With the spread of COVID-19, we see a parallel spread of anxiety and fear of an unknown future. This has started to produce problems and suspicion of other people because the virus spreads from person to person and transmission is about contact with other people. I remember when we first learned about the infection and we went into lockdown, there was a sense of togetherness when you went on your 1 hour walk with people nodding and saying hello as if to recognise we are in this together. Now it seems to have diminished as people are trying to come to terms with a ‘new normal’ which seems to be changing by the day.
Why are we feeling angrier and more frustrated? Our brain’s primary function is to protect us from being hurt physically, emotionally or spiritually, so it is always looking for potential danger. The problem is, the fearful primitive part of our brain doesn’t want a story with nuance or uncertainty as our brains usually default to a simple binary answer to the either/or questions of: Danger or safe? Good or bad? Helpful or hurtful? Our stories usually exaggerate our greatest fears and insecurities. This is all fine if we just reflexively think these things and then let them go. Unfortunately, once we have that voice in our head telling us how bad things are going to be, it sticks. And, if that is not bad enough then confirmation bias kicks in which is our tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports the story we are telling ourselves. Confirmation bias has a significant effect on our evidence-based decision-making which takes us into a negative loop!
What can we do?
If we allow our negative spiral to continue we give it more power and increase the likelihood of it taking over the way we see the world and the way we treat the people around us – which is why people are getting more agitated. The easiest thing to do is to thank your brain for doing its job, for pointing out a potential problem and then file the thought away in-case you need it. In other words, find a way of letting go of the loop. You could also write it down and keep it with you if it makes you feel better. If that does not work then talk to someone who is not part of your inner circle and is objective. Why not use someone in your inner circle? Well, there is the risk that the reason you have attracted these people to you in the first place is they have the same views and negative belief patterns. Therapy can help you examine your thought patterns objectively. The goal is to identify negative thinking and develop strategies for changing that thinking so that you learn to respond to thoughts in a healthier manner.
Work with a therapist or life coach on living in a more ‘Mindful’ life and being aware that you are not your thoughts, thoughts are something you do, like breathing and blinking, you can make yourself aware of them and change them. When your mind injects negative thoughts, we can develop the skill to flip that thinking around. Rather than consider any problems or mistakes as all terrible, reframe them. We can look inside of ourselves to find positive, growth-minded ways to view even the worst circumstances. Don’t let negative events turn us into negative people.
Reframing thoughts is something we can do in both our personal and professional lives. “We all have this same makeup—thoughts, emotions, sensations, and behaviours. Negative thoughts are a normal part of life. They are the result of having an active mind that works 24 hours a day. For most people, intrusive thoughts are not a problem. They recognise that the thoughts don’t mean much and are fleeting.
If you cannot change and the negative thought patterns are limiting your ability to live day to day seek professional help.
In either case, even though the content of your thoughts may be disturbing, they generally don’t indicate that there is something wrong with you. Remember, they are just thoughts.
Psychotherapist, Mindfulness & Life Coach