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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

And the Stress Goes On, and On, and On

There is something exciting about the start of a crisis. Your brain automatically goes into fight or flight and releases adrenalin. Your body is primed for survival – you senses are sharp and physically you feel like you can take on anything that comes your way.

But then, the stressors don’t stop. Your life is being turned upside down, throwing you into places where you have never been. You aren’t working, no income, bills to pay, food to buy. The stressors are escalating faster than your ability to solve any of your problems.

Your brain has now changed. Instead of using your prefrontal cortex (area of the brain behind your forehead) to think, plan and make decisions, you have now created a loop between your hippocampus and your amygdala (emotional center of the brain). Now you are reacting – not thinking. Emotions have taken over – worry and anxiety. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep and everyone is on your last nerve. Cortisol, the ultimate stress hormone, is flooding your brain and body. Cortisol is very destructive, It even kills brain cells. On top of everything else – now your brain is shrinking!

Okay – time to take a breath. Your brain has been on automatic pilot in an effort to help you survive. The problem is – our threat alert and survival system was created to keep our prehistoric ancestors alive – not find your way through a long lasting pandemic. With everything that we are experiencing that is beyond our control – we cannot let our brain function in an uncontrollable way. We do have control over our brain function and the thoughts we think. We now have to be open to learning a new skill set, one that we can calm down, get centered, and start thinking again. When you take three deep breaths – breathe in through your nose on a count of 4. Your belly should be extending on this inhalation. Hold your breath to a count of 7. Then exhale through pursed lips to a count of 8. Your belly should be going down on the exhale. Keep your attention on your breathing. This simple exercises has the power to break the chronic stress loop.

As you get out of bed in the morning, make an intention to trust yourself. Say this: “ As you heal and grow, it will all work out. Relax and trust yourself.” Say this every morning before you start your day. Your problems won’t disappear but now they are more controllable because you are thinking again.

Prioritize your problems. If you have no money to pay your bills, contact each company and work on a temporary solution. They are hearing from everyone and they know that they have to work with you to help you pay your bills. Now this might be a short term fix that won’t work over the long run. Get the here and now taken care of. One of your biggest challenges and goals is to stay in the present. You have no idea what will happen in the future – so you can’t problem solve an unknown. You can’t stay angry about the past – because it is over. The only time you have control is NOW.

You need to take care of yourself. If you are the person who takes care of your family – you cannot get sick. Your family is depending on you. This only adds another layer of toxic stress. Get some exercise, eat healthy, get sleep, talk to other people. We are hardwired to connect and our shelter in place orders make it hard to stay connected. Use technology wisely. My mom is 91 and lives in an apartment by herself. She is always on the go and staying home for her has been difficult. We (sisters) taught her how to use FaceTime to talk with her kids and grandkids. She laughs about how she looks but we love to see her. She has an iPad that she is very adept at. She was complaining about watching the same thing on TV over and over again. However, she does have Netflix on her iPad. It will something new for her to learn but in the end it will give her enjoyment. Use video technology to stay connected to your friends and family.

If you find that you can’t focus on these different activities because you are still worried then you need to look at other options to calm your brain down. Take the time to journal your experiences through this ordeal. Don’t read your entry from yesterday before you write your new entry. The purpose of journaling is to get some of the stress and frustration out and on paper. When you see your written words, you may actually see solutions pop up too. When you get to a point where you are resuming as normal of life as you can – you can go back and read your story. Then honor the progress you made in retraining your brain.

Finally, give yourself a break. We are in uncharted waters and you need to feel good about what you are doing to get through this pandemic. This will end. Our lives may be different. But our brain is constantly adapting to our environment. Use your brain – conscious and subconscious thoughts to get you through. You can't even imagine how much your brain can help you. Ask your brain to solve your problems before you go to bed. During the night your subconscious will start sending answers your way.

Let the powers of your brain guide you through this dark time.

Take good care of yourself and stay healthy.

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