No Fear. Or: Practicing ‘mental and emotional hygiene’.
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
Fear is a necessary biological function for our survival. But, bear in mind: Fear and being cautious are not the same thing. One can be cautious without being fearful.
To get this straight before diving into the blog post:
I am not saying that in the current situation you shouldn’t be responsible and cautious, that you shouldn’t take good care of yourself, look out for yourself and others.
Keeping up with information and recent developments is important, yes absolutely. But the framework you place this information in, the attitude you take this information in with, at least to me, is even more important. When you look through the glasses of fear, the whole situation becomes even worse.
Fear creates tension in the mind and stress in the body. When fear arises our autonomic nervous system switches from the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) to the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) mode. The body is prepared for intense physical activity that could potentially be required of it due to danger. After the dangerous situation is over, the regulation goes back to sympathetic mode – equilibrium is restored in the body. This is how it should be when our system is functioning well.
The problem arises, when the mind constantly classifies events and information as threats and dangers. Causing the autonomic nervous system to be in sympathetic overdrive; the switch back doesn’t happen. This leaves the body in a constant state of high stress levels – manifesting on the physical level as increased heart rate, increased respiration, increased blood pressure, high cortisol levels (=stress hormone). In the long run this can give rise to serious illnesses – physically and mentally (e.g. diabetes, heart problems, hypertension, anxiety, etc.).
This is one of the reasons why in times like these it is so important to also practice mental and emotional health and well-being.
Don´t succumb to fear.
Again, being cautious and looking out for oneself and others (= being responsible) does not equal being fearful. Fear in this current situation is an unnecessary state that causes more harm to our system, than it does good. Fear is a low frequency mental state.
For myself I have noticed that fearful thoughts feed my anxiety. You can imagine it like this: As if my anxiety was a little ‘monster’ sitting inside of me, growing bigger and stronger when fearful thoughts are entering the system. Once the monster reaches a certain strength and magnitude, it takes over. My anxiety takes over. This is not a pleasant state to be in (you can read more about my anxiety and panic attacks in a previous blog post here).
For me it is very important to practice what I call ‘mental and emotional hygiene’. That doesn’t mean that I’m not keeping up with information on recent developments and recommended precautions. It means that when I notice that my thoughts keep spiraling around the same negative topic(s), that the notion of my thoughts is high up on the fearful/anxious scale, I find a way to bring myself back to a calm and relaxed state. Being anxious about the situation, does neither help me, nor does it change to situation for the better.
Strategies I have developed for myself to practice ‘mental and emotional hygiene’:
1. Limiting the amount of information that I take in. I´ve noticed for myself, that I get quite overwhelmed with all the news and rapidly changing developments. Some of it is fear/anxiety, but mostly I feel it is an information overload. My brain (and my mind) need time to process, to integrate – this requires a pause from new information coming in.
I practice this by:
Staying off social media (and media in general) for most of my day
Muting certain WhatsApp and Telegram groups
Choosing wisely whom I talk to
2. Distraction – yes distraction – all anxious people know that distraction can actually work wonders. When in an anxiety spiral or a panic attack the advice ‘to just calm down’ does not work (I want to punch everyone in the face that tells me to calm down during a panic attack). Either you just sit it out (usually a panic attack lasts around 20-30 minutes) or you distract yourself – you bring your attention to something else (à where attention goes, energy flows).
My favourite ways to find distraction (in general; not just in the current situation and not just at the peak of my anxiety):
Physical exercise (yoga, going for a run – preferably in nature)
Reading or listening to a book/podcast that is completely off topic (of course I tend to listen to and read spiritual stuff, but this could be anything)
Cooking and/or baking – any manual labour that gets you out of your head works
Talking to uplifting/positive-minded people à connecting with people
Teaching yoga – I am so focussed on the task at hand and on my students – that this leaves no mental capacity for anxious thoughts to arise
3. Practicing gratitude – this really brings me back to the present moment and the good things in life (and it is so easy and can be done everywhere anytime):
I look around myself and/or look (feel) inwards to find three things that I´m grateful for
I just practiced now and I´m grateful for: the sun and the blue sky, feeling the support of the bus seat I´m currently sitting on (it feels like the seat - is holding me up in its arms), my family (I´m currently on my way to see them)
4. Meditation – or: just sitting with what is. This only works for me when I am already in a more relaxed and calm state (as I said: In the middle of a panic attack this will not work – at least for me).
The aim is not to clear the mind of thoughts (which can happen and then this would also be pleasant), but to observe whatever comes up. If you give your thoughts space, your brain can process them, and new perspectives can arise.
To conclude: Health is not just about physical health – it also includes mental and emotional health. Through my panic attacks and my anxiety, I have come to experience the power thoughts can have. Thoughts create our reality. What we keep on thinking will become true.
Unhealthy thoughts can affect our overall well-being. So, take good care of your thoughts, your mental and emotional state. Mental and emotional well-being is equally important as physical well-being.
If you struggle with this, you can always reach out to me. Let´s connect!