Have you noticed lately that you’re unable to pull yourself away from a constant stream of news watching and social media scrolling? You try to work, but find yourself distracted by the barrage of posts, news segments, and articles about the coronavirus. It’s well after midnight but your legs won’t move and your mind keeps saying, “one more post/video/article, I’ll go to bed after just one more.”
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
There’s a reason you can’t pull away, and it has nothing to do with being addicted to social media. A psychologist explained the phenomenon as a throwback to our ancient ancestors’ fight, flight, or freeze instinct.
Our response to today’s coronavirus threat is similar to that of our caveman ancestors reacting to the threats of their time. If they sensed danger, they would stop, look, and listen for a wild animal hiding in the brush. Today, our threat is just as real, just as invisible,and just as deadly. By freezing in front of our TVs and laptops and mobile devices, we are like those cavemen stopping, looking, and listening for the danger we sense is nearby. Only instead of freezing to look for signs of the approach of a sabre-toothed tiger, we freeze in front of the media and obsessively scroll for more news about the spreading virus.
So understand, our distraction in the face of what’s going on in the world today is actually a normal and instinctual response to the stress we feel. A little bit of this stress response is healthy, but we don’t want to be stuck here, numb and immobile in our anxiety. Instead, we can take some healthy steps to help the stress response pass.
Some healthy steps we could take include meditation, deep breathing, or praying. We can journal, sing, paint, or create. We can exercise our bodies with movement or exercise our minds with a puzzle or game. We can use this time to clean out a closet or organize the pantry.
Perhaps the best way to break the freeze response is by taking positive action and finding a way to help. This can mean donating money to relief efforts or calling for a takeout meal to be delivered to a healthcare worker on the front lines — especially if you’re also support a local restaurant in the process. If you’re braving the grocery store, see if you can pick up some milk or canned goods to leave on an elderly neighbor’s stoop.
Call your parents if you are lucky enough to still have them. Have a video chat coffee date with a friend who lives alone.
The distraction we’re now experiencing stems from our feelings of increased stress, and is compounded by our very necessary social isolation. Taking some sort of action can help break this freeze response. We aren’t able to reach out and touch right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t safely reach out from where we are.