The first step to mastering your anxiety is to recognize what it is when it happens. Instead of ignoring it and letting it build up and take over, simply note the anxiety as soon as you feel the buzzing in your heart, the spinning in your brain: This is anxiety.
When we do this, we take the emotion, or the anxiety even, out of anxiety. Recognizing the feeling of anxiety puts you back in control; instead of facing an amorphous threat that can feel overwhelming and scary, you’re now dealing with a known entity.
Once we recognize it, we can explore its source. Anxiety is an emotional response to an anticipated future threat. And while there’s a lot of panic around the general idea of the coronavirus itself, we can usually get more specific about what we’re truly concerned with.
WHEN WE NORMALIZE ANXIETY, THERE’S SOME COMFORT THAT COMES WITH KNOWING THAT OTHERS FEEL THAT WAY, TOO
Be easy on yourself. Some days will be worse than others.
Ultimately, anxiety is an inevitable part of life. No matter how hard you try to “hack” anxiety, it is still likely to seep in around the edges. Anxiety isn’t something to be conquered but something to acknowledge and manage.
Learn and practice ways to calm and center yourself
First, focus on bringing awareness into your own body, especially through internal sensations like your chest rising and falling with your breath. being mindful about your breathing helps switch off the neural circuitry that anxiety ramps up, leading to an overall feeling of calm. Whether in a quiet room or in the middle of what feels like a burst of panic, try counting your breaths — one slow inhale through the nose, one long exhale through the mouth, then repeat —relaxing into the process and being mindful of each one, and gradually feeling your heart rate slow.
Second, try to keep yourself grounded in the present. Anxiety is, after all, based in uncertainty around and fear of the future — what might happen next. To help practice physical mindfulness, run your finger from your forehead straight back to the top of your head. Focusing this attention to the midline of the cortex naturally quiets stress about the future and the past, and tends to bring you into circuits on the other side of the brain that supports present-moment mindfulness and a sense of well-being.
There’s research that supports the idea that “crossing the midline” has calming benefits — it’s why activities that require careful, precise hand movements, like knitting and crocheting, are often recommended as possible anxiety relief methods.
Third, he recommends turning to physical remembrances of strength — flashing back to your own moxie and grit. Think back to when you held your first crow pose in yoga, or when you carried that window AC unit up to four flights of stairs, or even when you patiently held a friend close who was going through a hard time. By bringing up the somatic memory — the body sense — of being strong and determined, you will remind yourself that if you could get through that, you can get through this, too.
Four Ways People Process Information during a Crisis
We simplify messages. Under intense stress and possible information overload, we tend to miss the nuances of health and safety messages by doing the following:
■ Not fully hearing information because of our inability to juggle multiple facts during a crisis.
■ Not remembering as much of the information as we normally could.
■ Misinterpreting confusing action messages. To cope, many of us may not attempt a logical and reasoned approach to decision making. Instead, we may rely on habits and long-held practices. We might follow bad examples set by others.
We hold on to current beliefs. Crisis communication sometimes requires asking people to do something that seems counterintuitive, such as evacuating even when the weather looks calm. Changing our beliefs during a crisis or emergency may be difficult. Beliefs are often held very strongly and not easily altered. We tend not to seek evidence that contradicts beliefs we already hold. We also tend to exploit any conflicting or unclear messages about a subject by interpreting it as consistent with existing beliefs. For example, we might tell ourselves, “I believe that my house is a safe place.” Before an impending hurricane, however, experts may recommend that we evacuate from an insecure location and take shelter in a building that is stronger and safer. Although the action advised is actually for us to evacuate our house to seek safer shelter, we can easily misinterpret the recommendation to match our current beliefs. We might say, “My home is strong and safe. I’ve always been secure in my home. When we left last time, the hurricane went north of us anyway. I’ll just stay here.” Faced with new risks in an emergency, we may have to rely on experts with whom we have little or no experience. Often, reputable experts disagree regarding the level of threat, risks, and appropriate advice. The tendency of experts to offer opposing views leaves many of us with increased uncertainty and fear. We may be more likely to take advice from a trusted source with which we are familiar, even if this source does not have emergency-related expertise and provides inaccurate information.
We look for additional information and opinions.
We remember what we see and tend to believe what we’ve experienced. During crises, we want messages confirmed before taking action. You may find that you or other individuals are likely to do the following:
■ Change television channels to see if the same warning is being repeated elsewhere.
■ Try to call friends and family to see if others have heard the same messages.
■ Turn to a known and credible local leader for advice.
■ Check multiple social media channels to see what our contacts are saying. In cases where evacuation is recommended, we tend to watch to see if our neighbors are evacuating before we make our decision. This confirmation first—before we take action—is very common in a crisis.
We believe in the first message. During a crisis, the speed of a response can be an important factor in reducing harm. In the absence of information, we may begin to speculate and fill in the blanks. This often results in rumors. The first message to reach us may be the accepted message, even though more accurate information may follow. When new, perhaps more complete information becomes available, we compare it to the first messages we heard. Because of the ways, we process information while under stress, when communicating with someone facing a crisis or disaster, messages should be simple, credible, and consistent. Speed is also very important when communicating in an emergency. An effective message must do the following:
■ Be repeated. ■ Come from multiple credible sources.
■ Be specific to the emergency being experienced.
■ Offer a positive course of action that can be executed.
The mental States in a Crisis
During a disaster, people may experience a wide range of emotions. Psychological barriers can interfere with cooperation and response from the public. Crisis communicators should expect certain patterns, as described below, and understand that these patterns affect communication. There are a number of psychological barriers that could interfere with cooperation and response from the public. A communicator can mitigate many of the following reactions by acknowledging these feelings in words, expressing empathy, and being honest.
Fear, Anxiety, and Dread
In a crisis, people in your community may feel fear, anxiety, confusion, and intense dread. As communicators, our job is not to make these feelings go away. Instead, you could acknowledge them in a statement of empathy. You can use a statement like, “we’ve never faced anything like this before in our community and it can be frightening.” Fear is an important psychological consideration in response to a threat. Bear in mind the following aspects of fear:
■ In some cases, a perceived threat can motivate and help people take desired actions.
■ In other cases, fear of the unknown or fear of uncertainty may be the most debilitating of the psychological responses to disasters and prevent people from taking action.
■ When people are afraid and do not have adequate information, they may react in inappropriate ways to avoid the threat. Communicators can help by portraying an accurate assessment of the level of danger and providing action messages so that affected people do not feel helpless.
Hopelessness and Helplessness Avoiding hopelessness and helplessness is a vital communication objective during a crisis. Hopelessness is the feeling that nothing can be done by anyone to make the situation better. People may accept that a threat is real, but that threat may loom so large that they feel the situation is hopeless. Helplessness is the feeling that people have that they, themselves, have no power to improve their situation or protect themselves. If a person feels helpless to protect him- or herself, he or she may withdraw mentally or physically.
Denial refers to the act of refusing to acknowledge either imminent harm or harm that has already occurred. Denial occurs for a variety of reasons:
■ People may not have received enough information to recognize the threat.
■ They may assume the situation is not as bad as it really is because they have not heard the most recent warnings, didn’t understand what they were told, or only heard part of a message.
■ They may have received messages about a threat but not received action messages on how people should respond to the threat.
■ They may receive and understand the message, but behave as if the danger is not as great as they are being told. For example, people may get tired of evacuating for threats that prove harmless, which can cause people to deny the seriousness of future threats. When people doubt a threat is real, they may seek further confirmation. With some communities, this confirmation may involve additional factors, such as the following:
■ A need to consult community leaders or experts for specific opinions.
■ The desire to first know how others are responding.
■ The possibility that the warning message of the threat is so far outside the person’s experience that he or she simply can’t make sense of it—or just chooses to ignore it.
Denial can, at least in part, be prevented or addressed with clear, consistent communication from a trusted source. If your audience receives and understands a consistent message from multiple trusted sources, they will be more likely to believe that message and act on it.
To be continued…
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