October 13

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COVID-19 Anxiety: How to keep your brain calm during scary times

By Zoe Clements

October 13, 2020


A few weeks ago, my 72-year-old Mum was identified by the NHS as one of the 1.5 million people who are super vulnerable to Coronavirus. A few days after, she started to develop symptoms. At first a persistent cough accompanied by fatigue and then loss of appetite and a sore throat.

Here is actual footage of how my brain REACTED in that moment:

Uffff. Talk about a surge of anxiety.

Unfortunately, the survival part of our brain is the first to react to a situation and it is a pro at playing the "What if this happens, what if that happens" game. This reaction sends anxiety surging through our body so we can either run away or fight our way out of danger. This reaction is massively helpful when we are about to be mown down by a car, we need to think of the worse-case scenario and pump ourselves with anxiety to help us run out the way. However, faced with a very poorly Mum this unhelpful way of thinking would only serve to scare the living daylights out of me and paralyse my body with anxiety.

So how does an anxiety counsellor keep calm during scary times?

Good question. I’m not going to lie, it has not been a pleasant few weeks. However, I am really grateful for all my counselling training because I've been using a very simple technique that has made a huge difference to my anxiety levels.

As many of us will face this kind of challenge over the coming months I wanted to share this technique with you. Fingers and toes crossed you won't need it, but as any Scout will tell you, it helps to be prepared. 

To make this really simple all you need to remember is A B C.

A is for Awareness

When faced with a challenging situation I want you to be aware of your thoughts. The two main culprits for stirring up a whirlwind of anxiety are:

  • Mr Catastrophizing i.e. coming up with the worst-case scenarios
  • Mrs What if this happens, what if that happens i.e. dodgy fortune telling into the future

On finding out my Mum had symptoms, I felt a surge of anxiety when my brain screamed "What ifs" on repeat. I was aware this was my brain being super unhelpful so I applied my emergency brake.

B is for Brake

It may sound simple but when I felt that surge of anxiety I applied my emergency brake by taking some really deep belly breaths. Why? Because when we are anxious our body wants lots of oxygen to help prepare our body to fight or run away. If we give it the oxygen it needs, by breathing deeply, it reduces the anxiety. (If you want to read more about emergency braking techniques then check out my blog here: ‘How to apply your emergency brake when anxiety surges’).

Here is a quick reminder of how to breath properly:

C is for Coach

By controlling the surge of anxiety I was able to access my rational thinking brain. Yep we all have a more rational brain but when we are flooded with anxiety it's much hard to access hence why we need to apply the brake. I call this voice my Inner Coach. This voice is much more compassionate and rational than the survival part of our brain, it’s based in reality and prefers facts to fortune telling.

Instead of playing the ‘What if’ game my Inner coach was able to RESPOND to the situation by asking one very simple question...

‘What do I know today?’

Asking myself this really simple question every single day, and focusing on the facts, means I have been able to keep my anxiety at bay.

So, does this mean I’ve been the picture of serenity over the last few weeks. Erm no, I was, and still am very concerned about my Mum. I've been upset at times and really blumin tired, but by keeping a rational perspective I've been able to navigate each day without it taking a heavy toll on my mental, emotional and physical health. I’ve been able to concentrate on other tasks, support other people and function as needed, albeit with a lot more rest. If I had let my survival brain catastrophize through the days I doubt that would be the case.

Summary

There are lots of facts to show my Mum is getting better, each day the symptoms are gradually getting less intense and she still has no fever. I know we are not out of the woods yet, I know this virus is still a major threat to many of us and our loved ones. I know we have little control, however I also know we all have a choice in how we respond to these situations. So, if you are faced with a scary situation over the coming months I want you to remember you can respond and massively help yourself, by using this simple ABC technique:

I hope this technique helps you as and when you need it over the coming months. For more tips and techniques on how to engage you Inner Coach follow me on Instagram or connect on LinkedIn.

Zoe Clements

About the author

Zoe Clements is an experienced BACP Accredited Counsellor and Author specialising in overthinking, anxiety, people pleasing and pesky self doubt.

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