What to Do About Swine Flu Anxiety

kolari thumbnail[Originally posted at Just the Facts, Baby]

This week it seems fitting to talk about anxiety. There’s a lot of talk these days about the H1N1 virus and all of the media coverage and discussion has led parents to a place of increased anxiety, even panic.

I am not going to talk about the virus or the vaccine–there’s enough of that in the newspapers and on TV, but I will talk about anxiety.

Anxiety is a part of being a parent and you need a certain amount to keep your children safe, but too much can have a negative impact on your parenting, your child and on you. I have had so many moms in the last few weeks tell me how anxious they are about this virus and how they feel more anxious in general as a result. Anxiety is an awful feeling and once it is turned on, it can be hard to turn off. It can also make us uncomfortable, irritable and unreasonable. So what can we do about it?

First of all, it is really important to have a sense of control over your anxiety because it can be such an uncomfortable and powerful emotion. When someone is anxious the pathways to logical thought are temporally severed and as soon as your body detects you are worried, it errs on the side of caution and puts you in fight or flight mode. This is great if you are a caveman or on the battlefield, not so great if you are a mom just trying to cope.

Here is what you can do. If you can control you breathing and your heart rate, you can control that fight or flight response. So when you hear a frightening newsflash about the swine flu, first break the connection by turning off the TV or asking your friend not to tell you anymore. Then, slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. When your breathing slows down, your heart will calm down too and your brain will register that and say “OK, this is not life threatening.”

Think of a scale from one to 10. One is when you are the most relaxed and calm, 10 is when you feel a sense of panic. Learn to rate your anxiety and monitor yourself throughout the day. If you feel higher than a five, you need to get that number lower by breathing or by thinking of happy or funny things. Try not to talk too much about the things that are making you anxious–this fuels anxiety and can put you right back in fight or flight mode. If you find yourself having real difficulty with sleeping or panic attacks, call your doctor or a therapist trained in helping people with anxiety–getting help to manage your anxiety can really help.

Feeling that you control your anxiety, instead of your anxiety controlling you, is the best way to find balance and peace of mind.

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Please remember that the advice given on this blog is not meant to replace medical advice or the direct advice of a mental health care professional.
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