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For Pandemic-Related Anxiety

Why a Cough Can Feel Terrifying to Our Brain & Steps to Calm Fear

Dr. Kate Truitt discusses the role of fear in making sense of physical symptoms and introduces easy hacks for self-soothing and healing. And Tinkerbell makes a cameo!

Self-Havening Guided Meditation to Address Anxiety Around Physical Symptoms

This guided meditation brings together the Self-Havening touch, which creates the electrochemical opposite of a fear state in our brain, and guided work to decrease anxiety and increase relaxation and calm. Fear creates inflammation and self-agency creates resilience. Let’s lean into resilience and empower our brain to have the strength to navigate these uncertain waters.

Coronavirus Health Anxiety Guided Meditation with Rebecca Turner, LMFT

Join Rebecca Turner, LMFT for a guided practice for centering the mind and body, rethinking anxiousness, and connecting to what is in your control.

A Guided Meditation for our Heroes on the Frontlines of Covid-19

In this guided mediation Dr. Kate Truitt, neuroscientist and psychologist, brings together the power of the self-havening touch and breath work to empower neuroplasticity. Our fear brain loves to hang on to the difficult moments. We have the power the help our fear brain release the hard stuff and move into a chosen state of empowerment.

Pandemic Anxiety: Healing Power is in Your Hands

The COVID-19 Pandemic and its associated stay-at-home orders and social distancing have the potential to induce various manifestations of anxiety and stress. Health anxiety and anxiety-induced stress are normal reactions. You have the power in your hands for self-healing and creating calm around you.

novel anxieties in a pandemic world

Many of us during these times are feeling anxiety during this time of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, and we have many experts on our team at Dr. Kate Truitt and Associates and the Trauma Counseling Center of Los Angeles who are here to help you address these concerns. That being said, we all have the power in our own hands for self-healing and grounded calm, and we would like to present some techniques and resources to support you in this article.

First, though, it is helpful to understand what happens in your brain to make you feel stress and anxiety during these times.

There is no denying we are in trying times. An infectious disease outbreak on the scale of the COVID-19 Pandemic has not happened in the world in more than 100 years. There is no one alive today who remembers what the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1917 was like, so we are left to find ways to cope with it without the benefit of that experience. These outbreaks can be scary and cause intense fear and anxiety in adults and children.

Some of that is health anxiety, which is a very real phenomenon, widely recognized by science, and it is prevalent even in normal times. One difference now is that we may not only be feeling fear and anxiety for our own own health and well-being, but we may also be intensely concerned for the health of our friends and loved ones.

It's Not You, It's Your Brain

According to the COVID-19 resources site of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in addition to the anxiety around health, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can manifest in several ways, including:

  • Sleep or eating pattern changes
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
  • Sleeplessness or difficulty concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions

If you’re feeling anxiety, it’s not because you’re “crazy” or “out of control.” It’s because we all have this little part deep in our primal brain called the amygdala, which our team has nicknamed “Amy.” Amy’s job is to keep us all safe, and that’s all she cares about. That means she often does her job a little too well, especially in difficult times. She is not concerned so much about our quality of life, just that we stay alive, and that can leave us feeling anxious, or even panicky.

What we’re saying when we talk about Amy is that it’s not you—it’s  your brain, and let us assure you that you are in good company.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 19% of people over the age of 18 experience an anxiety disorder in a given year. One can assume that this percentage is substantially higher in our current situation, when even what used to be a simple trip to the grocery store can now be a stress-inducing ordeal that most of us would choose to avoid if we could.

Anxiety-related conditions can include panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and social anxiety disorder (a.k.a., social phobia). Let’s look at those last three, because, in addition to causing generalized health anxiety, this pandemic also has big potential to create or exacerbate agoraphobia, social anxiety and separation anxiety.

 

Losing the Connection with "our people"

One anxiety-induced condition the COVID-19 pandemic is capable of causing should be obvious by the name—separation anxiety. Because of the COVID-19 we are stuck—for better or for worse—with a very small circle of people. For most of us in normal times, that circle is much larger, because, no matter how “well-adjusted” and “together” we might feel we are, most of us have a “team” of family and friends around us that helps us stay that way, through community, connection and belonging, and yes, even just having a good time.

When we are forcibly estranged from that team, we can lose some of that connection that is vital in creating and maintaining a resilient brain in humans. What we didn’t mention earlier about Amy is that we have two amygdalae—one on the left and one on the right. The right amygdala we touched on before puts us in basic survival mode—flight, fight or freeze. The left Amy also wants us to survive, but she has a “community” angle that goes like this: “I need others, because with others I am safe.”

When that connection to your team—your people—is severed or greatly diminished it can create or exacerbate anxiety, especially in people with preexisting conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. For people with PTSD, perhaps the greatest therapeutic asset they have in their lives for keeping the chronic anxiety at bay is the ready availability of a strong support network.

For all of us, that is a valuable asset, so we need to be cognizant that there are people out there in our personal community—our people—who may be suffering because of this void that has been created in their lives. So, keep them all in mind, reach out to them when you can, and in the safest manner you can—not only for you, but for them as well.

the door creaks open on a wide, wide world

As of this writing, all 50 states have begun to open up in bigger or smaller degrees from stay at home, or lockdown, or safer at home, and that means people will be venturing back out into the world in some bigger or smaller degrees. Some people—especially those with agoraphobia and social phobias—may have a tough time navigating the “new reality,” and some may find that their new reality contains new anxieties they have not experienced before.

Agoraphobia is the fear of getting into a place or a situation where you might panic because you feel embarrassed or trapped or helpless. It can be paralyzing for people with this condition, many of whom often choose barricading themselves off rather than risk going out and experiencing one of those scenarios.  You might imagine that people who have agoraphobia, social anxiety or related panic disorders, may have found some relief in stay-at-home and social distancing orders, but the opposite is likely true for many of them, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). In a recent article, past ADAA President Karen Cassiday, PhD, pointed out that these orders have effects that may make things worse.

For example, she notes that people with panic disorders and agoraphobia feel reassured when they know that emotional support and medical care can be easily accessed, and they can quickly get to somewhere safe. Nobody has had this kind of reassurance for months. Also, hearing terms like “self-quarantine” and hearing about the symptoms of COVID-19, many of which are similar to those of panic attacks, can be constant triggers for people with these conditions.

So far, we don’t have good data to go on this early in the crisis to tell us whether there are many more people who find themselves suffering from anxiety and panic disorders. If the volume of calls we have been receiving at Dr. Kate Truitt & Associates during the past few months is any indication, we will likely soon find out that this is the case.

what can you do?

If you find yourself suffering from some of the stress symptoms we cited from the CDC above, there are some things you can do. First, remember, “It’s not you, it’s your brain.” Your “Amy” is wrapping her arms around you to keep you safe—she’s just squeezing a little too tightly for your comfort and well-being.

Some first things you can try are limiting your exposure to the news. Many of us are watching too much of it, and that is normal. Regardless, try cutting back on it—doing so will help to ease your mind. Stay in contact with your family and personal community to keep that connection and support, but if the back-and-forth banter keeps coming around to the pandemic, try to steer the conversation away from that. Go out and take a walk, hike or run in an open space where there are few people.

Take time for yourself with breathing exercises or meditation. A simple breathing exercise we do can help. Start with drawing a breath in deeply and letting that breath be expansive in your body, then follow with a slow, easy exhale, allowing your body to feel centered, calm and grounded. It goes like this:

Deep breath in, counting 1-2-3-4

Hold 1-2

Gentle exhale 1-2-3-4-5-6

Hold

And repeat.

Then take a moment to plant your feet on the floor and feel the sturdiness of that floor beneath you. Notice how the chair you’re sitting in is cradling and creating a sense of comfort in your body.

Simple exercises like this every day, several times a day, can help. We have also created a free video series of guided meditations, A Simple Breath Awareness Guided Practice with Rebecca Turner, LMFT, and A Guided Meditation for Grief and Loss with Dr. Kate Truitt, to help you achieve calm and understanding during these trying times.

You may find that all of this helps for a while, but you are still feeling anxiety. The CDC recommends that if you find stress getting in the way of your normal life for several days in a row in these times, you should contact your healthcare provider. They also recommend that people with preexisting mental health conditions continue with their treatment and keep vigilant for new or worsening symptoms.

We are here to help in this time, while keeping you safe as well. In late winter, when the seriousness of the pandemic became apparent, Dr. Kate Truitt & Associates took proactive steps to ensure we were able to continue to be of service to our patients and the community, transitioning all of our patient care to telehealth. We have created new groups, protocols, and community connection points, safely serving all of California.

 

resources at dr. kate truitt & Associates

We have created our COVID and Health Anxiety Online Support Group, in which you can join Dr. Megan Mansfield and Rebecca Turner, LMFT, for a free weekly 50-minute web-based support group.  In a nonjudgmental environment, participants can voice concerns and create social connection in a safe, telehealth space, while also learning , stress-reducing and immune-boosting techniques that are based in neuroscience. We also help members to create personalized wellness plans for healthy living. Click on the link above for more information.

We also feature our Thrive: Living Beyond Anxiety group. This 12-week psychotherapy group helps members understand the neuroscience of anxiety and its role in our lives, while building a calm, resilient relationship with brain and mind. They are taught self-care and coping skills, how to analyze thinking patterns, and develop empowering self-stories with others. Click the link for more information.

You may also visit the Dr. Kate Truitt & Associates YouTube Channel for these and other resources for coping in these times, including an in-depth series on telecommuting.

Remember, health anxiety and anxiety-induced stress are very real. It’s not you, it’s your brain, and you have the power in your hands for self-healing and creating calm around you. We’re here if you need us.

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