A second virulent, but silent epidemic has been festering alongside the Covid pandemic. In my role as a crisis mental health counselor, I have encountered a noticeable up-tick in clients who are grappling with anxiety.
The last year and a half has presented us with unprecedented events for which we have had no preparation or forewarning. How can you prepare for a situation that is happening for the first time in the current lifetime of anyone on the planet? We have no paradigm from which to draw helpful ways to cope.
The unpredictable limitations imposed by sequential lockdowns have filled us with uncertainty and angst. Social isolation, working from home, adjusting to line ups at supermarkets, wearing masks, social distancing: all of these and so much more are situations none of us have encountered before.
Possibly the most difficult adaptation we have had to face is the degree of uncertainty that hovers ominously over our heads. Ambiguity and unpredictability breed worry and anxiety.
Our nervous system, notably, the amygdala is on high alert in response to uncertainty. Anxiety and worry are activated by this tiny almond shaped brain structure. When everything is up in the air, the amygdala senses possible danger and triggers the release of stress hormones. It is simply doing what it was designed to do.
The function of Cortisol and norepinephrine is to help you react quickly when presented with a dangerous situation. The amygdala cannot decipher the difference between the threat of actual physical danger and mental stress and so the hormones are released regardless of the nature of the trigger. These hormones leave your body and nervous system in a constant state of high alert.
Anxiety and worry are sparked by possibility, not certainty. One positive step you can take when faced with uncertainty, is to reduce your options whenever possible. Studies have been conducted which showed conclusively that giving people more choices actually increased their levels of anxiety. It is much easier to choose between two or three options rather than a plethora of choices.
If you tend to feel worried or anxious, try making quick decisive decisions rather than ruminating about all the possibilities. Hemming and hawing over what to do or say feeds into anxiety.
A decision can often be changed if it is deemed to be the wrong one. Stewing over
endless options will leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
If the pandemic has left you feeling anxious and stressed, consider trying to limit the number of choices you have to make, and when faced with a decision, take control by making up your mind as quickly as is feasible. Remember that certainty, not possibility is what nurtures peace of mind.