Last week my fight or flight system was triggered by world events. Worry and anxiety are such a normal and human reaction to what is happening in the world right now but when you have a chronic illness like ME/CFS, that worry and anxiety can be threatening to your health. Add in the fact that this illness can cause an overactive sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and it can be very difficult to calm our worry and anxiety. It took me about 3 days to get on top of it all, and get to a point where I wasn’t being triggered every day. But I’m back to my normal relaxed and trusting self now and I want to share my tips.
Compassionate acceptance of worrying thoughts
Whenever our thoughts are trying to protect us from a threat, the least helpful thing you can do is go straight into reasoning against it. All that will serve to do is to ramp up the fight to protect you more. If we want to calm our anxiety the first thing that we need to do is accept it. When we can offer ourselves compassionate acceptance for being worried, it softens the experience and keeps us from adding to our bodies experience of threat. It’s so totally understandable that we would be worried about current events. It’s totally understandable to feel threatened. It is difficult for everyone to be facing this threat, and having an extra vulnerability makes it even more so. Be kind to yourself about feeling worried.
Understanding how worry is trying to serve you
Physiologically, worry and anxiety come from a heightened state of alertness, which evolved to help us deal with threat. In earlier days that state of alertness would be switched off by the heightened activity or fight or flight. In today’s times few threats are dealt with by literal fight or flight, but healthy people can switch off that heightened alertness with a run or a workout. Instead, we have to find another way to switch off that heightened alertness. A way of communicating to our bodies that we are no longer under threat, or that the threat is better dealt with without the it. For me I’ve found that talking kindly to the worry is a good start followed by showing my wholeness how it will best be served.
‘Thank you for trying to protect me and help me deal with what is going on. However, this heightened alertness is not helping my well-being right now. In this present moment there is no direct threat. I will be able to better deal with these events by calmly creating and following an action plan. Relaxing and letting go of this worry well help me do that. It will keep me healthier and my immunity will be stronger.’
Recognising what you can and can’t control and creating an action plan
It helps to recognise and let go of what we can’t control, generally the thoughts and actions of others. For me that meant focusing on the actions I could take to keep myself healthy and safe: social isolation, internet shopping and asking for help. I still choose to go out for a walk around the block because I know that if I see someone approach, I can step out of the way to make sure we have our social distance. The other thing that I have control over is things that can boost my immune system. Most importantly, staying relaxed. But I also choose good nutrition, supplements, energy medicine and getting a bit of sunlight when I can for vitamin D production. Having a plan for how to deal with the issue, means that they no longer have to take space up in my head.
One thing that makes a huge difference to well being is to choose to trust that all will work out well. Trust saves us energy, so that even if things don’t go according to plan, we’ll have more resources to deal with it. Trust is something that you can cultivate, and once it exists, worry and anxiety cannot. Just like light, eliminates the existence of darkness.
Finding other focus
Even once you have a plan and want to trust it can be hard to switch off an overactive nervous system. I have found that once my Fight or Flight (SNS) response has been triggered I often need to find a calming distraction to engage my mind and stop it racing off into action mode. If I can stay focused on something calming for a while, my nervous system downshifts enough for me to then employ the kinds of relaxation techniques that can help me to switch back over to rest and repair mode (PNS)
Guided meditations, breathing techniques, yoga, tai chi, and EFT tapping are all skills that can be employed to switch over to the rest and repair mode (PNS). I try and do these as regularly as possible at the moment to keep my stimulation levels low, so that I am not so easily triggered into by exposure to current events
The Fight or Flight is all about getting us to act. Once it’s triggered, we can suddenly find ourselves compelled to ‘do’. This can be very dangerous when you have limited energy as it’s really easy to feel the need to ‘do’ too much. For me it helps to just write it down and create list. Any time I feel compelled to do something, I put in on the list and reassure myself that it Ok to do what I need to do at a time that better suits my energy. Creating a list serves me better, than doing. Once I’m relaxed, I can choose to tackle the list, pacing myself and matching the tasks to the kind of energy I have in the moment.
Minimising social media, or using it with focus
On thing I struggled with at first was that every time I got on social media I would be reminded of the ‘threat’. Even the posts that offered help and support were making me aware that the threat was there. It took me a few days to drag myself away from the hype, but once I got back into my old habits of minimising my exposure to social media and having a clear purpose for what I would be doing when I was on it, I was able to stop my SNS from being constantly retriggered.
Choosing to focus on love
Love, just like trust, is a state in which fear cannot be present. Actively choosing to focus on how you can be loving in this moment will give you the power to keep away from fear. I’ve been doing my best to make sure that there is love and laughter in my home, helping my parents focus on enjoying the moment and appreciating the little things. I’ve also volunteered for my local mutual aid group to phone anybody who’s struggling with isolation and wants a chat. I’m also doing my best to share my skills and created a new meditation specially designed for spoonies dealing with worry about current events.
Finally, I’ve chosen to see this big challenge as potential for growth. What if all the world can learn from what we’re dealing with and can emerge from the challenge with a new sense of community, and a desire to take better care of each other and the planet. How can I contribute to this evolution? That is a much better focus than worry!
Other resources to help you let go and relax in times of fear
My Guided meditation: Letting go of worry and visualising a happy and health world
Tara Brach Bringing RAIN to fear
Oprah and Deepak 21 day ‘Hope’ Meditation experience
Nick Ortner tapping to release stress, anxiety and overwhelm
Brad Yates (tapping) Dealing with Outbreak fear
Allison Davies: a fun singing affirmation
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