Fight/Flight/Flop?

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Extract taken from an article on the 'Stylist' website by Holly Richardson (https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/working-from-home-in-pandemic-motivation-advice/380568)

“We’re in the midst of a collective trauma and if we don’t understand that, we’re really going to get into trouble and not be able to understand why we feel the way we do,” Michelle Scott, a psychotherapist from The Recovery Centre Group (TRC), tells me over the phone. “How can we not be affected by what’s happening to us? Even if you’re used to working from home, this isn’t the same – it’s completely different – because I’m sure you’re used to going out and separating home and work.”

Explaining why so many of us are feeling a sudden dip at the same time, she explains: “A lot of people are very good in a crisis, because our fight or flight system gets fired up. We’re hit with a sudden panic and we have a very handy system in our body that gets us ready for that and we can adapt quite quickly because we’re firefighting. That’s why [at first] we found new short term goals we could achieve to help us get through, like ‘how do I work Zoom? Do I need to order a new iPad?’.

“These things don’t protect us from the threat of coronavirus but being able to focus on those little tasks gave you something to feel good, safe, in control. But that only lasts for so long and that’s what people are finding now. We’ve been so goal, task and fight-led that we’ve worn ourselves out. Our nervous systems can only work like that for so long.

“If what we’ve been doing is try to protect ourselves from the trauma and anxiety, in a way we’ve actually been sort of running away from it by busying ourselves. But the anxiety is still there and that eventually overwhelms us.

“What then happens is that we go into freeze or flop. The symptoms of freeze and flop are the ones you and your friends have been talking about: we become disassociated, we can’t think straight, we disconnect from ourselves and others, we feel lost and have no energy. It’s another surviving mechanism – flop.”

 

This makes total sense to me, and I 100% identify myself in flop mode while sprawled out on my sofa right now as I type, rather than doing the “right” thing by sitting at my desk with a straight back. But what can we do to tackle this mental brick wall when the pandemic continues to cause so much grief, terror and anxiety? 

 

Sleep and trauma psychologist Hope Bastine, a PhD researcher who is resident expert for sleep technology firm Simba, says: “The issue we have at the moment is that we continually have new information that throws us into an anxiety-hangover vicious cycle, which is blocking us from progressing through a ‘change cycle’ (acknowledging what has happened and coming to terms with it through a series of emotional stages). So here we have to problem solve and implement strategies of self-care.”

She continues: “If you are having an anxiety hangover, your mind and body is telling you to look after yourself. Practice the art of self-care and you will bounce back sooner than if you try to push through. Focus in on some of the key lifestyle factors that promote optimal well-being in this time of crisis.”

Bastine recommends focusing on three areas: the self-enhancing mindset, applying stress-reduction techniques and prioritising sleep hygiene.