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Staying Mentally Sound During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Many of us are facing unprecedented challenges during this global coronavirus crisis, and it has increased anxiety and fear levels in all of us. During times like this, we often enter what is known as the fight-flight-freeze response. These actions are the human physiological responses when faced with fear caused by the reactive part of our brain called the amygdala. This stress response induces our body to produce a steroid called cortisol to handle the feelings of fear. Unfortunately, cortisol has another effect on our physiology; it weakens our immune system. Thus making us more potentially vulnerable at a time when we need more strength.

No matter what our challenges are during this pandemic, there is one thing we can bring to the crisis from which all other problems can be better solved, overcome our fear with mental toughness. This is true in all situations. While a healthy dose of fear is always reasonable and necessary, too much can become crippling. Too much, uncontrollable, or unreasonable fear can quite literally make us more susceptible to becoming sick. As such, the proper precautions like getting adequate rest, staying hydrated, and social distancing should have an additional component, help our brain to feel safe to maximize our physical health.

Some of the techniques we can employ include shifting our focus to those things we are grateful for, like our loved ones, a roof over our head, food in our refrigerator, and our health. Take a moment to consider all of our blessings that others may not have; even the little things we all may typically take for granted like the ability to smell, hear the raindrops, to have a memory of a Caribbean vacation, or to kiss a spouse goodnight. If you cannot find gratitude about your circumstances, then think of those people working on the front lines or are considered essential workers in this continuing pandemic, like my daughter, sister and sister-in-law, and be grateful it is not us (though, as a parent, I would change places with my daughter in a moment's notice). Finding something to be grateful for will immediately get us out of the fight-flight response.

Begin to practice empathy. Look at the time we spend with our loved ones at home as a gift and not a jail sentence. Embrace being with them, laugh, tell them you appreciate them because when we spread joy to others, it will boost their immune system as well. It turns out being positive is healthy and contagious. We all have a rare opportunity to forge better, more loving relationships with our immediate family, or if you live alone, take the time to recharge and re-center yourself. Take full advantage of this moment and choose positive behaviors. Extend empathy to those who are feeling ill if possible, through video chat, phone calls, texts, or prayer. This moment is so much bigger than just ourselves.

Turn off the news and turn on personal growth and connection. News reports are full of data, some of which are not accurate, and depending on who you are listening to, most is not accurate or just off the wall (e.g., not exactly sure how "the light" is going to be put inside of us). Being addicted to the 24/7 news cycle breeds uncertainty and fear as it touts mostly negative statistics and woeful stories of the moment. The basics about this pandemic are well documented at this point. Practice proper hygiene, particularly with our hands, avoid touching our face, avoid large gatherings, and implement social distance but do not do this out of fear, do it as an act of service. Flip how our brain associates our daily choices by knowing our actions are preventing the potential deaths of others.

Find something in media or on television that brings a smile to your face or makes you laugh. Break out the board games, cards, art projects, or walk outside (distant from others!) and get some sun. Sun provides vitamin D for our system, which also boosts our immune system. Whatever you choose, staying active and busy in a positive way will lessen any concern or fears you are experiencing about the pandemic.

These points of view may all may read as cliché, but in 2009 Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone conducted a study consisting of two groups of people learning to play a simple piano melody. For five days, one group practiced the melody for two hours a day while the other group, over the same time, sat in front of the keyboard, imagining they were playing the melody. Dr. Pascual-Leone mapped the brain activity of the study participants before, during, and after the experiment, and the results were surprising. Both groups experienced the same brain changes. What this means is the brain does not differentiate between imagination and reality. What this also means for most of us is that we have a choice, a choice to be riddled with anxiety, worry, and uncertainty or the opportunity to be courageous, bold, and confident by simply imagining those feelings. So if you can, "HOW DO YOU CHOOSE TO FEEL?"

In simple terms, when we have a thought, our brain sends a pulse of electrical activity at the same moment. This electrical activity stimulates a release of neuropeptides that communicate with our body to produce a feeling. So truly, our thoughts create feelings. Activate your brain’s natural superpowers and boost your immune system by redirecting your brain’s thought patterns. Remind yourself daily to think positive thoughts, be grateful, and practice empathy which will give you the mental toughness to endure what still lies ahead.

We are open for business and would be happy to discuss any concerns you have. The pandemic we are living through has opened everyone’s eyes to the importance of having healthcare documents, as well as other planning documents like a will or trust. Please contact us at 301.892.2713 or click here if one of the worries you have is not having your affairs in order, we would have happy to help you choose to feel better.

"Living with your bags packed!"

* Unfortunately, there are many people who have no control over their feelings due to a variety of reasons, including trauma, chemical imbalance, mental disease and illness, etc. This article is in no way intended to ignore or insult these conditions, the individuals, or their struggles.


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