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Attacked by the Virus

Change needed to start with me

There is one thing we know for certain…we are living in UNcertain times.  As a Partner in the firm The Disruptive Element, my education would suggest to you that I (Donna) am equipped to both notice and process uncertainty.  After all, we are Brain-Based Coaches (through the NeuroLeadership Institute).

Our mission is to change the world, one person at a time through raising self-awareness. . . and I discovered this week that the person who needed their self-awareness heightened was me!

My story of awareness

My plan last week was to escape, for just a few days. One would think escaping from winter in Wisconsin to spend a week on the beautiful, balmy beaches of Jupiter, Florida with dear friends would be bliss.  Despite my family expressing concern about airline travel, I headed to the airport enthusiastically.  

Less people flying at the start of my journey improved my upgrade chances!  Hooray.  Awarded with front of the plane seats buoyed my confidence.  Travel to Florida went smoothly.   For a couple days, all appeared to be well.  

On Friday, March 13, the declaration of a national emergency began to create a queasy and unsettled feeling in my stomach.  I began to calculate “what if” scenarios. International flights were cancelled. Would Domestic flights be next?  Would I be stuck?  When would I see my family again????

I quickly realized that things today were not as they were last week. I wondered “Why am I feeling so stressed?”  

My heart was racing. I was consumed on booking my ticket home. I took a deep breath. Then I noticed my ‘self-talk’ (that voice in my head that can be helpful AND it can get in my way). 

It occurred to me then, that there was a difference between the real threat (COVID-19) and the perceived threats. With a new ticket home, my heart rate began to slow.  I have been processing my full body response to this perceived threat (vs physical threat) ever since. 

As a brain-based coach, I am observing myself in these uncertain times with a combination of surprise, shock and grace.  Arriving at my home airport, meeting my husband, walking into my house – I realized this is where I am supposed to be. 

Losing two days of vacation and working instead?  Fabulous!  Nothing better than the known to return a sense of certainty and losing that feeling of being threatened.

My insight – I was attacked!

Our brain treats physical threat and perceived threat the same!  So when I was ‘threatened’ by all the scenarios I made up in my head, it is as if I was running for my life from a raging bull.  We are designed this way as a defense mechanism.

When triggered by fear (either real or stuff we make up in our head) go into what we call a “Threat State”.  When the threat is high enough, we instead go into flight or fight response.  When that happens, the part of our brains (Prefrontal Cortex) that ‘think’, solve problems, collaborate, learn, etc. actually go off-line.  Instead it uses our emotional and physical response epicenter to guide us.  Sometimes this is very helpful – like when an actual bull is chasing you.  However, it may not be so helpful for perceived threats like the stuff I was making up in my head.  

In my brain, I was being attacked and needed to run.  Maybe I had other options that would allow me to get to a place of certainty without immediately heading home??

How to tackle your ‘attacks’

First step:  Pause.  Pay attention to your thinking. Are you anxious? Fearful? Angry? Frustrated? What kind of a response is being triggered in you?  Take a deep breath.  

Second step:  Ask yourself a ‘thinking’ question.  Meaning, ask yourself a question that requires more thought than a yes or no answer.  Our brains cannot think and be emotional at the same time.  By thinking of a response to a question, you give yourself more opportunities to identify other options that might also work and be even more helpful.  Or at least you can validate the choice you are making.

Final note:  Observe yourself, maybe with shock and surprise, but also with grace!  We all do this because we are designed to do this.  But the good news is we can do something about it…it just takes practice.

I probably would still have bought a ticket home, but would definitely have done it with a purposeful forward moving response to be where I want to be versus fleeing in fear.


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