Nearly everyone is worrying about COVID-19 and the impacts on our lives. That’s a normal response to a dangerous pandemic without a known end in sight. But, when this fear takes over your life, or makes current anxiety even worse, it’s time to take charge. Rather than retreat and fall into a deeper state of anxiety, you can take simple steps to retrain your brain. You may not be able to change your situation, but you can certainly change the way you respond to it.
First, let’s consider the common physical symptoms of anxiety – increased heart rate and rapid breathing. Anxiety creates those symptoms, and when you become aware of them, that awareness can trigger more anxiety. The physical symptoms get worse, the anxiety intensifies, and the cycle continues. It can be debilitating, making it difficult to function normally throughout the day. For some it can progress to a full-blown panic attack. It may seem like there is nothing you can do, but that’s not true. You can train your brain not to react to those symptoms. You can stop the cycle.
Here’s how. Get moving, literally. Do any activity that increases your heart rate and your breathing. It could be running, hiking, swimming, cycling, or whatever other aerobic activity you enjoy. You will flood your brain with chemicals that lift your mood and calm your brain circuitry. As your anxiety begins to fade away, your brain will learn that an increased heartbeat and rapid breathing are associated with positive feelings. It will no longer react to those sensations by amping up anxiety levels. As your brain learns to respond differently to those physical cues, your mind will learn that when anxiety flares up, you can get it back under control. Yes, you CAN control your anxiety. You can ensure that anxiety no longer controls you.