Take A Breath…

Take A Breath…

The entire world is focused on coronavirus right now, but this virus isn’t the only thing that’s contagious, so is the anxiety associated with it. As the coronavirus spreads and dominates the news cycle, you’ll probably notice yourself getting more and more anxious every time you turn on the TV. That’s because the news is contagious. You may also experience greater anxiety when you talk to anxious friends. That’s because other people’s anxiety is contagious. When your kids are anxious, you will undoubtedly feel more anxiety too. Clearly, our children’s anxiety is contagious. But most of all, anxiety is an emotion that looks to confirm itself, and when it does, it only propagates further and stronger. In other words, your own anxiety is contagious!

To stop the spread of anxiety we first have to understand the loop it creates from worry to anxiety to fear to panic. If we can pull back a little and acknowledge that we have every right to be anxious, we can then shift our focus to something more productive before our worries intensify. We can limit the news we watch, we can choose what friends we talk to, we can check in with family members about how they’re occupying their time and look for ways to create a healthy variation in the content we discuss. A recent study outlined in the NY Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-statistics.html?referringSource=articleShare) suggests that the more we look at coronavirus statistics the more anxious we become and the more we believe we’re likely to get it. Those who check frequently also tend to stock up on supplies and consider worst case scenario outcomes. This is a good example of how the “worry to anxiety to fear to panic” loop works. The more we check statistics, the more anxious we become. The more anxious we become, the more pressure we feel to stock up on supplies, especially when we see stories about cleared out shelves and toilet paper shortages. The increased pressure to stock up on supplies causes us to visit the grocery store more often where we see empty shelves, which invokes fear. The fear that we won’t be able to get supplies causes us to then “panic buy”. The conclusion is that the more we worry, the more worried we become.

Worry is also heightened by waiting. We’re all waiting for the virus to get worse in the United States, which is confirmed by the headlines we see; we collectively hold our breath and wait for the worst to occur. This creates two levels of worry that feed anxiety. The first is a sense of anticipatory dread, or what is called anticipatory anxiety. In this case, we’re anticipating something we can’t see, which creates a fear of the unknown. That fear is exacerbated by not knowing how long we will be sheltering in place. Anxiety, trembling, rapid heart rate, dizziness, dry mouth, difficulty breathing are all associated with the fear of the unknown. The second level of anxiety is our tendency to hold our breath when we’re waiting for something bad to happen. Without sufficient air we can become lightheaded, sluggish and ultimately more anxious. As you can see, symptoms of “level one” worry overlap with “level two” worry causing us to lose perspective and anticipate the worst. Here’s where meditation, yoga, exercise and diaphragmatic breathing will help ease our anxiety. We need a good exhale.

None of us have experience with this kind of unseen and prolonged threat. The longer our normal routine is disrupted, the more we’ll develop a rhythm to our new normal rather than feel so out of sorts. It’s important that as a new rhythm gets established we keep a regular routine so our days are structured. This will give us, and our children, a sense of normalcy and regularity. The virus doesn’t exist in solitude, so make sure you find some time to breathe and meditate. The virus doesn’t exist in nature, so make sure you go out for a walk. The virus doesn’t exist in silence, so make sure you periodically turn off the TV and sit still. And if you find yourself getting bored then consider that a good sign. The more boring your life becomes the less exposure you will have and the better the outcome will be. Finally, when you have a moment, read Kitty O’Meara’s poem, which starts with the line, And the people stayed home. It’s going viral for good reason. It is very uplifting and hopeful. https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/a31747557/and-the-people-stayed-home-poem-kitty-omeara-interview/

Stay well and stay safe. This is not permanent.

Five Minute Articles For Your Consideration8 comments

  1. Sean MacLeod says:

    Perfect observations and conclusions for the perfect moment of need. Great advice on fighting against the loop and all its negative energies. Thanks, Larry! Also, saw your new hairstyle when you were on a walk and I was driving by. Looks good! How was that “long” experience for you?

    Would be good to see you soon. I’ll circle back to create a date.

    • Larry says:

      Thanks, Sean. The best we can do right now is to stay positive, stay safe and stay healthy. The rest will work itself out over time. I think everyone is going to have a new hairstyle in a few more weeks. I was just a little ahead of the curve.

  2. Susan Sions says:

    Thank you for so eloquently putting into words what so many of us are feeling. This is where discipline with good habits will make all if the difference, right?
    Stay healthy.

  3. Pete di Girolamo says:

    Hi Larry,
    Haven’t talked for awhile but wanted to acknowledge your blog in these trying times, maybe adding some observations from me.
    I am having a range of experiences, trending from bad at the start of the week (aphysical anxiety/anger attack from watching a Trump daily – now not an option) to good and hopefully routine-changing “less is more” shifts:
    We set up a Zoom-based family group (kids & grandkids) for weekly visits, as well as an open message for any texts; is most rewarding.
    Doing some online learning while enjoying music on Alexa Echo our daughter-in-law sent. It’s a good time to explore an app called inaturalist that I have started to use in connection with native gardening and Torrey Pines volunteering. Son Scott in Seattle just got selected this week for work with TMobile in the world of UX and IoT, which closely relates to Daughter-in-law’s UX design work at Amazon. There’s a whole world of IoT out there to understand that has passed me by until now.
    More reading, less TV, and just plain more quiet …and avoid anxiety over IoT
    Time to go pull some weeds
    Pete di Girolamo

    • Larry says:

      Good to hear from you, Pete. I like the creative ways you’re using your time. Many people can relate to feeling bad at the start of the week (sometimes the start of the day) and then working it out as they get into their rhythm. It’s a real discipline. All the best to you and Connie!

  4. Fran Pearce says:

    Thank you, Larry for a clear, sane approach to a
    helluva happening.

    • Larry says:

      Thanks, Fran. It certainly is a helluva happening. That’s being kind. It will pass though and hopefully the lessons learned will be worth what it has taken from us.

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