The number of individuals who experience psychiatric illness is growing. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a type of Anxiety Disorder is arguably the most prevalent of psychiatric illnesses. “The prevalence of anxiety disorders across the world varies from 2.5-7 percent by country. Globally an estimated 284 million people experienced an anxiety disorder in 2017, making it the most prevalent health or neurodevelopment disorder”. The experience of anxiety itself can be a normal and helpful reaction. Studies have found our minds tend to overestimate. One such example is the overestimation of actual threat versus our ability to protect ourselves. In this way, there can be a quick downwards spiral from normal anxiety to a panicked state as we are seeing with the case of the Coronavirus. In the case of Coronavirus, it is a novel virus and therefore resistive to known treatments thus making it difficult to predict its threat. It is this fear of the unknown driving the behaviours we see in society today, particularly in the case of panic buying. Our addiction to shopping is an epidemic our society has also been facing.
Today many people report feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities they face. One such study reported by Independent, an online news outlet in the UK, reports “more than six out of 10 admitted struggling to keep their life organized with everything they have going on”. Many people are leading their lives based on the premise “there isn’t enough time”. Contrary to this belief we are no busier than we were 20 years ago some studies have found. So why then might we feel so busy? There are many ideas on this notion of ‘experiential busyness’. If you think about a daily conversation you have with colleagues, peers and family you will recall mentioning how tired you are or how much you have to get done.
Busyness has arguably been built in to modern day society as a pseudo-class system or badge of honour. The busier you are is somehow an indication of success. Busyness at work implies the value of your role and loyalty towards the employer. We engage in these behaviours in a primal manner, seeking acceptance and licking our woes to seek a false sense of safety. These behaviours imply underlying anxieties, one which we have normalized, evaded addressing, unable to identify and might I say even become addicted to.
Addiction is a complex mechanism and as humans, we are motivated by a great deal of internal and external conscious and subconscious factors. We mimic behaviour from observing others (as we see with the coronavirus pandemic and shortages of toilet paper). Addiction is a way in which we self soothe or cope albeit with consequence. We are taught self-soothing behaviours from childhood, rubbing an “ouchy” and kissing away the pain of a “booboo”. What we observe in nature is this innate behaviour to self soothe. Picture the behaviour of an animal after a traumatic experience such as being hunted or having caught a thorn in a paw or hoof. One might observe the animal curling up in a fetal position or even licking itself. According to this theory what we are in fact seeing in local supermarkets during the coronavirus pandemic are traumatized individuals licking their hooves with the action of buying toilet paper and other goods.
Our thoughts and beliefs are often inherited though these can also be developed through personal experiences and shape our identity and the understanding of the world around us. Our emotions contrary to belief do not simply fall out of the sky. They are produced based on the thought we are having. Emotions are sort of like an internal traffic light signal rather than judging it we might fair better to take the information it is indicating to us about our experiences. For example, the coronavirus poses some unknown threats, this feels scary and therefore I am experiencing a natural instinctive emotion of fear versus “the coronavirus is coming arghhhhhhh”.
In all seriousness when uncomfortable emotions such as fear, which is connected to our primal wiring and desire to survive becomes triggered, many individuals struggle with acknowledging and effectively processing the experience. What we are left stuck with, similarly to when you stub a toe on a piece of furniture and find yourself unable to shrug off your utter rage at the placement of the bed is the secondary emotion and behavioural reaction to this discomfort. Anxiety here is the secondary emotion to fear. What we observe therefore is that the fear of discomfort, pain and mortality which is fuelling the anxiety surrounding the novel coronavirus.
Now that we understand we are fearful of experiencing pain and death what can we do to ‘Keep Calm and Corona On?’
Beginning to limit our time on social media can be helpful but only after you’ve finished reading this article of course! Using a well-known technique in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) by planting alternative thoughts you could be having. Keeping a journal might be helpful in learning to identify and track your thought patterns as well as implementing gratitude practices such as listing three things you are grateful for. We should remember nature is still as safe as it has ever been and a quarantine does not mean sitting on the couch surrounded by bags of pasta and potato chips. Going for a walk in nature is one of the best ways to calm the immune system from the modern-day abuse of the fight or flight system. Taking a warm epsom salt bath has seen to be helpful in stress reduction and improved sleep which let’s also remember is a key pillar in supporting our immune system.
So while we ride the wave of this highly exploited health crisis let’s remember our humanity and use this time to reflect on purpose, both our own as well as the purposeful lessons this situation is providing us with.
How can we use this as a lesson to develop purposeful growth? Leave your comments below and share your thoughts with us @purposeful.change using #purposefulchange