Help Manage your Emotions during Lockdown
- The world is in the grip of a global pandemic
- We are living in extremely uncertain times – and that uncertainty can be hard to cope with
- You may feel worried right now.
- You may struggle to keep anxious thoughts in check.
- You might be feeling unsure about the future.
Help is at hand – you CAN learn to live with uncertainty more comfortably.
Facing Uncertainty is Scarier than Facing Physical Pain
A new study shows that the uncertainty of something bad happening can be more stressful that the knowledge of something bad happening.
In 2016, a group of London researchers explored how people react to being told they will either definitely or probably receive a painful electric shock. They discovered something curious.
Volunteers who knew they would definitely receive a painful electric shock felt calmer and were measurably less agitated than those who were told they only had a 50 percent chance of receiving the electric shock.
Researchers recruited 45 volunteers to play a computer game in which they turned over digital rocks that might have snakes hiding underneath.
Throughout the game, they had to guess whether each rock concealed a snake. When a snake appeared, they received a mild but painful electric shock on the hand.
Over the course of the game they got better about predicting under which rocks they would find snakes, but the game was designed to keep changing the odds of success to maintain ongoing uncertainty.
When we’re facing outcomes that are full of uncertainty, it’s the fact that something bad might happen that really gets to us.
The volunteers’ level of uncertainty correlated to their level of stress. So, if someone felt certain he or she would find a snake, stress levels were significantly lower than if the felt that maybe they would find a snake.
In both cases, they’d get a shock, but their stress was heightened considerably when loaded with added uncertainty.
Archy de Berker from the UCL Institute of Neurology said: “Our experiment allows us to draw conclusions about the effect of uncertainty on stress. It turns out that it’s much worse not knowing you are going to get a shock than knowing you definitely will or won’t”
Uncertainty Triggers our Primitive Survival Instinct
- If we can’t neutralize a perceived threat, we engage in the unhelpful process called worry
- We grapple with whatever the problem is, to find solutions to the threat, but often get lost in a maze and come out with more questions than answers.
- Does this make us feel better? No of course it doesn’t – it adds to our anxiety and makes us feel more helpless than before.
- In our need for certainty, we are wired to ‘catastrophise’ – we often view a situation as being worse than it actually is. We thing a a very ‘all or nothing way’ which produces feelings of hopelessness and fear.
- The modern brain struggles to distinguish between real threat and perceived threat. So therefore, even though a threat may only be ‘imagined’, our system reacts at every level as though it is real.
- The result is that the primitive brain takes over and triggers the primitive survival instinct known as fight or flight.
- It asks questions – What is going to happen? What is round the corner for me? What can I do? Should I be doing more/less? What if I can’t pay my bills? How do I keep my family safe? What if I become ill? How long is it going to last?
- The lack of answers can lead to feeling of Anger, Aggression, Frustration, Fear, Anxiety, Overwhelm, Depression.
What Can we do to Mitigate Uncertainty
Even though these fears are perfectly understandable under the current circumstances, there are a number of things we can do to lessen the effects of uncertainty.
- Awareness is your superpower – be aware of your feelings and emotions. Don’t think of them as being good or bad, just ask yourself if they are Useful or Unuseful.
- Notice the ‘worry story’ and ‘films’ that you are producing. Create a scheduled ‘worry window’ – perhaps ten minutes, twice a day, so that you can better manage any negative thoughts and feelings. Use these pre-scheduled slots as opportunities to contain your worries and free up the rest of the day.
- Recognise that there are always things in life that we have no control over. Accept that this has always been the case. Instead focus your precious energy on those things that are within your control. This will allow you to become more able to come up with positive solutions.
- Focus on your breathing at regular intervals – long slow breaths. It calms down the system and reduces anxiety. There are many helpful tips on the internet to help with this or feel free to get in touch here
- Accept uncertainty and keep reminding yourself that this strange and unfamiliar situation will pass. Allow yourself to stop the struggle and think of it as your ‘new normal’ for now.
Stand up to Anxiety with Some Mood Boosters
- Exercise and Movement, Indoors or outdoors – be creative.
- Meditation, self-hypnosis – many free tracks on You Tube or give me a call here
- Achievement oriented activity – could be anything at all that gives you a sense of satisfaction and purpose.
- Something pleasant or fun – again this will be different for everyone. Think of it as medicine for the body and mind. It takes you out of the fight and flight and gives your whole system a wonderful opportunity to rest and recuperate.
- Communicate with others in safe ways – connection is very important at times like this.
- Listen to music – it’s a great way to change your mood and physiology – ‘dancing like nobody is watching’ makes it even more powerful.
These unprecedented times have turned all our worlds upside down. Some more dramatically than others. It’s forcing us to adapt in a way that none of us were prepared for, which means we are going through a massive learning curve. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand why the uncertainty of our current situation has been so challenging. Even though it’s how we’re wired, we can help ourselves override the fear response. So be kind and patient with yourself and to others and don’t forget, it won’t last forever.
Stay safe and please feel free to get in touch if there is anything I can help you with.