How to manage your anxiety
It is without question that those with businesses are struggling with the impact of COVID-19. The level of uncertainty is creating panic amongst many of us. Not only do we have to think about the impact that this situation might have on our health or the health of our loved ones, but we also have the worry of how this is going to impact the economy and ultimately businesses and livelihoods.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety kicks in as a symptom of fear, it acts as a protective mechanism against threats to our safety. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released into the blood stream which puts us on high alert to respond to situations which we perceive as dangerous. This is exactly what is happening for people across the nation at the moment. The inconsistent messages and confusion about government tactics is creating great confusion and worry and therefore it’s an absolutely natural response for us to feel worry and panic. In fact, we don’t want to get rid of that worry and panic in a situation like this because that stress is what will drive us to ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect the world around us, if we weren’t worried about the impact of COVID-19 then we would sit around doing nothing and then we really would lose everything.

Although anxiety may serve a good function for us at the present time, too much anxiety is counterproductive for our brains. Anxiety or stress begins in the amygdala which a part of the brain involved in emotional processing. If the event is perceived as emotionally relevant a distress signal will be sent to the hippocampus which then blocks messages to the prefrontal cortex in order to maximise efficiency. So, the amygdala essentially hijacks the brain in order to prepare for emergency action, by cutting off pre-frontal cortex thinking. This creates a feeling of panic and leads to a behavioural response of fight, flight, freeze or appease. What is the relevance of this? Well the prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher cognitive brain functions such as planning complex cognitive behaviour, personality, decision making, moderating language and moderating social behaviours.

So, the long and short of that is that if we perceive a threat, we start to panic and can’t think rationally, this is of course, the absolute opposite of where we need our brains to be right now during this crisis.
How to manage anxiety
In order to bring our brains back to state of relative calm which will reduce the stress response and enable us to function in a rational way again, we can practice a number of simple but effective techniques:
Deep breathing, breathing in for 5 seconds and out for 5 seconds. Or focussing on your breathing for 3 minutes, your surroundings, your body, your thoughts and your whole self.
You can try doing a whole body scan, lie on the floor and focus on every part of your body starting from your toes right up to your head.
Practicing Sensory Awareness by naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
Switch off from technology and limit your use of social media. Go outside, get some fresh air and conduct the sensory awareness task above.
Focus on a memory of something that you found soothing. Close your eyes and take yourself back to that image: what could you see, hear, feel, touch, smell, who was with you, what did you feel like.
These are things that can be used in the here and now if you are feeling in a state of panic. For those who are very successful in business, they are likely to possess certain personality traits meaning that the idea of failure could be very hard to stomach. This situation could also be quite triggering for some people and may make past mental health problems worse. These are deeper issues that you would need to talk through with a professional on a one to one basis.
Establishing Control
When you have practiced these techniques and have collected your thoughts or reactivated your pre-frontal cortex, you can start to look at what you need to do for your business.

One of the reasons that the current situation is creating so much panic on every level is because it is out of our control. Unfortunately, the reality is that some of this is outside of our control but there are somethings that are within our control. By establishing what exactly it is that you are worried about, you can start to work backwards from that end point to work out what you need to do right now. It might be that you need to innovate new products, make staffing cuts or change tactics in your business plan. There are a whole host of things that you might have to consider, but you will only be able to do this with a calm mind. Ensure that you take regular breaks, practice gratitude, even though things feel tough, it’s important to remember the good things to enable you to maintain perspective. Set boundaries for everything. Healthy boundaries are the fundamental of healthy psychological functioning and you may need to revisit those boundaries at the moment. If checking the news is causing distress, don’t check it. If you have friends who are constantly worrying about this which is creating additional panic, perhaps tell them that it is making you worry. Reach out to the right people who can help you, whether that’s staying in contact with friends, other business people, a therapist or online support groups, being able to talk about your worries and fears with others than can understand and appreciate what you are going through will be helpful and cathartic.

It is important to stress that it is normal to feel anxious and panicked right now, especially with the relentless media coverage and fear of the unknown. The best way of managing this is by using techniques to help you feel calm. Each of you will have your own ways of relaxing and I’d urge you to do these more now than ever before.

In order to bring our brains back to state of relative calm which will reduce the stress response and enable us to function in a rational way again, we can practice a number of simple but effective techniques.