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08 May 2020

WITHOUT A PANIC. HOW TO maintain YOUR energy IN turbulent times?

How to save your psychological stability in an alarming time? We spoke with Oksana A. Pikuleva, Doctor of Psychology, Visiting Lecturer at the Graduate School of Management at St. Petersburg University.

 

Today we all got into a blockbuster, which we can’t scroll forward and see how it ends. We are not spectators in this film, but actors. And complete uncertainty — today it is our reality according to the scenario. What will happen next? When it will all end? It is unknown. This leads us all into deep anxiety, which must be overcome. Leaders and business owners are even more in difficulties today because, in addition to personal stress, they have to bear a huge burden of responsibility for the fate of the business and their teams, and this makes their brain work 24/7. And all of you need to see the priority for today — you need to save yourself, as a physically and mentally strong person in the present. Otherwise, the future may not be needed.

 

Today, most of us have to experience a variety of emotional states. And they are like swings — from fear to rage, from anger to sadness, from laughter to tears ... this is normal. Today we are all in a state of prolonged stress, although we may not even be aware of it.

 

HOW DOES prolonged STRESS LOOK?

  • You have a constant feeling of irritation and depression.

  • Physical weakness, headache, fatigue, unwillingness to do something are felt.

  • The concentration of attention is reduced, there are problems with memory and a decrease in the speed of the thought process.

  • Your appetite is reduced or, conversely, you are haunted by a constant feeling of hunger, you overeat (this happens less often).

  • You cannot fall asleep for a long time; sleep is restless, intermittent.

  • It is almost impossible for you to relax, to get your affairs and problems out of your head.

  • Obsessive habits appear: you bite your lips, bite your nails, etc.

  • The interest in others, even in best friends, in family and friends, is decreasing.

  • You look at life with pessimism, feel self-pity.

 

Some of our emotional states tend to recur and intensify. For example, it seems to us that we have already lost our temper, but suddenly we again feel this frustrating feeling of panic and fear. Especially at night, things can get worse. The fears we all have activated today are very different, but among them there are undisputed leaders — fear of death, fear of infection and loss of loved ones, fear of losing money and staying without work, fear of aging and becoming unnecessary, fear of becoming nobody and losing oneself in the future, fear of losing the familiar world, fear of the growth of crime, etc. Fears today are a normal occurrence, each of us periodically arises, especially activating in the dark, sometimes depriving even sleep.

 

If you caught yourself with prolonged generalized anxiety (which is a marker of prolonged stress), it is very important to catch your fears separately and name them out loud. Why? The fact is that verbalization of fears reduces our anxiety, because:

 

a) identifies its reason;

b) name your fear out loud = reduce the power of its impact on us.

 

“Depression is frozen fear” (Z. Freud). If we talk about fear, it gradually melts. So we turn on the rationalization mechanism, turning off the action of the limbic (emotional) system and turn on the action of the neocortex (rational-verbal system).

 

How to reduce panic

What to do if panic suddenly catches up with us? At this moment, you need to breathe, think and act. It is important to break the emotional wave with these successive steps.

 

How to do it:

 

1. Focus on your breath, breathe in your stomach. Slow exhale 2 times.

You can add a score of 1 — after each inhalation (4 sec) and exhale (8 sec), say out loud "One" and so on every time. This gives the brain the cognitive task of focusing on counting and the neocortex (mind) defeats the limbic system (emotions).

 

2. Name your thoughts and emotions.

Just say to yourself (or better out loud): “I feel it,” “I have these thoughts.” Thus, we distance ourselves from these thoughts, feelings, emotions. We are becoming observers. You need to be attentive to the wording, say not "I'm evil," but "I feel angry." Or “I'm experiencing irritation,” “I'm experiencing panic.” Studies show that sedation begins. The connections of the prefrontal cortex with the limbic system begin to recover. MRI shows this very well.

 

3. Ground yourself — feel the connection with your body.

In a situation of acute stress, begin to touch any surfaces of objects in the room with your hands and say out loud that you feel tactile. List its objective signs and characteristics. So, feeling the table, not looking at it, we can say — the table is cool, smooth, rough / smooth, hard, etc. (items can vary).

Very slowly, in small sips (you can through a tube) drink a glass of water.

Start by slowly glancing around the space of the room and naming the objects and their color that are in it: I see a yellow lampshade, a green sofa, a beige carpet, a black pencil, etc. You can also start looking for objects of the same color — to find all blue things or white. So we focus not on the emotions of fear, but on solving the cognitive task again.

And further. In situations of prolonged stress, it is recommended to lie down on the floor at least once a day and lie down with your eyes closed for 2-3 minutes.

 

4. Relax the muscles of your body.

It is very important at the time of panic or acute stress to relieve muscle tension, the action of which we are not aware of. But for this, you first need to strain hard.

This method is called PMR — progressive muscle relaxation. You can strain the muscles of the face, arms, legs, buttocks, and the whole body — alternately straining them (10 s) and then relaxing as much as possible (20 s). In Internet sources, you can easily the main 16 techniques of PMR.

 

5. Turn on your imagination using the positive visualization technique. Remember that for our brain, reality and imagination are one and the same. Remember your "calm place".

Everyone has a place where he/she felt in spiritual joy: rest in a beautiful place, a garden in the country, and so on. Just imagine this place. It is necessary to imagine it vividly, mentally and thereby evoke pleasant feelings. According to the law of conditioned reflex connections and associations, the substitution of negative experiences will begin.

 

WHAT DO WE NEED TO STOP WORRY AFTER THE PANIC?

When we calmed down by removing the panic attack, it is very important for us to think about our cognitive and behavioral field. Since our settings directly affect our behavior, today we need to slightly correct them. That in our personal "conservatory" everything was fine.

 

For this, I propose to take two important steps.

Step 1. Turn on the subtle art of indifference now and consciously give up control of some things. In other words — now we need to let go of something that is not amenable to our control. And immediately it becomes easier to breathe.

So, what can I not control?

  • When will it all end?

  • How do other people react?

  • The spread of the virus.

  • What do media all over the world say?

  • The number of products in stores.

  • The actions of politicians.

  • What are the reasons for this?

  • Predictions of what will happen next.

  • Actions of other people.

  • Do others know all the information you need?

  • Do others follow the rules of social distance? 

It is important to understand that all of the above positions do not depend on us, which means that we can not influence them. We are not responsible for them. And we can easily let it go ...

 

Step 2. Since the brain needs to constantly have its own system of control over reality, it is now important to focus on those positions that we can control, and therefore manage them. For this, it is necessary to clearly mark the positions that lend themselves to our control in the conditions of complete uncertainty of the future. Yes, we don’t know what will happen next, but NOW we can control these specific actions.

So what can I control? 

  • Limit disturbing news and other sources of negative information.

  • Maintain a daily regime of work / rest and take care of your body (nutrition, sleep, hygiene, physical activity).

  • Build a system of personal rituals of the day and week, measures to combat stress at home and in your environment.

  • Cook food.

  • Take care of your loved ones, be “warm” for them (as well as joke, play and laugh with all of them, without any age restrictions).

  • Protect and support elderly relatives and friends.

  • Stay kind and positive towards yourself, your family and your employees.

  • Support your employees in remote teams, encourage them.

  • Take care of your customers, be interested in them, offer them help.

  • To do creativity or something else interesting at home, with your family.



The last position is very useful and quickly shows its effectiveness. Creativity in the country is intensifying right before our eyes. “A quick-raised Pecheneg is not considered to be a Polovec!” Isolation clearly benefits non-standard thinking. A whole mass movement "Isolation" was born, mini-contests of ironic memes and hashtags are being held (the "Morning Cats and Natasha" series alone is worth it!). In conditions of self-isolation, mothers have to be especially creative. In addition to the children themselves, going crazy and running on the ceiling in four walls, the topic of an online learning for school children, or rather, its problematicness, causes a wave of folklore.

 

And it's nice to see that people choose self-irony and humor. This is important now, because even in the concentration camps the humor of the “gallows” helped the prisoners survive. Because, with laughter and self-irony, we pour out fear, thereby saving our home from aggression and destruction, and making a mental turn towards optimistic realism. Which in this situation will mean not the stereotypical “ostrich with his head in the sand or Mom's google” and so irritating many, “everything will be fine,” but the fact that there is an internal installation of a positive scenario for his future behavior. Installation "I can. I can handle it. I / we will succeed."

 

Today, this optimistic attitude or self-efficacy is vital for all of us to survive in this pile of, uncertainties.

 

ABOUT ROLE EXPERIENCE MODELS

Isolation is most difficult for extroverts. There are more risks for the psyche, because the source of energy replenishment was withdrawn from them — external communications face to face. So they should especially think about preventive measures for themselves. In addition to social deprivation, if we think about the personal risks of self-isolation, we will understand that one of the most serious ones right now is physical inactivity and sensory deprivation. Locked in their apartments, we are limited in movement and sensory impressions. What does it mean for the body as a result of a long stay in this mode - asthenization of the muscle and nervous system. But this is serious.

 

In this regard, we must now learn from three categories of people, literally their experience must be read and adopted:

 

1 group: COSMONAUTS. It is especially interesting how the process of their psychological adaptation in flight is arranged. After all, they are there, metaphorically — a few people are locked in a 5-meter kitchen for a whole year. In general, no sensory and physical new experiences, physical inactivity in addition to extreme zero gravity and a bunch of other stresses.

And their main personal task is to preserve not only their psyche and physics, but also take care of the crew. We also each now have their own crew on board ...

 

2 group: ROBINSONS, people on a desert island. The Robinson Crusoe Survival Experience is the first thing that comes to mind. Do not compare isolation of individuals and group isolation, of course. The first is much worse and all the more invaluable is the experience of those who managed to pass it without craziness. We read and shake on a mustache. We are happy if we are not alone now.

 

3 group: Prisoners, people sitting in solitary confinement in prisons for a long time. This is a difficult experience in the conditions of limited free space and serious sensory and social deprivation. Last year, when I was walking in the Oreshek fortress (Shlisselburg), two things struck me: the terrible hopelessness of solitary confinement chambers (where even the windows under the ceiling were smeared tight so that the sky was not visible) and the story of the revolutionary Nikolai Morozov, who had been in such a cell for 20 years contract. The question is "How?"

 

By the way, in his entire life he spent 30 years in jails! So, the most amazing thing is that this man not only did not go crazy over these solitary 20 years, but he also cured himself of tuberculosis (which was then an absolutely incredible miracle), learned 11 languages, a bunch of sciences and retained his clarity of mind and body vitality. And then he became a famous academic scientist.

 

So, all this leads to the fact that today I want to recommend one resource from the experience of the third group, which will help us cope with the risk of inactivity in our greenhouse conditions. So that we do not weaken by the end of cultural holidays mentally and physically, we have saved ourselves and our crew. I recommend Charles Bronson's book Fitness in the Isolator. It tells about the special system of physical training developed by the author in the conditions of a single chamber, i.e., extremely limited physical space and sensory deprivation.

 

Physical training is now needed so that a prolonged STRESS DOES NOT KILL US. How does sport, dancing, running, or taking active walks with a dog help the brain deal with 

stress?

 

It’s not they who help, but specific “medicines” that the brain produces in response to physical activity. These are endocannabinoids and the BDNF protein. Endocannabinoids are our internal drugs of our own production, they relieve tension, reduce muscle pain and mental pain. And protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a brain neurotropic factor that stimulates the formation and development of new neurons. It increases the number of synapses, helps build nerve chains and is very important for our long-term memory. During stress, the level of this protein decreases sharply.

 

And the good news is that for the brain will produce the right amount of antidepressants, if you have only 30 minutes of training per day. And what is most pleasant about this plot is that the BDNF level does not increase slowly and gradually, but immediately, abruptly after the very first loads. And our hippocampus, damaged by stress, immediately grows with new neural connections, which immediately improves all cognitive functions of the brain. That is, we need to be physically active at least 30 minutes a day and we will have joy throughout the body.

 

Now it is very important for each of us, no matter who we are, to preserve ourselves in a resource state and be able to make the right temporary decisions. Temporary, because now they cannot be different, because nobody had such an experience before, and there are simply no ready-made files in our heads. Well, then the time will come for strong decisions. To ponder over which, as Victor Frankl said, a person necessarily needs his/her place of “silence”. So they gave it to us.