COVID-19 Anxiety busters

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating significant disruption in all areas of business and life. To help you to find some order in the chaos and adjust to new ways of doing and being, Doctor Digital has put together a series of COVID-19 blogs with tips, tricks, hacks and suggestions for how digital and e-commerce tools can support you and your business.

Doctor Digital Says

Anxious and stressed about COVID-19 and your business? There’s an app for that and some helpful daily practices to manage the extreme situation we are all in. There is no sugar coating the cray cray we are all going through. Legit a time that no one alive has ever experienced or have developed coping mechanisms for. Uncertaintly, risk, isolation, rapidly changing information – this is our new normal for now and for who knows how long. As evolved well-dressed primates our brains are hard wired for survival. Right now, we are individually and collectively adopting a survival mode, using our sympathetic nervous system as it is intended to be scanning the horizon constantly for danger, running on adrenalin and cortisol and waiting for the next attack. Exhausting right?

If you are running a business you might already be used to that feeling of wired fatigue, add in all of the above, plus trying to work out just how you are going to manage it all plus get groceries for a shutdown and homeschool the kids is just about enough to push most of us over the edge. So how do you manage everything that has to happen without losing your mind? There are a few simple and free strategies you can deploy to get your parasympathetic nervous system back running the show – that’s the calm rational one that helps you make good decisions and lowers your blood pressure.

Start here: firstly, recognise that you are in uncharted territory. There is nothing about what is happening now that you have experienced so the feelings you are feeling are absolutely normal. Secondly – you are not alone. We are in this situation as a local, national and global community, we are connected by the experience and we are all in it together. Harness that collective identity, think about others, think about how what you do - the decisions you make are literally contributing to the experience of others.

Stay present. Worrying about what is going to happen it our default situation. The brain is hardwired for stories, they are what keeps us informed and updated on the imminent death and disaster that our flight or flight mechanisms are built for. But know our brain doesn’t discriminate from what is real or not. It just wants a story to explain the situation, and then gives a dopamine reward. Practice alert but not alarmed mental hygiene – take time out from talking about the corona virus, from reading news alerts and seeing the terrible stories on your social media feeds.

If you feel your mind whirring away getting more and more caught up in fear and panic fact check yourself – do I have enough information to make a decision, what can I practically do to change this situation – if they answer to both is no, consciously tell your mind there is nothing to be done and move away from those thoughts (use the breathing exercise below.)

As humans we are also hardwired for connection, so by thinking and feeling this, it will help you to normalise the situation and the stories you are telling yourself about it. Fear happens in the mind and the body. Recognising it as a reaction to our primitive neurology, and knowing you can change your response is a great way to claw back a little sense of control.

What about the body? Somatic release of stress, i.e. through the body is a swift way to discharge anxiety and stress. The most effective method is breathing. Yep. Good old breath. It removes the cortisol from your system, (secreted by your adrenal glands in times of stress), and oxygenates your brain so you can restore calm. Anytime you are feeling anxious or out of control or about to blow a gasket do this exercise: breathe in, counting to four, hold that breath and count to four, breathe out counting to four, hold the exhale counting to four.

You can do this discretely just about anywhere, do it for as little as a minute or as long as five minutes regularly throughout the day. There is a reason this is used by SAAS soldiers when they go into combat – it works instantly and overrides our natural systems of fight or flight which can be counter-productive to rational behaviour.

Just focus on counting and the breath and then when you are done, take a moment to notice how you feel. Do this as soon as you begin to feel any physical sensation of stress – the body registers stress before the brain so it is an excellent triage for all kinds of situations. Just changing state by moving, stretching, shouting or roaring (not at people, of course, somewhere you can really let rip) will help you to transform.

Meditation is another power tool in these times. There are some fantastic digital supports, from the breathe reminder on your smart watch or phone, to apps like Insight Timer, Headspace and Calm that have thousands of short and long guided meditations to help you return your mind to a less hyper vigilant space. All of these have a free option and many are offering extended free material to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s associated anxieties.

Like COVID-19, stress and anxiety is contagious. Thanks to our clever brains having mirror-neurons, we mirror the behaviour of those around us, with the current panic and relentless news cycle, it is hard to not be in an endless loop of worry, and now more than ever is the time to get a meditation and breathing practice as part of your work and daily life. The key takeaway is to constantly remind yourself we are in this together – all of us everywhere. Think and act kindly to yourself and others, it is our capacity for humanity that will ultimately prevail.

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