A little anxiety is perfectly OK

These are days of intense communal uncertainty and vulnerability. We are always vulnerable. (Ten out of 10 die with or without toilet paper or hand sanitizer.) We are just not forced to look at it so square in the eyes as now.

I would like to offer some thoughts on how to handle these uncomfortable feelings of fear and anxiety.

Anxiety is the focus on a perceived or actual threat related to the future. A manageable amount of anxiety helps us focus and do our best.

Anxiety has kept the human species alive and inventive. Anxiety is a normal feeling and is tied to our drive to survive. 

However, anxiety does create a problem when it takes over and keeps us from doing or being our best. We can become so focused on what might happen in the future that we cannot function in the present.

Anxiety is also like a virus and is extremely contagious.  

Part of the present dilemma  is that we tend not to do well in isolation and yet we are told to distance ourselves for our safety. We see the other as a possible threat.

The Navy SEAL Mental Toughness Model could help us move forward with resiliency.

These are the steps the Navy SEALs use to deal with difficult situations. This model includes four steps:

1. Goal Setting: Direction and Inner Quiet in a Noisy World.  

How can you center yourself in your values, what is important to you, your mission on this planet, who you are? This may include prayer or meditation.

2. Arousal Management: How You Self-Regulate.

The Navy SEALs know that our rational brains do not work well when we are overly anxious. We become impulsive, tense, hypervigilant. Our muscles become tense, and we move to fight or flight mode.

It is also important to remember that persons who have been traumatized will move to extreme anxiety even more rapidly. A focus on deep breathing will help calm our response. Deep breathing releases serotonin to the brain because serotonin is stored around the stomach.

3. Self-Talk: Confidence. 

What do you say to yourself? Are your thoughts mostly negative and threatening? Do you mostly think of scarcity?  

What do you spend most of your time reading, listening and watching in the media? 

Constant negative input will only increase your anxiety. Limit the amount of negative input.

Balance the negative with a gratitude list. Gratitude expands our conscious world. What touched me today?  Who or what inspired me today? What made me smile today? What’s the best thing that happened to me today?

4. Visualization and Positive Action.

How is this crisis preparing you for a future of living more positively? How can you protect and cultivate the respect for everyone’s vulnerability? How will this make you a better and more conscious person?

Finally, accept your feelings of anxiety as normal and treat them with kindness and self-compassion. Redirect your anxiety to what you can control.

The CDC has listed things to do to control spread of the COVID-19 virus. Follow those steps. Go for a walk outside, listen to music, or call friends and family. Just don’t add to their anxiety or your own.

Michael Prokop, a therapist and sports emotional coach, notes, “Anxiety is the body preparing to do great things!”

The current crisis can be a preparation for us to do great things.

David J. Ohrt is a licensed mental health counselor in Jefferson.

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