Anxiety: Friend or Foe during Covid 19?

by Carolyn Barber

In 2015 some French researchers looked at how an anxious person may be better prepared to deal with a crisis than their more laid back counterparts.
 
“Anxious people process threats using regions of the brain responsible for action. Meanwhile, ‘low anxious’ people process them in sensory circuits, responsible for face recognition”.

There is certainly some anecdotal evidence that for some who experience severe anxiety, the public health crisis has eased their distress. It’s possible that the slowing down of the sheer busyness and pace of life, reduces daily stress factors.

On the other hand, the experience from China and countries such as Italy and Spain – ahead of the UK in terms of the impact of the pandemic – suggests that mental distress is likely to escalate as isolation and uncertainty about the future continues. One source estimated that 42% of the Chinese population were experiencing anxiety. The World Health Organisation identifies the mental health of health and care workers, those on the frontline of dealing with Covid 19, as a major concern for public health strategies.

All this highlights just how important it is to pay attention to our own mental health. Learning the principles of ’emotional first aid’ is one way to remind ourselves that these are seriously distressing times for most of us.

Psychologist Guy Winch identifies five such principles in his book Emotional First Aid:

  • Recognize when you’re in emotional pain. 
  • Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. 
  • Distract yourself from rumination.  
  • Redefine your view of failure. 
  • Find meaning in loss.  

Physical pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. This goes for emotional pain as well. Anxiety is our body’s alert system, and has an important protective purpose. It can prepare us for action where needed, or alert us to emotional distress.

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