We are living in an unprecedented situation that none of us have experienced in our lifetime. This isn’t the first time we have experienced a pandemic virus, nor will it be the last. But how the government decided to address this particular pandemic virus is unique in our history. The danger is not simply potential exposure to the virus and whether any one person may get sick or pass it unknowingly on to someone with a possible loss of life. Our very way of life has been completely disrupted. There is stress, loss and grief that everyone is experiencing even if you do not have a direct personal experience with the virus itself. The long-term quarantine, social distancing, job loss and uncertainty about the future increases physical and psychological stress. This is a perfect storm that has a profound impact on the functioning of the immune system when we need it the most to protect us and those we love from the ravages of the virus.
The Impact of losing a job or business
As I write this there are millions of people and counting who have lost their jobs. According to several studies job loss is not simply about a loss of income, but is about safety and survival and includes:
*increase in stress (physically and psychologically)
*poor health, an increase in self-destructive behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse
*loss of confidence, lower self-esteem, less sense of control
*anxiety, insecurity, shame, depression, isolation, loss of hope
*breakdown of family relationships, increased fighting, risk of violence
*a greater risk of suicide, increased risk of mortality by 10-15% in the first year afterwards
Dangers of isolation and social distancing
Studies conclude that social isolation and loneliness of otherwise healthy, well-functioning individuals eventually results in psychological and physical disintegration, and even death. Social isolation tends to increase the sense of loneliness. Loneliness is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, viral infections and cancer. Research shows that the lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol problem. Several studies have demonstrated that social isolation is linked to an increase of inflammation and a decrease in antiviral responses and production of antibodies. “Changes in immune cell gene expression were specifically linked to the subjective experience of social distance”, according to Steve Cole, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine.
Many people will likely experience trauma from this quarantine. Peter Levine, a trauma expert and author of “In an Unspoken Voice”, observed that a condition for the development of posttraumatic stress disorder occurs when someone is both afraid and feels trapped. “The interaction of intense fear and immobility is fundamental in the formation of trauma,” according to Peter Levine. We certainly are “trapped” and confined in quarantine with the ongoing social transmission of fear either of the virus or the loss of ability to support our family.
The Dangers of being Out of Touch
We are social and emotional creatures who yearn to connect and touch. Physical contact is necessary for our health, wellbeing and social connection. Many people are suffering from “touch hunger”.
The benefits of touch and physical presence are:
*triggers endorphins the feel-good chemicals that counteract the not feel good stress reactions.
*heart rates synchronize, gestures are duplicated, voices match and modulate which reduces stress
*we unconsciously duplicate each other’s facial expressions, which is how we know each other’s feelings
*communication and connection is enhanced by receiving this information moment by moment
During threats to survival, safety and grief, the natural response is to seek eye contact and physical comfort from others. Instead people are now considered to be dangerous carriers of illness and death who should be avoided.
Despite all the positive press about how much we are connecting online during this time, this is not actually an equivalent substitute for human contact. According to a recent study there is
* a strong link between digital communication and loneliness.
* Digital communications are out of sync and disrupt the sense of attunement.
* screens and cameras inhibit the ability to “read” or “feel” each other nonverbally through close eye contact and duplication of the micro muscles of the face.
This makes it harder to effectively communicate and repair any miscommunication. There is a tendency to be less revealing and more withholding than in person. Less real connection is taking place when we need it the most.
And, you can’t hug your computer!
Smiling is a very important nonverbal form of communication. When we encounter a stranger, it is a quick way to determine “friend or foe”. Smiling is calming and reassuring. Wearing masks do not allow for that to happen. As a result, people generally avoid eye contact or greetings often resulting in an increase of fear and anxiety when in public.
Signs of stress
Some of the symptoms of stress that you may be experiencing include:
*forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, inability to take in new information
*less ability to evaluate and analyze information objectively, reduced reasoning skills
*Sleep disruptions, fatigue, change in energy, changes in appetite, digestion
*Irritability, short tempered, more reactive, edgy, angry
*panic attacks, heart racing, fast breathing, inability to catch your breath, extreme anxiety that stops you from doing what you are trying to accomplish
Be aware of what circumstances may put you over the edge. Many people have experienced a panic attack just by going to the grocery store. Having the kids cooped up day after day for some may be challenging. Having that awareness gives you an opportunity to use some of the following solutions to help you manage better.
WAYS TO MITIGATE THE EFFECTS OF THE MITIGATION
I. Quarantine your Mind
*AVOID WATCHING TV
Take the same amount of time you would spend watching TV and research the news from a reputable fact-based source without the “programming” that induces fear, anxiety, stress and the belief that you or someone you love is going to get sick and die.
*Stop reporting and repeating devastating personal stories and worst-case possible scenarios. This only serves to reinforce the fear and anxiety in yourself and others.
* Avoid listening to others telling horrific stories or ruminating about their fears. Politely change the topic or ask them to stop.
*Focus on and repeat positive information, feel good stories, or new possible treatments for the virus
* Engage in “strategic planning” for the future. For example, I chose to take this time to learn how to do social media marketing for growing my business and writing!
* Be aware of, acknowledge and express your feelings with someone you trust. Ask for help or consult with a professional.
* Make choices that give a sense of personal control by exercising, eating healthy, being productive, getting up and getting dressed, etc.
II. Soft Belly breathing, quick stress, anxiety relief
According to James S. Gordon, MD, an expert on stress, trauma and author of “The Transformation”, breathing with your belly in a soft, relaxed way:
* slows heart rate, relaxes muscles, decreases blood pressure, improves digestion
* reduces fear and anger, stress reactions, improves judgment
* promotes self-awareness, compassion which invites more connection and feeling closer to others
HOW TO SOFT BELLY BREATHE: Eyes closed, Say the words “soft”, “belly” slowly. Inhale through nose, exhale through the mouth softening more and more with each exhale, focus on feeling your belly move with each breath.
III. Shake it Up and Dance it Out
Cultures around the world use “expressive meditation” (shaking and dancing) as a way to deal with trauma and grief. Animals shake after they experience threatening predator situations before returning to normal activities. Expressive meditation is an ancient way that religious traditions use to change and expand consciousness. The benefits of expressive meditation (shaking and dancing) are:
* promotes spontaneous emotional expression which can be healing in itself, increases the life energy
* supports spontaneity, liberating, healing of trauma, same benefits as physical exercise
* increases serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, creates new neurons in the brain
* releases fear, decreases anxiety, relief from and protects against depression, reduces self-doubt increases resilience and creates a better mood
* improves sleep, memory, increases capacity to focus
* disrupts the stress survival patterns of rigidity, tense bodies, shallow breathing, limited beliefs and negative thoughts
* returns to a normal state of balance with access to imagination, awareness and social engagement
HOW TO GET MOVING: Let go of any self-consciousness and just get into the movements!
SHAKING: Set an intention to appreciate the opportunity to move through and beyond where you are frozen or stuck in fear, stress and survival.
Select some fast music that gets you moving.
Start with feet shoulder width apart, a slight bend in knees, close eyes, breathe deeply, long slow breaths.
Start shaking from your feet and move upward through your body. Experiment with shaking all areas of your body, don’t leave any part out. Do this for about 5 minutes to fast music. Then finish with 2-3 minutes of stillness, silence and breathing long slow breaths.
DANCE: Choose some music for moving that you are unfamiliar with. Wait until you actually feel the music in your body and then let your body start to move to the music. Try to move every part of your body in different ways feeling the music flow through you without following any dance step. Then finish with 2-3 minutes of stillness, silence and breathing long slow breaths.
IV. THE BEST WAY TO HAVE A REAL SOCIAL CONNECTION:
* If you are laughing you can’t think or worry.
* transforms fixed, counterproductive, negative thinking that accompanies trauma and stress
* has the same objective as meditation which is a way to joyfulness
* form of nonverbal communication that conveys empathy and is highly contagious
* Health promoting, pain relieving and improves mood by increasing endorphins, lowers blood pressure
* Decreases stress hormones and boosts the immune system; aerobic benefits, activates the cardiovascular system, increases heart rate and pumps blood to internal organs
* Stimulates the diaphragm muscle, abdominals, back, leg and facial muscles. After a few minutes of laughter these muscles relax.
* Frees us from victimization that shuts out pleasure in the now and offers future hope.
* Feel more relaxed, energized, present with a better perspective on the current crisis.
* traumatized people benefit with pain reduction and lightens the burden of trauma.
* More harmony with and compassionate to each other
* Most importantly there is a genuine sense of a close connection with another
How to get it going:
Yes, you can tell jokes, even a Covid-19 joke. But that doesn’t go as far as you might think!
Do it with your virtual meetings. It will be contagious! Someone starts and you all will be joining in.
HOW TO LAUGH DEEPLY: Standing is best to start. Try to force laughter up from the belly by contracting it and pushing it out. Churn out sounds from there, the sillier the better such as barks, chuckles, giggles, guffaws. Keep it going until the laughter takes over.
You can clap your hands or swing your arms while chanting, “Ho, Ho, Ha Ha.” Keep going until deep belly laughs take over.
End with stating positive intentions about yourself, tasks and future.
Each of us have a responsibility to immunize ourselves and inoculate others against this virus by remaining in the present moment and elevating our emotions to love, joy, appreciation, gratitude, empathy, compassion, caring. Transmit hope not fear.
If you need help call me!
Pamela Morgan, LCSW , Body Psychotherapy, 954-525-8088,