Before Covid, most of our social anxiety had to do with possible rejection or exclusion. With Covid, we have added an alarming threat. Someone’s breath could kill us and we have no way of knowing who is dangerous and who is safe. Our primitive brain has a negativity bias aimed at keeping our body safe and alive. Someone stands too close to us and we react. Stand back!
How is your nervous system reacting to the pandemic now that we are13 months in? The one year mark was significant as anniversaries often are. The “old normal” is gone. The “new normal” is yet to emerge. Our nervous system hates not being able to predict what will keep us safe, and right now, we just don’t know. We do know grief, loss and an unbelievable amount of change. Our survival responses were kicked into high gear and we are struggling to keep our balance. We’re tired, frustrated, angry, and scared.
Depending on where we live, our circumstances are very different. Some are able to see friends and family in person once again. We’ve become accustomed to wearing masks. I live in Canada where our vaccine roll-out has been slow and for the first time we are experiencing more new Covid cases per capita than the US. Some places in Canada and around the world are experiencing a strong third wave with the variants.
Social distancing and lock downs have been a mixed blessing. Many people experienced relief as life became simpler and demands on our time dropped away. We won’t go back to the frantic pace. Others struggled with young children, home schooling, a job that required them to be out in public, or a partner who was not safe to be with. Relationships were tested and many broke apart.
Our strength and resilience were challenged. Stressors were coming in faster than we could handle them. We had more trouble sleeping, self-regulating, and enjoying life. Many people struggled more with addiction and other coping mechanisms. Extreme beliefs and behaviors in society can be traced back to our fear and fight responses.
However well you are handling this or how much you are struggling to maintain perspective and resilience, remind yourself kindly that these are difficult times. We have never been through a worldwide pandemic. What we thought we could count on has been disrupted. Our nervous systems are experiencing a higher level of threat. There is no shame in having a survival response of fight/flight/freeze/fawn. This is how we evolved.
Dr Stephen Porges is a world renowned expert on our nervous system. Watch my interview with him here. Scroll down the page past the speaker photos to watch.
There are many practices and resources we can use now to build strength and resilience. It helps to understand that what is happening inside us is a response from our nervous system. Breathing, relaxation and other practices can help us self-regulate. Emergency Practices like these give us confidence that we can calm and settle ourselves. Inquiry like this one can help us to see what is at play and give us a wider perspective. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.