Neuro Hacks for COVID-19 Fear

We Are Wired For Fear

It is hard not to get caught up in the media fear frenzy surrounding coronavirus. The oldest part of our brain that is in charge of keeping us alive is on high-alert!  Back in the day when our biggest threat was a tiger, our brain would scan our environment for signals of danger, report to our body via an interconnected messenger system how to respond – stay put, fight, run or in the worst case scenario, freeze and play dead.  Our brain is wired to fixate on the negative and potential dangers to keep us safe.

Constantly searching for new information in the hopes of feeling some control only keeps us in this hyper-vigilant reactive response. Knowing that our immune system is directly linked to how much stress we are experiencing, it becomes actually harmful to our health to stay in the this cycle. Social distancing may be necessary to stop the spread of the virus but it is important to stay socially connected to keep your immune system working properly!

That soothing voice, a gentle touch, gives our nervous system the cue to relax, “I am safe here.“

How Do We Break The Cycle

It is good news that our nervous system evolved to include the Social Engagement System.  This system is designed to evoke the feelings of safety through a calm voice, friendly, empathetic facial expressions and gestures.  Think of a mother in tuned with her child who comes for comfort after being hurt or scared.  That soothing voice, a gentle touch, gives our nervous system the cue to relax, “I am safe here.”

The following are neuroscience based suggestions to keep you calm:

  1. Observe and notice when you get caught up in the fear frenzy. Learn what you need to do to keep yourself and loved ones healthy and then turn off the media.
  2. Tell a friend or family member about the Social Engagement System. Have a stress-free zone at home or with each other where you can give each other signals of safety – laugh, smile, talk in a calm voice. Try FaceTime or Zoom if we end up being isolated for longer periods of time. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean complete isolation. Be creative to find ways to connect. Staying calm yourself is literally contagious.
  3. Since the brain sticks to the negative, it takes conscious awareness and intention to notice and amplify the positive.  I suggest setting an alarm on your phone to take a gratitude break. This brings you into the present moment and gives your brain a task to find something positive. Better yet, share your gratitude.
  4. Savor the positive, it takes repeated focus to create new neural pathways so have something in sight that can be a reminder of what you love or are grateful for – a photo of loved ones or a favorite place, a flower, a shell from the ocean, an inspirational quote.
  5. Create a powerful healing state called coherence by doing a quick heart-centered breath technique that calls for a 4 count inhale, 6 count exhale and really feel and focus on something you love or are grateful for.  There is an app and sensor you can get named Inner Balance (Heart Math Institute) that shows you in real-time if you are in the relaxed mode of your nervous system which is call Rest and Repair or Rest and Digest by the way.
  6. Help others in need.

We Are Also Wired for Love and Bliss

Where do we go from here?  We approach this challenge like any other. We use that Social Engagement System to spread peace. What is the opportunity for growth and responding with love and kindness? We may get sick, we heal, we take care of others. We provide niches of safety to those who are in fear.  We count our blessings and notice the weaknesses in our country’s health care system (more of a sick care system), and our economy. We notice how we are a global community, so we heal together and solve our problems together. We are as Thich-Naht Hahn says, Inter-Being. Our nervous systems are not only wired for fear and love but also Bliss. This bliss is accessible in the silence of the heart. Dropping into this space turns on the part of our brain that gives us the feeling of oneness and being deeply held.  You won’t find that on social media. Wisdom and answers emerge from that space.  It’s already there, waiting for you to show up.

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