How to Deal With ‘Coronabrain’
A daily exercise to calm your anxious, distracted, and overwhelmed mind
Your brain is like a dog. It can be trained. Most people just don’t know how.
Imagine a poorly trained dog. Whenever you take it for a walk, it pulls on its leash and barks at people. You haven’t established yourself as its leader, so it’s fearful and aggressive. You have no idea what it’s going to do next.
Now imagine a well-trained dog. It knows you’re in charge and follows your lead. It still acts like a dog — it sniffs around, greets other dogs, occasionally pulls on the leash — but these actions are manageable. You have strategies to calm the dog and help it feel safe.
With the threat of the coronavirus, we’re feeling anxiety, distraction, and overwhelm. All day, we read the news, become anxious, get distracted from what we’re doing, check Twitter, worry about the future, read the news again, and repeat. I call this “Coronabrain,” and it’s like living with a poorly trained dog. It’s exhausting to exist this way, especially when we don’t know when things will get better.
To ease Coronabrain and regain a sense of control, you need to train your mind. There’s an exercise I learned from my mentor, psychologist, and master coach Maria Nemeth, that can help you stop your brain from running wild with uncontrollable worries. It’s a three-minute workout that you can do several times a day. All you need are two pieces of paper, something to write with, and a timer.
Here’s how it works: At the top of one page, write, “What I’m grateful for.” Think of one thing you’re grateful for and write it out in a sentence on this page. It should be something that makes you smile when you think about it, and gives you a warm, glowing feeling. At the top of the other page, write, “What I’m anxious about.” Even if you’re worried about many different things right now, just choose one and write it down.
Now, for seven seconds, focus on what you’re anxious about. Set a timer and go. Keep your eyes open and stare at the page. Doing this should make you feel a little nervous and tense.
Next, shift your focus to what you’re grateful for. Do this for 17 seconds. The brain is very quick to feel anxious, and takes longer to experience gratitude.
You have just done one set. Do two more sets, taking a few deep breaths between them. Notice what you’re experiencing. Within the span of about 90 seconds, you’re consciously shifting your focus between the anxiety and gratitude cues you wrote on each paper.
After the exercise, take stock of how you feel. Most people find that by the third round, they experience less anxiety. As they continue with their day, they report feeling calmer and lighter.
Doing this exercise once will help tame your Coronabrain. But to get lasting benefits, you should do it three times throughout your day, every day. You might be wondering, “Why should I intentionally make myself anxious?” By consciously shifting from anxiety to gratitude, you’re reminding your brain who’s boss. You’re reinforcing the reality that you decide what thoughts to focus on, even when the news reports, tweets, and panicked texts from friends would normally cause your mind to spiral.
Try this for a week and see how you feel. If it’s working for you, keep going. As you train your brain to follow your lead, you’ll finally be able to break the coronavirus anxiety cycle.