Am I still feeling anxious?
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely threatened mental and physical health worldwide. Numerous reports have shown that mental health has declined during the COVID-19 epidemic, both before and after lockdowns (Pierce, Zajacova, et al., 2020; Van Rheenen et al., 2020; Zajacova et al., 2020). As a psychologist in health, I have helped to manage the mental toll caused by the pandemic for frontline and public providers.
But, as the number of vaccinations increases, shouldn’t everyone feel better?
Some people will feel better. Many people will feel better if they can do things they used to be unable to do. Many people will feel anxious and on edge.
Understanding how brains respond to stress can help you understand these emotional reactions. The Paleomammalian/midbrain, or as we like it to be called, our caveperson brain’ (or “survival mind”), is responsible for many essential functions, including emotional reactions, automatic thoughts, and learning. This system was designed for survival and provides excellent advice to people who lived in the Paleolithic (caveperson) when life expectancy was only 30 years. The brain of a caveperson functions unconsciously and automatically. If you place your hand on a hot plate, your brain will automatically turn off the heat. Because they are vital for survival, the functions of the caveperson’s brain can’t be turned on or off.
Our caveperson brains were ‘on fire’ during the COVID-19 epidemic. Our unconscious survival brain is activated by the constant threat of the virus. The threat of a pandemic does not require us to be conscious of it. It activates our caveperson brain and triggers the threat response. It works well for acute threats like a bear attack, but it is less effective when there is a constant threat, such as a pandemic. Our survival brain doesn’t work with probabilities. It only works in the worst-case scenario.
The system doesn’t stop working just because we can survive a threat. Cavepersons who survive bear attacks should always be aware of the danger and remain alert. The bear is still a threat; it’s very likely.
Caveperson brains won’t stop warning us about danger even if we have survived. Our brains are wired to remain vigilant for danger even after it passes. Even though vaccination rates are increasing, we might still feel anxious or on edge. It’s evident that the pandemic is not over worldwide and that there may be new threats from local variants.
This can be dealt with by realizing that it is our caveperson brain doing its job and not blaming or blaming others (e.g., “What’s up?”). Understanding that anxiety is normal, even though we feel anxious at times, won’t fuel the caveman’s brain. We can choose to continue doing the things necessary to us even when our caveperson brain warns us about danger.