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Fight or Flight in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted on Tue, Jul 14, 2020 By:
Posted in: blogMental Health & Mindfulness

Good morning and Happy Monday!

When you woke up this morning, did you feel a little stiffer than usual? Light-headed? Sluggish? Or maybe jumpy? Well, turns out there might be a very logical reason.

I read a fact sheet last week put out by the Psycho-Social Emergency Response Team (PSERT) of Health Canada. I want to talk with you about it (link below).

You’ve probably heard of the Fight or Flight response? It’s the body’s natural response to anything that is considered dangerous or life threatening. This adaptive response allows us to quickly act and survive when faced with danger. How does it do this? What happens to our body and mind in the fight or flight response?

LOTS.

Our breathing may become shorter and faster to allow more oxygen to pump into our blood, possibly causing light-headedness.  Our heart rate may increase to pump more blood to our major muscles and while we may start to feel hot and sweaty, our fingers and toes may feel cold from the re-direction of blood. Our senses become super-spidey. Our muscles become more tense to allow for heightened speed and agility. Our digestion system may slow down to allow other bodily functions to ramp up, causing nausea or indigestion. We are primed to respond and survive.

(NOTE: see the article below for an understanding of the FREEZE response which is another physiological reaction in times of high stress).

During this coronavirus crisis, we have lost much, and it’s logical for us to feel threatened. We have temporarily lost our freedom of movement, regular contact with our social support system, our sense of physical safety, financial or practical resources, our sense of predictability and perceived control over the future (even tomorrow!) and the potential of other unknown threats facing us. It’s normal and reasonable that our fight or flight response would be triggered.

If that’s you, you might be feeling some of these symptoms as a result:

HeadachesIrritability/restlessness
Upset stomachTroubles with focus and short-term memory
Sore musclesAnxiety or depression/changes in mood
Troubles sleepingFeeling numb or separate from yourself

Take heart. There’s some pretty simple steps you can take to relax your body and mind, and reverse the fight or flight response.

BREATHE.  DEEPLY.

When you breathe deeply, you encourage your body to reverse the fight or flight response because deep breathing tells the body there must be no danger to worry about. Breathing deeply allows the muscles to relax, heartbeat to stabilize, and oxygen to be released more widely to the body. It also forces us to take note of our physical state and be intentional with relaxation. I find I have to take at least 5 deep breaths to notice a difference.

LAUGH.

For some folks, this may seem like an invalidation of the pain and fear that the coronavirus is presenting. I don’t mean it to be. I respect that this may not be where you are at today.  If this does not feel right for you, please feel free to move on.  Come back to laughter if/when it feels right to you.

I encourage laughter because it also tells the body that there’s no imminent danger for which a fight or flight response is required. Laughing is in line with what Dr. Marsha Linehan (who developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy) suggests as “opposite action” – the theory that states if you are experiencing a negative emotion, do something to create the opposite emotion. Laughing is opposite to crying, yelling, or just checking out, and can elicit positive emotions like happiness, silliness, relaxation, and joy. If you’re not sure what to laugh about, I’ve attached the link to a Coca-Cola you tube commercial that will do the trick (leave it to Coca-Cola to solve all the world’s problems) 😊 JK. You can also check out Pluto dog (Pluto Living).  He’s made me laugh so hard that I almost …well you get the picture.

ENJOYABLE ACTIVITIES.

Look for ways to spend your time doing things you enjoy, take your mind off the stress, allow you to feel successful and productive, and perhaps even offer a new experience! Engaging in an activity that you enjoy and offers a bit of a challenge provides an opportunity for relaxation and distraction. This could be finding ways to exercise, express yourself artistically, learn how to build something new, or solve a puzzle. While some of our go-to activities for de-stressing may be off-limits right now due to the self-isolation protocol, be creative with what is available and try something new!

MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness is a well-researched strategy for improving health and decreasing stress. And I’ve got a lot to say about it. So tune in to next week’s blog on the beauty of Mindfulness Practice 😊

Have a wonderful week of breathing and laughing (optional of course) and getting creative.

Stay well,

Melanie

RESOURCES:

WATCH: 
Fight-Flight-Freeze Response: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEHwB1PG_-Q

Coca-Cola you tube commercial:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1veWbLpGa78

Pluto Living: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCka_xmcWVhvq3006pnIDmFA

READ:

PSERT’s “Normal Stress Response”: https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/PSERT-StressResponse-e-v1.pdf

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/fight-flight-freeze

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201507/trauma-and-the-freeze-response-good-bad-or-both

Shopper’s Drug Mart has an online stress management program available for free at https://www1.shoppersdrugmart.ca/en/home  It includes eight online modules you can complete at your own time in your own space.

Especially for Clients

1. In your work with folks this week, encourage discussion about where people might be feeling the stress in their bodies.  You may want to draw an outline of a body and ask people to circle the parts that are feeling more tight, tense, tingly or numb than usual. Talk about how this is a normal and natural reaction to stress. Invite people to do a simple deep breathing exercise along with you. Make it at least 5 deep breaths. Then ask people to note any differences in their body as a result. Note: some folks aren’t physically able to take deep breaths, and for some folks, paying attention to the breath can be triggering. In the first case, just invite the person to breathe normally and pay attention to it.  In the second case, it can be helpful to do something WITH the breath, like blow through a straw (in milk, making the bubbles go right to the top….heehee), blow on a pinwheel, or blow a whistle. Whatever works and is comfortable.  And, of course if nothing feel comfortable, move on from the breath to something else.

2. I found a wonderful website (geared for kids, but some resources/activities are also adult appropriate) called And Next Comes L (https://www.andnextcomesl.com/).  The emotions dice would be a great craft activity plus a way to stimulate good discussion about how people are feeling and where it’s affecting them in their bodies. The drawing prompt emotions provides an artistic outlet for drawing and processing feelings in this time of change.  And the i-spy lego head emotions is a fun worksheet activity of identifying emotions.

3. Don’t forget to check out CASS’s You Tube Channel to watch the videos I have been recording with colleagues and uploading pertaining to Coping Strategies in the Coronovirus Crisis. Each video covers the topics of these blogs, AND includes a mindfulness practice!!  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHsf4Zk6ieX1CGeNZxmaQzQ

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