo-yo dieting or following a fad)? We are what we eat. If you are not clean eating in your day to day routine, what is it that you’re putting into your body and therefore your mind? Do your physical surroundings bring you down? What can you do to alter your surroundings, so they feel uplifting? Cleaning and organizing can make us feel lighter after. You may also want to consider adding some art or changing the color scheme of your home to something more uplifting.
We are who we surround ourselves with. Are the people you spend the most time with productive and uplifting or are they influencing your attitude with their own depressive perspectives and bad habits? If so, it’s time to begin sweep and think about what kinds of people you should start spending time with. Are you getting enough physical exercise? What excuses are you allowing yourself to make so you don’t get the physical stimulation you need? Are you meditating enough? If you found yourself wound up in despair, now is a perfect time to learn how to quiet that monkey mind.
6) Only the boring get bored
Creativity and ingenuity are wonderful gifts that are developed in situations that required them to develop. If you are getting sucked into the quicksand of catastrophic thoughts or bringing others down because you’re relying entirely on outside sources to lift you up, consider this a great opportunity to go inward and build personal strength by developing a project for yourself that can occupy your mind.
Haven’t you been wanting to learn a language, write a book, finish reading a book, complete a craft, learn to cook, clean your closet out, break out your neglected camera, dust off that old keyboard, build a website to help you move forward with that side hustle you’ve been thinking about? Now is the time! Stop thinking about what you would like to be doing and do it. Making excuses to not do these things is inviting anxious thoughts to take the place of something else that could be fruitful and fulfilling. If you take the simple steps to begin a project, minutes will fly instead of feeling like hours. It feels great to be productive and when you occupy your time and mind more with activities that spark your brain, you occupy it less with unnecessary worry.
7) Time and energy are precious resources
How much more productive would you be if all that time and energy you exerted on stress were instead spent on something healthy?
Most of our worry is wasted energy spent on contemplating situations that are unlikely to ever happen. We exhaust ourselves on hypothetical horrors that are usually far from the manageable reality of actual life. If you’re this kind of person, you may actually feel yourself physically exhausted or too emotionally incapacitated to do anything of any real value with your day. While it’s good to be prepared for different outcomes, it’s pointless to overly prepare for unlikely outcomes. Imagine how much more productivity, time and happiness you could reclaim if you chose not to allow fear to clutch you, and instead deal with things as they actually are rather than what they could possibly, but most likely never will, be.
8) Uncertainty is a thing to be embraced
There is no such thing as certainty, there is only the illusion of it.
When the greatest stressors stem from the unknowingness surrounding a situation, you may want to remember that what we think guaranteed (our employment, our relationships, our ability to easily access what we need, etc.) can end at any moment. We live every minute in uncertainly, predicting what might come next, hoping it will be what we want, but never knowing or having full control over what actually does come next. This is a beautiful, exciting thing that should remind us to embrace the current moment and to learn adaptability.
If you can be grateful for what you have, knowing that all things are temporary, and be capable of gracefully changing with changes, then there is no reason to fear the unknown. People have faced stranger times than we have and have and have come out well in the end. They survived and even flourished after unexpected and difficult circumstances and you will, too.
The only thing that is certain is uncertainty, and within that uncertainty lies hope.
Although everything is easier said than done, it is far more difficult (and toxic) to remain in negative thought than it is to change negative thinking. Be kind to yourself by choosing the healthy option of releasing harmful thought patterns and behavior. Changing times call for changing humans. Be cautious, and stay empathetic, but also be aware that moments like these are the perfect opportunity for you to focus on reacting within reason and practice rational mindfulness to better yourself, therefore improving the quality of your life and the lives of those around you.
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