Duck, there’s another curve ball!
Have you noticed that 2020 hasn’t exactly panned out as we thought it might when we were celebrating the New Year all that time ago? I do occasionally say to hubby that if we knew what was around the next corner, we might sometimes apply a rather large handbrake!
This year has had a few curve balls thrown at all of us. And, because of some unknown law, it’s certainly turned out to be one of those years where nobody knows quite what will come next.
This has led to some increased anxiety, in some cases an extreme increase, which is very uncomfortable to live with.
So, I want to tell you a short story which might help explain what could be going on in your brain:
Once upon a time, roughly ten thousand years ago, a lovely person lived in a cave. Every day that person would pick up their home-made bucket and come out of their cave to go and collect water from a stream. The stream was a little way off and there were two ways of getting there. If they took the path to the left, they discovered some time ago that it was a shorter route than the right-hand path. So, sensibly, each day they would take the left path.
As they wandered along this path, they soon discovered there were nice open spaces where they could spy any danger that might be lurking (remember, we’re back in cavemen days here). They also became familiar with where danger might be lurking, maybe where the path narrowed through some trees and some grizzly bear might be hiding.
One day, they came out of their cave to find a rock fall had blocked their path, so they were forced to take the right-hand path. But this meant, because they were unfamiliar with the path, they didn’t know in advance where danger might be lurking. They had to be on guard for the whole journey rather than relax from time to time.
A change of routine is hard work for our brains, they have to ‘think’ more about what needs to happen and that takes up energy. Not only that, but our brains have a primitive part which is in charge of our survival (left over from cavemen days) which brings on a fight/flight/freeze response.
This primitive brain loves repetition. If you did something yesterday and survived, then it’s likely if you repeat that action today you will survive again. It we’re in repetition mode, our brains are therefore happier.
Whereas, if you try something new, that is perceived as a threat because it doesn’t know where the equivalent of the grizzly bear might be hiding! In these circumstances, the brain releases cortisol (a stress chemical) and makes you more anxious. If we get into a pattern of doing something, it becomes easier, doesn’t it? That’s because 1) the brain has learnt what to do and 2) it senses it’s safe because it’s done it before and survived. Whereas if we’re doing something different, such as taking a driving test or going for an interview, the danger button is pushed, and we might find ourselves with sweaty palms.
In COVID times, the rug has been pulled from underneath the primitive brain’s feet and it’s plunged pretty much everyone into a world of uncertainty. That in turn fuels anxiety.
What can be done about it?
Well, for a start, look at what you do have control of. The good news is this can be something extremely small, like taking hold of the vacuum and having a bit of a clean. It could be taking the dog out for a walk or, weather permitting, pulling the dratted weed out of the drive. This sends a signal to the primitive mind that we do have control and, luckily, that’s all that is needed to start getting us back on the right path, especially if we can then build, albeit gently, a stream of positive little actions.
To finish, I’ll ask you a question. What small step can you take to show yourself that you are taking control of something in your life?
Nicola Griffiths runs the Cirencester Hypnotherapy & Health Centre in Dyer Street. The clinic has a huge variety of therapists and, right now, there are CBT therapists, Counsellors, Hypnotherapists, Psychotherapists and Psychologists helping people overcome anxiety and depression., both online and face-to-face.