“Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat,” DSM-5th Edition.
Not only do we feel unsafe as our limbic system reacts to the real threat posed by COVID19, we are also dealing with the anxiety triggered by our emotional response to uncertainty and change. We worry about family and friends, our finances, social isolation, loss of freedom and control (and of course reduced availability of soft toilet paper!) From our perspective we are experiencing unsafe uncertainty.
For those actively involved in the crisis it is less a question of building resilience, rather of responding to trauma. There will be loss and heartache and perhaps fundamental changes as to how we live (or choose to live) our lives in the future. Yet there is also compassion and dedication, selfless service and sacrifice, innovation and creativity.
Whilst we are grieving for what we stand to lose – is there some learning for us from these current events? Do we have the chance to recalibrate and reflect on what really matters to us? If we can take a breath and pause if only for a moment this helps us to stop reacting and trying to “fix” everything. From this pause we can shift our perspective, see things more clearly and make wiser decisions.
Daosim (Taoism) has a phrase Wu Wei – probably best summarised as ‘an attitude of genuine non-action’. This is in no way advocating delay or inaction in addressing the response to the COVID19 crisis; but rather creating a pause in the reactivity of our own emotion driven reactions.
The STOP tool used in therapy (DBT) to help deal with crisis situations is worth reflecting on, when you feel yourself starting to react:
- Stop – pause and try visualizing a red STOP sign in front of you. Don’t react when your emotions are hot and filled with energy
- Take a step back – mentally or if necessary, physically. Once you’ve taken this step back, notice how you’re breathing. Try to take a few slow, deep breaths
- Observe – what’s going on both inside of you and around you. If there are other people around you, notice what they’re doing or saying. Notice what you’re thinking and feeling
- Proceed – be present and be aware. Use mindfulness skills to consult your wise mind. and ask your wise mind what to do
Coming soon – Safe Uncertainty; creating psychological safety for ourselves and our teams to embrace and engage with uncertainty.