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A Normal Response to an Abnormal Situation


For some, anxiety may be a familiar feeling that surfaces from time to time in certain situations. Whether this be exam stress, social situations, or accompanying other mental health concerns such as low mood and depression. However, for others feelings of anxiety may be unfamiliar territory that may have come to the forefront of our lives due to the current pandemic. Anxiety serves a purpose in our lives and can often be linked back to hunter gatherer days where anxiety was a response to threat that often pre-warned us when we need to be on our guard and protect us from danger. This is done by sending messages through our body – whether that be an increase in heart rate, a knot in the stomach, sweaty palms, trembling or feeling tense. These are all useful ways for our body to send signals to us that remind us to be aware of danger. However, in modern times where it is not essential to be on our guard from the same dangers that were faced by hunter gatherers, we find ourselves still experiencing the same warning signs that anxiety produces but for a wide number of potential dangers. Unfortunately, during modern times, these dangers come in many forms and we may find ourselves experiencing such unpleasant feelings more often.

It comes as no surprise then that whilst we face a global emergency with Covid-19 there has been an increase in anxiety. I think it is useful to acknowledge these feelings but hold in awareness that this is a normal response to what can only be described as an abnormal situation that none of us are accustomed to. Another normal reaction we will often experience when anxiety is prevalent is our pre-frontal cortex goes offline. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for our logical thinking. When we are faced with feelings of anxiety, worry or panic – which has been seen recently amongst many people, we are not necessarily thinking logically and calmly – but instead find ourselves acting emotionally. This is where our emotional side of our brain (the amygdala) takes over and we respond emotionally, or we respond without thinking. This might otherwise be known as fight or flight response. It can be useful to remember that this is how our body and brain is responding and take a moment to check in with ourselves and bring the pre-frontal cortex back online. This can be done by different breathing techniques and grounding exercises. I came across a useful podcast recently that explores how to manage anxiety in the face of a global pandemic where Dr. Rangan Chatterjee speaks with Dr Judson Brewer. Here they discuss further what anxiety actually is, what our natural reaction to anxiety is and provide details of certain exercises that can be useful to bring ourselves back online and break the cycle of anxiety and panic.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Dr Brewer, also suggests the app Unwinding Anxiety that has been developed to help learn about anxiety and manage the affects this has on our lives as well as the crucial feature of ‘in the moment’ support, that helps you reduce anxiety as you are experiencing it. Written by Ben Webster for The University of Sheffield Wellbeing Service.

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