Managing Your Internal Barometer During the Coronavirus Outbreak
The coronavirus outbreak is accompanied by a more insidious threat: a global flare of anxiety and worry that is wreaking havoc on our inner well-being. How can we manage our internal barometer in these trying times?
Amélie de Marsily, Academic Director of the IE Center for Health, Well-being and Happiness.
The onslaught of bad news in the media naturally arouses an acute sense of fear. This emotion is powerful and also very useful, since it protects us from immediate dangers and threats. Fear originates in the brain’s limbic system—the center of our emotional behavior—and triggers lightning-fast emotional and physical reactions. Physical manifestations—racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, tension in various parts of the body—arise almost instantaneously when a threat is detected. But fear can also push us towards negative or impulsive thoughts and actions. An effective way of calming ourselves in such situations is to implement a few techniques that will move us from reaction to response.
Counteracting negative emotions
We know from the positive psychology movement that negative emotions linger much longer than positive ones. To counteract one negative emotion, we need at least three positive emotions such as gratitude, pride, curiosity, serenity, or hope. You can help yourself by becoming aware of the situation and taking intentional action to manage your inner temperature.
When you find yourself feeling fearful or anxious, there are several things you can do to manage yourself.
Harnessing the rational brain
The psychologist and Economy Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, described two different systems that the brain uses to form thoughts. System 1 is unconscious, automatic, reactive, and governs 95% of our interactions. It is very useful when facing immediate threats or the needs of our normal daily lives. System 2 is lazier. Activating it requires more effort and energy. It’s slower than system 1, but logical.
When you feel threatened, you can set system 2 in motion by analyzing the data at hand and following a logical path to guide your actions. In times of crisis, it will help to employ logic, listen to updates from the authorities, and make thought through decisions that protect yourself and the people close to you. That’s what is meant by responding, vs reacting.
Connecting with others
It can be very helpful to share your concerns with people you trust or ask the expert where you feel at loss with your decision. At the same time, you can try to understand how difficult this situation is for everyone. Provide support to people around you who are going through the same thing. Talking about what is happening will help to ease your mind.
Practicing mindfulness can also help you cope with stress and anxiety. If you are a beginner, the practice does not have to be especially intricate. Just take a few deep breaths and pause for a few minutes putting your attention on the breath as an anchor to stabilize your mind. Even one minute can be enough to reset yourself. By doing this, you can shut down your “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction. Mindfulness widens your awareness and allows you to integrate much more information that is captured by your other senses, and helps you process it. Like everything else, it improves with practice.
By learning to tap into the true sources of your human intelligence—the mind, the heart, and the gut—you can boost your ability to deal with stress and anxiety in these challenging times and take a step back to review the situation with more calm. Remember: it starts with managing your own internal barometer!