Written by Rouba Chalabi
It’s normal not to feel OK in those times of Corona. We are coping with immense change that has forced us out of our comfort zone and established routines. Our worlds are now characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity، and Ambiguity or simply said VUCA. Our days and lives have become unpredictable. Things keep changing forcing us to be in constant readjustment. We are operating in the dark without total understanding of the situation. Our financial security is at risk while we are fearful of getting the virus and loosing loved ones. This new reality is quite unsettling, impacting our health and well-being.
In times of stress like these, a built-in response gets activated in our bodies affecting how we think, feel and behave. This is very similar to a gazelle’s reaction when attacked by a lion. The gazelle goes through a fight, flight or freeze response. Let me explain those three responses on a human level.
- Fight: The person fights back: He/she looses their temper easily, screams, argues, attacks and becomes violent.
- Flight: The person becomes agitated and looses the ability to focus. He/she has a high level of anxiety and feels constantly on the run. The person struggles to sleep and rest.
- Freeze: the person becomes slower and delays any decision-making. He/she detaches from reality through seeking intellectual pursuits or spiritual comfort. The person gets easily tired, spends more time alone and sleeps more.
Now that you understand the three basic human reactions to stress, are you the freezing, fleeing, or fighting type? While we may sometimes identify with all three, we mostly belong to one type. Our stress response is an automatic reaction generated by the nervous system as a survival mechanism. We do it unconsciously whenever faced with danger.
Begin to observe how you think, feel and behave in times of stress. Developing this awareness will take time. As you wonder about a specific feeling or behavior that is bothering you, you will begin to link it within the context of your human reaction to stress. For some, we are quick to go through shame and self-blame about not being good enough. Instead, how about you begin to appreciate your qualities?
- The fighters push the boundaries and change the status quo. They are the revolutionaries, the guardians and scarecrows.
- Those who go into flight mode are great executioners that get things done. They easily take charge and serve all people in need. They are the leaders, caregivers and service men and women.
- People who freeze are superb strategists with sharpened mind abilities. They are the intellectuals, scientists, geeks, designers and wise men and women.
Humanity has survived and thrived thanks to the diversity of people. Embrace your strength and have it play to your advantage. Team up with others that have different stress responses so that you can complement and support each other.
While we do not have control over Corona, we do have an ability to improve our experience of life. Begin noticing your negative emotions such as shame, anger, sadness, fear, or numbness. Many of us resist or ignore those feelings as we have been conditioned from childhood to suppress them. Your feelings are valid. Practice your right to feel and refrain from fighting your emotions. Externalize your vulnerability and confide into loved ones because when you share, someone will support you. Also, when we acknowledge our feelings, we become more alive.
I would like to share with you a few general strategies to help you cope with difficult times:
- Take the opportunity to discover what blessings in disguise the Corona era has brought into your life. Despite the social distancing and self-isolation, corona has brought families closer. Did Corona break any of your established patterns of behavior that had become boring and unproductive? Appreciate the changes.
- Practice kindness and be there for your loves ones and strangers. Kindness is contagious and leads to happiness.
- Live in the present. Instead of waiting for tomorrow and hoping it will be better, how can you be happy in the right now? Switch your mental attitude to appreciate the present moment.
We will still freeze, fight and flight yet we can soften their effect on us so that we can return faster to a place of center and balance. Here are few specific strategies:
- For those suffering from low energy, gently get yourself to move. Run errands, walk, do some jumping jacks, dance. When you find yourself in isolation, make small efforts to reach out and socialize. Call someone you have not connected with in a long time.
- If you feel anxious, you need to find healthy ways to slow down and relax. Breathe deeper, take a long shower, or listen to music. Begin a yoga and meditation practice. Spend time in nature.
- If you feel angry, do something physical that helps you release the high energy in your body then slow down and relax.
In times of stress, we easily get activated by others. Now that you understand how people respond to stress, refrain from taking their behavior as personal and instead help them feel better. Here are few suggestions to use with people.
- If you are irritated by the slowness of someone, invite him or her for a walk or give them a mundane task that gets them moving. Their energy will rise as their body moves.
- If someone’s too withdrawn, reach out and chitchat. Recognize them and make them feel seen.
- If someone is too hyper, help them slow down by inviting them to sit and take a break. Change the topic of the conversation into something positive and light-hearted. Have a good laugh together. Show them love and support. This should help them relax.
- When dealing with angry people, give them space to express themselves. What they are saying is not important, allow them to release their pent up feelings without interruption. They will calm down afterwards.
The changes that are coming our way are gigantic. After all, change is the only thing constant in life. While we all prefer to keep our old ways, we have an opportunity here to grow through embracing the unknown. Instead of resisting change, could you view your tomorrow as an adventure and give it some enthusiasm? Feeling afraid of the unknown? Envision it as a series of surprises and allow them to energize you.
Rouba is a healer and food addiction counselor. She is the author of a book “Beyond the Emptiness: How I found Fullness Outside of Food.” She lives in Lebanon and offers sessions in stress release and relaxation, breathwork and trauma release, and food addiction recovery. Her passion is to help others with similar struggles through what she has learnt from improving her own wellbeing.