As COVID-19 poses a threat to our health, finances, social engagement, and usual way of life, it is normal to experience stress and anxiety as a response to the rapidly changing landscape of the pandemic. The body’s autonomic stress reaction helps protect us in response to perceived danger.
Here are some common psychological responses to threat, which may help to put these unwanted feelings into perspective:
Fight, Flight, Freeze Response
Our fight, flight or freeze response is our body’s reaction to the perception of threat. Activation of the Autonomic Nervous System results in rapid physiological changes, such as increased heart rate and rapid breathing so that our body can respond quickly to threats. An example of this response may be hyper-vigilance to danger in public, e.g. other people coughing, or avoidance of public spaces/surfaces.
Irritablity, anxiety, stress and loss of concentration
When the threat of danger is perceived as constant and stress is prolonged without appropriate management, it can be hard for individuals to feel relaxed and return to a baseline level, leading to symptoms of irritability, mental fatigue, and loss of concentration. Sleep can be disrupted when in stress-arousal mode.
With chronic stress, individuals may find it difficult to experience pleasure from their usual activities. This is associated with withdrawing from social supports and inactivity. Numbness may serve as a coping mechanism to a constant stream of perceived bad news. However, emotional numbness can lead to poor mental health over time. It is therefore important to find healthy ways to alleviate stress to maintain positive mental health.