That feeling you’ve had the past couple of weeks.
The one that you can’t name.
Not quite fear, not quite anxiety, but kind of both.
Every bit of your being feels like it’s supposed to be doing something, but you are paralyzed at the same time.
You can’t seem to make any decisions, and the further out the decision is the harder it is to make.
Planning seems impossible.
You may be jumpy. Unable to sleep. Your mind may feel like it is in overdrive.
Nothing is getting done.
You were once a functional human being. What the hell happened?
You are okay. What you are feeling is normal.
This is going to be a huge over simplification of what is happening to your brain right now (and I should add I am not a therapist, I’m just one more person with issues who has done a lot of research to try and figure them out) but here are the basics.
When you sense or become aware of a threat there is a part of our brain that kicks into high gear. You may hear some people call it our primitive mind, or lizard brain, or the amygdala. It is the part of your brain that takes over when you need to make our body ready to face danger. It signals your body to be prepared to act.
It does this in a couple of ways. It causes adrenaline and cortisol to be released into your body. It ups your heart rate and changes the pace of your breathing to help oxygenate the blood. It focuses all of your body’s resources on getting you out of the immediate danger.
When it does its job well, you are able to assess a situation very quickly and determine what you are going to do to protect yourself (the fight or flight response) and get to safety. Once out of danger the body slowly returns to business as usual.
But what if the danger doesn’t go away?
Or what if the danger is something intangible that you can't just fight or run from – like a pandemic?
What happens if it doesn’t turn off?
One of the things that occurs when you are in fight or flight mode is your brain shuts down your long-term thinking. You need to make a decision now, not next week. Normally you’d make your choice, and assuming you survived, your brain would eventually return to normal. But if there is no choice to be made, or if the threat seems to be intangible, yet all around you, you could find your body and your brain are stuck in emergency response mode.
You are stuck in a cycle of the feeling of immediate danger that just doesn’t go away. Your brain doesn’t return to normal. Your lizard brain/amygdala is still at the helm, convinced that you are in immediate danger.
Is it any surprise that trying to decide what you are going to have for lunch suddenly seems like an impossible decision to make?
There are ways to disrupt this, and if you Google disrupting amygdala hijacking you will find quite a few. I will be sharing some of my tools in future blog posts and posts here, but right now I want you to know that…
What you are feeling right now is totally normal.
You are not broken. You are having a very normal human response to danger. It’s just that this danger is not going away anytime soon, but your body doesn’t know this. Your body doesn’t know that this is a virus that you can take some very logical steps to avoid, and not a tiger that wants to eat you.
One thing I do that helps, I pause and close my eyes. I take a few moments to check in with by body. If my shoulders are raised, I relax them down. I try to release any physical tension I'm carrying.** I take deep breaths. I remind myself that in this moment right now I’m safe.
This past week I’ve done it at least a dozen times a day. And sometimes it doesn’t work, and I need to take other measures.
But that is where I start. I hope it gives you a place to start too.
**I basically am trying to put my body in the physical state it would be in if I felt safe. This helps the more rational part of my mind start to reactivate and kickstarts the calming of my mind too.