• Mary K. Armstrong

Loneliness and COVID-19

Have you noticed that your brain feels numb these days and that you seem to have lost some IQ points? The pandemic is affecting all of us in different ways. Maybe you’re tempted to sink into the couch to watch television for hours at a time. Don’t worry. What you’re experiencing is probably a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.

Think of it this way: your body is reacting to a perceived threat. As the unseen enemy of the pandemic threatens to attack us, some people go into a fight-or-flight response to these scary times. If this is how your physical body responds to perceived danger, you may be going so fast inside that it’s hard for you to sleep soundly or to calm yourself. Your body is attempting to prepare to either fight the enemy, run away or freeze in the hopes of not being noticed. (Think of the deer in the headlights or the rabbit hoping not to be noticed.)

Why do we react this way in the face of something that scares us? It’s certainly not helpful in protecting us from COVID-19. In fact the fight or flight response isn’t useful in the face of most of our modern crises. Our stressful situations are about things like relationships, financial problems and public speaking. The fight-or-flight response is certainly not helpful in these situations. Being cool-headed and relaxed would serve us better. As a matter of fact, our brains don’t work well when we’re stressed. In fact, it’s impossible to think clearly.

There’s a reason our heads won’t clear when we’re stressed. Here’s what’s happening. We’re still equipped with the fight or flight response of our caveman ancestors. Why does your heart pound? Why does your head go numb? Why do you have to empty your bowels and bladder? You need to be light and pumped for action. It was adaptive to have your heart pound and blood rush to your extremities so you could run or fight. This was no time for thinking. Fight or flight was what was

needed. Thinking would just get in the way. Bowels and bladder need to empty in order to make you light and fast so you can run or fight. Survival was all that mattered.

In the animal kingdom, such dramas are all over in a short time. Either you’re dead or you’ve escaped. Stress doesn’t go on and on the way our twenty-first century stressors last.

There’s lots of advice being offered these days. What’s most important for me is being careful not to beat up on myself. After all, I’m making lots of stupid mistakes and I’m really forgetful, all of which can call forth the mean voice in my head that berates me for not measuring up. I’d say that, for me, keeping this critical voice under control is most important. What about your inner critic?

In his best-selling book, “The Untethered Soul.” Michael Singer offers a way we could deal with the emotional fallout of the pandemic. He

points out that we live in two different worlds: the external world and the internal world. We can’t do anything about the external world where the pandemic is raging, but we can do something about our inner world. We can make sure we exercise (engage the fight or flight response) and that we take time for whatever restores our equanimity. Maybe running, yoga, meditation, socializing with people who help us feel grounded, getting good quality sleep and taking time to appreciate the people we love: all of these are areas where we do have the power to make our lives better.


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