By Robert “Bud” James, PhD
If you are feeling stressed by all the TV and radio newscasts, newspapers, and emails that focus on the latest virus outbreak, you’re not alone. Interestingly enough, the virus is not the real issue – the anxiety it creates is the real killer.
On the light end of the scale, anxiety and fear drives irrational purchases, excessive hoarding, avoidance strategies, and can make us say or do stupid things. In the middle of the spectrum fear creates anxiety, raises our blood pressure, drives poor eating choices, destroys sleep, and endangers relationships. It can drive people to do things without thinking. When they do occasionally think about it, the defensive justifications flow like water.
But fear can do much more harm than any virus. When we are in full fear-based reactive mode, we unconsciously shift into fight, flight, freeze, or appease. When we are there, it is not pretty.
Information is raging at us faster than ever before. Just trying to cope with the river of information and misinformation can cause stress and worry. Now add to that torrent all the data regarding COVID-19. It can be stunningly overwhelming and trigger deep fear patterns.
It’s not the single one-time reaction to bad news that is really the issue. We are built to react – it’s in our DNA. Long-term anxiety that never goes away is what actually damages us. Background stress that seems to never end. The chronic, ongoing anxiety that is triggered by the barrage of data that seems to reinforce our fear of the unknown – is killing us.
Studies posted on WebMD have identified many health problems related to stress. Stress can increase the risk or even worsen conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. It can destroy relationships and shorten our lives.
What Can We Do?
1. Reality Check
When something new pops-up on the horizon, we pay attention to it. That basic survival skill is why we have thrived on the planet. But we must put these “Bright Shiny Objects” into perspective. They are not all equally good or equally bad.
Let’s look at the worst-case scenario. Here is the CDC’s report on how American’s die.
Flu comes in at number 8 – around 51,000 per year, only slightly higher than suicide, and 3 times less than accidents which rank at about 161,000 per year.
As of this writing, per the CDC’s map, there have been 156,116 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 73,955 people have recovered so far! Only 5,829 have not. That is a 3.7% death rate, a huge recovery rate, and that is about the average for flu!
It’s normal for us to feel threatened when potentially dangerous issues are well publicized. But I think we have reached a level of ridiculousness. Don’t take it all so seriously.
Let’s get a grip on reality and take a deep breath.
2. Healthy Discharge
Anyone who has attended any of my classes knows the effectiveness of a healthy discharge. Without a healthy or balancing discharge of an activation, we can turn that reaction into internal stress. If we continue to repress our reactions, we end up “stuffing it” into our minds and bodies. That drains our reservoir of resilience. This unconscious reaction can cause mental, emotional, and even physical scars.
We need a way to release that does not make the situation worse.
Forms of Healthy Discharge include:
Laughter, Singing, Walking, Exercise, Playing, Meditation, Yoga, Talking to a Friend, Vigorous Movement, Sex, Fun Hobbies, Breath Management, Prayer, Journaling, Support Groups, Good Grief, Deep Sleep, and more. We teach the HAH breath and Thymus Thump in our classes as a great way to release and relax.
Healthy discharge helps us release and process experiences that activate, trigger, challenge, or stress us past our level of resources. Discharging regularly and often can increase our resiliency because we now have a way to process and release our negative experiences.
Turn off the TV, step away from the PC, and go for a walk!
3. Reframe the Situation
One of the most powerful reframes we teach is to see a challenging person, place, or situation as a teacher. Everything we experience can teach us something if we are willing to ask the right questions.
While there are “easy” negative answers to an initially challenging experience or situation, we want to focus on the positive lessons. The worst question I can ask is, “Why Me?” All that does is take me into victimhood and increase my stress.
The most powerful questions I can ask are:
“What is this challenge trying to teach me?”
“What can I appreciate about it?”
What do I need to know or become to be more successful?
For instance, if I am learning to play the piano, and I am frustrated by a piece of music that I think I should be able to play, I can say negative things like, “I am not good enough.” “I just have the wrong types of fingers.” “I should quit.” etc.
The positive answers might be, “I need to slow-down, and learn each piece carefully.” “I can learn to first play the bass line, then the melody line.” “I can learn to play the left-hand, then just the right-hand piece.”
In our current situation, I see several positives. For instance, I’m glad that people are stepping-up their awareness of personal hygiene. I really applaud the people that are staying home if they are sick. I’m glad to see public transportation and eating locations increasing their levels of cleanliness. I hope all of this continues long after the concern about the flu goes away. And Hope can be the greatest reframe of all.
4. Be Prepared
Okay, so you have done your Reality Check and are still worried about the flu. Use that to your advantage and move into action, not stress. Identify the things that you can reasonably do and do them.
The Scout Motto of “Be Prepared” has never let me down. I won’t go through the list of preventative measures the CDC has issued, because you can research them here. What I will emphasize is that managing your own thoughts, words, and actions is always the BEST way to move through this challenge and any other.
Once you know that you have done the best you can to
identify Actual Challenges and respond appropriately,
DISCHARGE, REFRAME, AND RELAX!
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Dr. Robert “Bud” James, PhD is an experienced instructor, consultant, and the co-author of underlying principles of the PAUSE Model of Spiritual Counseling™, and co-author of the upcoming books, Mastering the Therapeutic Process™, Allowing the Magic™, and the novel, PAUSE: The Prayer That Needs No Answer™.