Mental Hygiene in the Midst of a Pandemic
What has transpired in the past week regarding the coronavirus has spread like wildfire across the globe, resulting in governments taking aggressive action to keep their populations safe. Unlike anything we have seen before, fear has spread faster than the virus itself.
In the light of all of this uncertainty, panic, and seeming lack of control, I figured this was the most divine time to talk about the purpose of fear and how it shows up in the body and mind.
Fear has a purpose.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s absolutely true. All emotions have a purpose. Fear’s purpose is to create activity—it is supposed to make you do something about your fear. This can include taking proactive steps, reflecting on the fear-mongering self-talk happening inside your head to calm yourself down, or reaching out to someone for moral support. When fear is held in, stuffed down or running rampant through the body without an outlet, it can create paralysis or panic. Now, when I say paralysis, I do not mean physical paralysis, but metaphorical and emotional paralysis. Think of the fight or flight or freeze or faint reactions when in survival mode: the freeze and faint reactions are metaphorical paralysis, where the fight or flight reactions are panic responses. Now, of course, our nervous system’s survival mode instinct is a necessary part of survival. What I say is not to discount our body’s survival instincts, but when living in a state of astronomical fear, it can have an extremely detrimental impact on the immune system.
When the mind is taken over with fear, all kinds of things happen in the bodymind:
Physically, the amygdala, which is part of the limbic brain that controls the body’s fight or flight response, kicks into high gear, triggering a stress response domino effect that moves throughout the body at breakneck speed. The body shifts into survival mode, releasing stress hormones into the blood stream, which direct blood flow away from the torso and into the appendages in case you need to fight, run, freeze, or faint as a survival tactic to escape imminent danger. Due to the decreased blood flow to the abdomen, digestion slows, immune function is suppressed, lymphatic function decreases, and sleep is often affected. When you need to jump out of the way of a bus, then these functions are obviously helpful. But, high levels of long-term stress is very detrimental to the body which is not helpful for your state of health in the case of a “viral pandemic” sweeping through the world.
Mentally and emotionally, fear creates restriction, tunnel vision, and, if not dealt with, panic or paralysis. When fear infects the mind, like we are witnessing in the world, the rational mind can shut down. It is like riding a horse who is galloping full speed and you lose grip on the reigns. The mind can become a runaway train when it is infected with fear. This has been visible through many pictures, videos, and memes that have been circulating online, such as people wearing water cooler jugs on their heads like helmets. But when panic sets in, all logic goes out the window. It is imperative to calm the ego, the brain, and the nervous system to get the rational brain back online in order to take proactive, practical precautions.
Did you know that your mind can create physical symptoms in your body?
It’s absolutely true. When the mind attaches to fear, it can spread like wildfire throughout the bodymind. When this happens, the body becomes overloaded with fear, then needs to store the energy if fear is not being healthily expressed or released. Thus, fear tends to surface as mental symptoms such as panic and lack of logic or else as physical symptoms in the body. Body parts that tend to hold fear include, but are not limited to: the kidneys, bladder, knees, hip flexors, spine, and back. If you notice symptoms surfacing, practice some of the tips listed below.
Your body was built to heal.
Really, it was. Your body is healing all the time, without you even thinking about it. It comes into contact with germs, viruses, bacteria, and the like every single day. Thanks to your immune system, you don’t even realize this because your body takes care of it for you.
If you have a depressed immune system for whatever reason, then please take the proper precautions. If you are an otherwise healthy individual, still take proper precautions and please be mindful of those who have compromised immune systems. Of course, physical hygiene and common sense is absolutely important, but if you do not practice mental hygiene, then a depressed immune system is a much bigger problem than a virus.
Please review the mental hygiene steps below. These steps are meant to help process fear, stop adding to the body’s mental and emotional overload, and to help calm the nervous system. Try them all if it helps you feel better. Like I said, fear is meant to cause activity. Here are some ways to utilize fear by taking aligned and inspired action. (Notice I didn’t say fear-based panic action).
Mental Hygiene for ALL:
Practice social distancing—not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Turn off the news. Stop checking for updates on social media. Stop engaging in conversations that fuel the metaphorical fear fire. Stop feeding the fear.
Take a deep breath. Then take another. Repeat. Use forceful exhales if you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
Shut down the fear stories. When you hear the fear stories in your mind, take a breath to interrupt the dialogue. Don’t let your mind go on a rampage and work you into a tizzy. Remind yourself that you are in control of your mind.
Get out of your head. Move into your heart. Connect with yourself and your body.
Calm your mind:
Practice meditation, calming visualization, or breathe deeply with soothing music or a guided relaxation.
Move your body to move your mind. Release mental, emotional, and physical energy by moving your body.
Take a bath or shower to induce relaxation.
Stretch your body.
Practice the BodyTalk cortices technique.
Feel into your body. Close your eyes, breathe, and feel into your body by doing a mental scan. Pay attention to the areas where you are holding any tension, stress, or emotional in your muscles or body parts. Breathe deeply into those areas, then perform a forceful exhale.
Perform a mental cleanse. Journal all of the fear-based thoughts you are hearing in your mind, from those around you, or seeing on the news to gain perspective on it. Often having our thoughts written out, visibly, in front of us can help to capture what we are even thinking, and then can help us to see how blown out of proportion our mental stories are. Crumple or shred your paper along with nice deep breaths and discard.
Change your mental channel from fear to fun. It is proven that laughter, play, nature, snuggles, and being silly boosts endorphins which help to boost the immune system, because this response takes your nervous system OUT OF fight or flight.