Protective behaviors in response to anxiety and distress
The current situation of Covid-19 has placed physical health and well-being at the center of our thoughts, making us rediscover fragile and vulnerable. Today, by remaining spaced and often isolated , we preserve an absolute value, physical well-being which, however, does not also include our psychological well-being put to the test by the current uncertain situation.
And now our Being, already tried by the general anxieties of our existence and our relationships, finds today to deal with conflicting and often non-facilitating and non-resolving emotions.
The media information does not clarify the situation and does not offer us certainties regarding our relational and working future.
Here is a first problem: the brain needs meanings, must frame the problem in a frame, needs certainties, does not decipher uncertain messages.
This phenomenon has been well studied by the countless experiments on perception. The brain prefers to know the answer and while making a cognitive mistake it adds or eliminates elements, or distorts them in order to find the missing information .
The brain wants to feed itself and wants to feel good so it rewards itself by giving meaning and trying to activate hormones like dopamine that reward and create well-being.
The point is that what we think and imagine replace reality and no longer allow us to understand what is real . This mechanism works if we engage empowering mechanisms, which help us and feed our intrinsic motivation to achieve goals and consequent results with consequent pleasant emotions such as joy or amazement, it does not work, however, if it builds weakening and harmful beliefs that limit us :
- concern about the possible loss of people we love,
- the thought of the missed or delayed personal affirmation,
- the threat to one’s economic or social status,
- possible sanctions or punishments,
- the delusion,
- the frustration of one’s emotional needs.
All these thoughts unbalance our emotional state and activate anxiety , anguish or fear. The latter if not aware and balanced with opposite emotions can put us in seizure or disturb our daily well-being.
Let’s analyze these emotions and their consequences: anxiety is a form of anguish and is often a fear without an object, a fear with no way out that lasts over time. It manifests itself in the form of psychic reactions but also involves our body.
Anguish is an emotion that we can experience in some moments of our life but it can also become a fearsome disease, the most common among mental illnesses, more frequent also than depression. This double aspect of anguish makes it familiar but also incomprehensible.
We delude ourselves that we know this emotional state, because we often feel it but it always ends up surprising us. It is normal and pathological, inhibitory and stimulating, necessary and intrusive. It can manifest itself in the form of insomnia, palpitations, ringing of the ears, inability to do anything .
Anguish has always been not only an individual but also a collective problem and must not be experienced as something to be ashamed of, since the first step in getting out of it consists precisely in recognizing and understanding it.
Anxiety and anguish can be followed by fear an archaic emotion that has allowed us to survive and evolve, but which is often activated in an unmotivated way, when it is not needed.
On a biological level these emotions, which are considered unpleasant, move our reptilian brain, in particular a small component called the amiglada, that is that part of the primary brain responsible for the alarm system and which has helped the human being to protect himself from dangers over time , presumed or real.
This part of the brain circulates hormones, such as norepinephrine or cortisol, which excite our body and protect us from dangerous situations.
Fear is like a drug in certain doses is useful because it makes us activate self-protection reactions that save us but in high doses, if it lasts too long or is too intense, it creates reactions that are harmful to the body and the psyche. The typical behavior of fear is attack or flight and this causes evident physiological reactions:
- the breath is shortened,
- the muscles contract,
- increases heart rate,
- blood pressure increases
- increases muscle oxygenation,
- sweating increases to counteract the overheating of physical activity and muscle contraction;
The mind is totally focused on the dominant thought of the danger in progress, everything else automatically goes into the background.
This emotional load fills our thoughts with negative images, often disastrous and threatening. The situation to be faced seems tiring and we also accumulate stress.
Dysfunctional behavior in response to anxiety
There are 4 types of behavior that, on the other hand, we usually activate to react to anxiety, all of these do not help resolve its disorders:
- Avoidance : I escape a situation that causes anxiety
- Inhibition / blocking : you feel unable to perform any activity. I avoid physical, mental or mental or social efforts.
- Control: control through obsessive rituals, repeated actions that temporarily calm. The rituals of control (verify) of cleanliness, of order
- Hyperactivity , doing many things together to overcome anxiety, frantically fretting.
Anxiety, anxiety and stress are natural and necessary emotions, they are often information that can also activate energy to protect us in the case of fear, or an impulse to do more in the case of anxiety.
But these emotions, however, can have several unpleasant implications:
- Anxious worries create difficulty concentrating and insomnia;
- They become closed-circuit mental mechanisms, the past does not help us and the future is a greater danger.
For example, anxiety closes us in ourselves and makes us less receptive to others.
It hides its sensitivity or interprets it as a danger. You become very irritable because more sensitive on a psychic level , there is less barrier between external stimuli and emotional repercussions that stimuli trigger, thus decreasing the threshold of tolerance for opposition. We are more vulnerable and hostile to our fellow humans.
So anxiety involves another emotion which is anger or irritation. We must therefore also pay attention to our emotional experience which could lead us over time to changes in our behavior with others and to accentuate the worst part of us.
Protective behaviors in response to anxiety
The anxiety and the greatest fear of getting sick and getting infected, today, creates the danger of increasing existing mental pathologies such as nosophobia, that is, anxiety that focuses on the fear of disease, activating some of the described behaviors, to avoid contagion. The famous singer Michael Jackson was afflicted by it.
But Aristotle said if there is a solution why do you worry? If there is no solution, why do you worry?
Here we are to the point, let’s take advantage of the other emotional colors:
- the surprise of being able to smile again,
- The calm,
- the serenity of a pleasant moment,
- the interest of free time found,
- the hope that everything flows and everything can be resolved.
We need to activate the physiological protective mechanisms and learn to carry out creative activities that release the hormones of well-being: serotonin and endorphins , also allowing us to see the glass half full and to reactivate optimism.
The old sages say “even in the greatest discomfort there is a point of you not involved”, a point of us that can experience joy and good humor.
Seneca teaches us: “There is no lasting good apart from what the soul finds within itself.”
We therefore learn to take the helm of our life with courage and to understand our emotions , even the most unpleasant ones. We begin to live with it first by learning to recognize them and understand which part of the body they affect.
Then we don’t try to stop or avoid them but to accept and wait for them in a natural way. We stand still and welcome the discomfort when it arrives.
We navigate the anxiety, we navigate the fear and we wait for the emotional peak to subside , only at that moment do we activate our new images, those that calm us and stabilize us. We activate our senses, bring to mind similar perfumes, feelings of well-being and peace. Let’s change our thoughts.
We need to know what our psyche needs
Jung said that the psyche needs images . We need to know what our psyche needs.
Thus we learn to use our resources: creativity, drawing, painting, making works with your hands, ceramics, working with das; dedicate yourself to cooking: making cakes, savory, rustic dishes, pizzas; take care of the plants, put new seeds that will bloom…. Relax by coloring a Manadala, there are several of different themes. Write about yourself, what you observe; writing stories, fairy tales. Everyone has their own pleasant hobby.
Seneca said: “Nothing always lasts, few things for long; only their way of being fragile , their way of ending varies , but everything that had a beginning will also have an end. “