This is a contribution by Brisbane Psychologist Dr Rachel Hannam
For millions of people around the world with existing trauma or anxiety disorders, the Coronavirus pandemic can be a psychological nightmare. But what about the rest of us? Feeling a bit…off? Thinking… “Why can’t I concentrate?” You may find it’s not just your child struggling to concentrate while working at home. Coronavirus Anxiety is sweeping the nation faster than the bug itself.
Why can’t I concentrate?
Humans are hard-wired to avoid danger and seek a sense of control over their lives. The rapid onset of Coronavirus-related disruptions and the accompanying uncertainties have removed this perceived control, along with any sense that we can predict the future. This can cause your emotional and mental state to become less coherent, and your ability to concentrate, relax and sleep is almost bound to be affected.
”Corona Anxiety” has a name – it’s Hypervigilance
There is a name for what many of us are feeling: hypervigilance. Hypervigilance puts you on high alert. It is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity characterised by increased adrenaline and cortisol, which in turn increases your heart rate, muscle tension and blood pressure, and causes shallow breathing.
The fight-flight centres of our brain become highly responsive to stimuli that might be threatening in some way. We may become preoccupied with particular thoughts or find ourselves scanning the environment to search for sights, sounds, people, behaviours, information, or anything else that is reminiscent of danger or trauma.
At present, this might include scanning your environment for signs of people coughing or potential contamination. It might just as easily look like compulsively scanning news sites and social media for the latest updates. This is how ancient survival mechanisms manifest in a modern age.
Signs of Coronavirus-related hypervigilance
Hypervigilance can lead to erratic emotional and behavioural patterns, as well as producing difficulties with social interaction and relationships. People may have trouble fully connecting with their surroundings or their family. They can become agitated or have a difficult time falling or staying asleep. They may use unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking or eating too much. All this will eventually lead to exhaustion.
For kids, it can manifest in emotional meltdowns and a reluctance or outright refusal to complete tasks, including their home study tasks. It’s important to know that your hypervigilance is based on biological instincts, not your conscious choices. Your child isn’t “being naughty” – they may simply be responding to their own anxiety. This pandemic has shifted our immediate priorities, and such an abrupt and unanticipated change can be very stressful.
Healthy coping mechanisms become more important than ever
• Exercise helps use up all that stressful adrenaline in your system. Do yoga, go walking, dance around your living room.
• Laughter is a great form of release. Watch funny movies, sitcoms, or listen to comedy online.
• Kids need downtime too. Getting them out and about for a walk or play is great but (moderate) screen time can help them to relax too.
• Crying releases tension and expresses emotion. Sad movies help too!
• Hypervigilance makes you shallow breathe. Download one of the many mindfulness apps and practice 10 minutes of slow deep breathing at least twice a day.
• Constantly scrolling social media and obsessing about Coronavirus news will make you more anxious and less focused. Limit this in favour of the healthy coping mechanisms above.
Helping others feels good and can be a much-needed distraction. If you have the capacity, help your family and community cope with the increasingly difficult practicalities of life. Stay safe and remember: Stop thinking “Why can’t I concentrate?” or worse, reprimanding your children for their lack of focus. Get some fresh air and take a break from social media. We are all in this together.
Need help managing your anxious child? Our program has been developed in conjunction with psychologists to ensure your child’s best chances of success.