About an hour into my workday yesterday, I felt my body begin to tighten. It started in my upper belly, rose further, and then was into my chest. I resisted the urge to ask Siri “Signs you are having a heart attack,” and instead tried to connect to what I was feeling.
I was anxious. My mind was filled with thoughts about COVID-19. Mainly, my brain was spinning questions at me fast and furiously – “What’s next week going to look like? Will my parents still be healthy? Are medical professionals going to have to be making unbelievably hard choices? Will my kids be losing their minds? Will we run out of batteries for the X-Box? Will our retirement accounts have any money left in them” There was no rhyme or reason to these thoughts, and I have no clue where they came from – I hadn’t just hit the refresh button on the Virus map, I was just working. These thoughts just arose out of nowhere and were now front and center in my lap.
I had two choices. First choice would be to resist the anxiety – fight it off, think of something else, push it away, tell myself to suck it up and get back to work. If I did this, my losing efforts to fight it off would simply be strengthening the neural pathways to the Alarm State of my brain – my alarm state would start to simmer. And most certainly, I would carry the anxiety from my office to my kitchen, and likely pass it off to my husband and my kids.
My 2nd choice was to lean into it – be curious and acknowledge the feeling in my body and the thoughts in my brain. Also important was for me to recognize, right then and there, that these thoughts are fleeting. As sure as the clouds in the sky will come and go, so too will my anxious moments around COVID-19. Anxiety is part of the situation we are in, and feeling it IS OK!
Responding by accepting our anxiety, with curiosity and rationality, feeds the pre-frontal cortex of my brain, that Smart State, which I need to have activated as often as possible during these turbulent times. Getting curious about what your anxiety feels like, what it would look like if you could see it, can release its hold on us while fighting anxiety will almost assuredly make it grow.
So the next time you feel the wave of anxiety hit, acknowledge where the anxiety is physically in your body, what shape or object you think it resembles (My husband describes it as feeling like he has an octopus in his body), imagine what color or texture it would be. Then, remind yourself that these feelings are ok to have, they are merely a brain state, and that these feelings will come and they will go.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments – what triggers anxiety for you right now around COVID-19, and where do you feel it in your body?