It’s week now week 5 of the Coronavirus lockdown. This current situation with the uncertainty, the pressure and the lack of control will have a huge impact on our emotions. While these are completely normal to the threat that exists, it is good to some understanding of the mind science behind our emotions. This gives us an opportunity to be less hard on ourselves, to take a step back and to most importantly aim to settle these before we make any decisions.
All of our emotions, both positive and negative are different mental reactions that are expressed by humans. Emotions are present in our daily lives and play a role in how we behave individually and socially. We can switch between feeling happy and great, to feeling angry or low in a moment. These times will be causing a great shift between our emotions, often feeling like they are coming in waves.
The Emotional Mind
So let’s understand some of the neuroscience to help manage our emotions.
Many of the functions of the brain have evolved over thousands of years and they are what keep us safe and thriving. Even though there are less physical threats to our environment from the days of the jungle, as humans we have social and emotional threats linked to our status. The emotional part of the mind, the limbic system then causes us to react with fear any time we feel threatened. This can be a trigger interpreted as a threat to our sense of belonging, are liked by the ‘troop’. This is be playing out in a way that we hardly know as we are all social isolated. We can have a big reaction to something that doesn’t feel fair. As the mind is a certainty making machine, we don’t like it when we are unsure what is going on or there is uncertainty. This current place we all find ourselves in will be challenging this part of the mind constantly. The mind then scans the environment looking for evidence that there is a threat, although more often than not there is actually no threat. We will feel compelled to watch the news looking for the evidence to justify the feelings we have.
This kind of situation can cause us challenges as the mind doesn’t distinguish between oneself and others. It takes everything personally so as we watch the news, the emotional mind hears everything first, hence the strong emotional reactions. When we see a situation happen to someone else, we can respond as if the event was happening to us. Good examples of this was the general response to the tragic bombing in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert or the Grenfell Fire. It is normal to be moved by another person’s plights although for some this becomes a huge trauma even though they weren’t directly involved. In these situations, the brain responses in auto pilot and is responsible for putting the body into an emergency state.
It is in this emotional responses that prevents us using her rational mind and our behaviours can appear to be erratic, sometimes out of character and even crazy! When this part of the mind is running the show, we are unable to come up with any logical response or problem solve. The trick is trying to manage this response by settling our minds so that we can keep these responses in perspective and react appropriately.
In normal day to day experiences, these responses and there doesn’t have to be a literal threat to our future. We see someone yawning at your presentation; we could interpret this as a threat to you, than just thinking that they had not had a very good night sleep. It can be triggered if someone doesn’t even say ‘Good morning’ to us and this may cause us to react angrily towards that person. The reality could be that they are simply having a really difficult time and just didn’t notice you. One area of the mind that will play out, Covid19 or not, is a big concern, and sometimes obsession, of worrying about what others will think of us. We are receiving stimulus constantly, particularly what we see and hear, or pick up unconscious triggers from others. These are often not a correct interpretation of the situation.
It is super challenging at the moment to manage these emotions, although if we are honest they are there all the time. Look after yourselves and that sensitive mind.
4 steps to help manage these responses:
1. Realise! Stop yourself and realise (become aware) that your mind is being hijacked into a fight or flight response. Recognise the emotions that are flooding you and name them.
2. Breathe! Taking 4 or 5 deep, cleansing breaths will oxygenate the brain.
3. Give thanks! This one will be hard to do, but just DO IT – say to yourself what you are grateful about related to the person, event or situation you are experiencing. Have faith that even though you may not yet feel grateful, the act of moving toward gratitude is helping shift the neuro-chemical landscape in your brain.
4. Re-think! Once your emotions have calmed and you can think rationally, re-evaluate the situation and pinpoint the triggers. Becoming aware of your triggers helps your brain to shift you to activate some rational thinking about this event and how your mind/body responded to it.