Fear is what we’re all feeling right now. Huge amounts of it. It hits us every time we read the news. Or when we gear up to venture out. Or when we think about our loved ones. It makes sense because we are all being threatened right now. Whether it’s directly our health, or indirectly our financial situation. Coronavirus is having a frightening effect on our lives. But as uncomfortable fear is, it exists to ensure survival. Fear activates our fight flight and freeze response to cope in the best way possible
The proof is in the way we “fight” by stocking up on supplies. When we “freeze” by avoiding social contact and when we “flight” by moving away when someone sneezes or coughs.
Again, we behave this way to protect us from danger and to feel secure that we are doing the utmost to prevent illness. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) believes anxiety works in the exact same way. The main difference, for those who suffer from anxiety, is that “the threat” is seemingly ordinary tasks. Threats become getting out of bed and facing the world, getting through another day of work, going on a date, using the bus, visiting the doctor, taking a test- the list goes on.That tightness in your chest while washing your hands or the hyperventilating induced phone call you just had is what people with anxiety suffer with on the regular.
And they will respond in the exact same way as you are right now, by activating that fight, flight and freeze system. That’s why your anxious mother “fights” for control by spending hours googling potential illnesses for every headache. It’s why your anxious friend “freezes” by avoiding parties and why your anxious partner “flights” by running out the door during arguments.
What we are seeing and experiencing now is exactly what someone with anxiety suffers from on a daily basis. We are all rightfully ruminating over the same fear that “something terrible will happen to me or my family” just like someone with anxiety.
However, as this experience peaks and descends (hopefully sooner rather than later) you will go back to your normal routine. But for 284 million people worldwide* this “panic” and its fight, flight or freeze response is the normal routine. For some, a descent is nowhere in sight. A fear so debilitating that it seems nothing will get better, just endless days of worrying and “what ifs”. This is anxiety.
So what can this experience with panic show us? Alongside building resilience(physically and mentally) we are being exposed to the life of someone suffering from anxiety. Our current experiences are mirroring and explaining many of the thoughts and behaviours people with anxiety suffer with daily. We are seeing first hand how these thoughts and behaviours are affecting our overall mood and happiness. At the end of the day, I hope this shared experience creates deeper understanding but more importantly stronger sympathy. A reminder to check in with loved ones who will continue to suffer even after this passes.
*Source: Institute for health metrics, Global Burden of Disease Study, 2017