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COVID-19: 5 Tips for Managing Our Threat Response and Building Resilience

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

What we are all experiencing with the Covid-19 crisis is unprecendented, yet our reactions, good and bad, can be explained by science. Humans have a built-in negative bias (part of our survival instinct), which means we see threat even when it’s not there, and certainly when it is. Right now, many of us are experiencing that threat response, which is responsible for people panicking and hoarding. If we keep feeding that threat response, we enter a state of sustained panic – our adrenal glands keep pumping out threat chemicals: cortisol (stress) and adrenalin (fear), making it very difficult to maintain the right balance of our feel good chemicals: serotonin (happiness), oxytocin (belonging) and dopamine (reward). Resilience – our ability to bounce back quickly from adversity and conflict (physically, mentally, and emotionally), to remain optimistic and constructive in the face of challenge, to adopt a learning mindset, and to maintain a well-functioning immune system – is vital. To cope, and perhaps even thrive, in these extraordinary circumstances – we need to manage our stress levels and build our resilience. These tips will help:

Tip #1: Practice Paced Breathing - The best thing to do immediately upon feeling stressed is to practice Paced Breathing. At least ten minutes of daily paced breathing helps keep cortisol levels under control. Breathe diaphragmatically, in through the nose, out through the mouth with a steady count in and steady count out. In and out counts don’t have to match (e.g., 5 in/7 out or 7 in/7out). A longer out-breath helps dispel CO2, which increases cortisol if it builds up in the base of the lungs, (which can happen because CO2 is heavier than oxygen). Paced breathing with a longer out-breath is called Recovery Breathing, and is especially helpful if you’re feeling panicked.

Tip #2: Shake It Off - If you’re feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty focusing, in addition to Recovery Breathing, borrow a line from Taylor Swift and “Shake It Off.” Bend at the waist (slight bend in the knees). If possible, get your head below your waist. Shake your shoulders and arms vigorously, punch the air, etc. while you vocalize with an "ah" sound. This movement disperses chemicals that move through our body and can get stuck at the base of our spine. This technique is like rebooting a computer for our body chemistry. If you’re dwelling on things and need to shift your state of mind, give it a try.

Tip #3: Strengthen Your Immune System - Limited human contact can quickly decrease our oxytocin levels, leaving us feeling isolated and even more stressed. This increases our cortisol, which exacerbates our threat response and negatively affects our immune system. Meditation strengthens our immune system because it increases the amount of SIgA (Secretory Immunoglobulin Antibody) in our body, which thickens the mucous that lines the nose, mouth, trachea, lungs and gut. That thicker mucous makes it more difficult for viruses to penetrate our cells and bloodstream. Pick a meditation app (#Calm, #Headspace, #TenPercentHappier, etc.) to jumpstart your meditation practice and repeat after me, “Ommmm…” (You can also practice your Paced Breathing while Meditating – tackling two tips at once.) Shifting our behavior from threat response to community support also has been proven to protect us from becoming ill. Research from the University of North Carolina and UCLA indicates that people who gain their happiness from service to others carry low levels of biological markers for serious illnesses. Those whose happiness come more from self-gratification show higher levels of these markers.

Tip #4: Build Your Resilience - The best time to build resilience is before we need it but we can still build resilience while in the midst of challenge. Simple things like physical fitness, good food, hydration, massage, sunshine, meditation, and effectively processing negative events so that we can regain optimism all help us maintain a positive mindset and build resilience. While stuck at home, don’t wallow – eat healthfully, stay active, if you have outdoor space, spend time in the sunshine – and maintain a positive mindset through meditation and social contact.

Tip #5: Stay in Touch with Your Support Network - Social interaction is essential for boosting oxytocin...but challenging if we're self-isolating or working from home. We have been encouraged to practice “social distancing.” That is a misnomer. While we need to practice “physical distancing,” we should not practice “social distancing.” Science and sociology research indicate that humans require a strong sense of belonging, a sense of community upon which we rely and from which we draw support. Humans worldwide are greeting each other with elbow and hip-bumps, and many of us will be communicating significantly more often over virtual platforms. Make sure that whichever method you choose for safely greeting others, your smile reaches your eyes. Smiling at yourself boosts serotonin. Smiling at others boosts oxytocin, and if they smile back, you’ll get a dopamine boost. Also, communicate more openly, use more appreciative words, build trust by being even more considerate of each other than usual, and leverage the tools available to us to maintain social contact, without physical contact. We can all learn from the Italians – who are leaving lit candles in their windows to recognize the heroic efforts of their medical professionals, scheduling times of day to come out onto their balconies and appear in their open windows to applaud those medical professionals, to sing together, collectively lifting spirits – all wonderful examples of social connection despite physical distancing. Great examples elsewhere are family members connecting with their loved ones isolated in nursing homes by visiting through windows while speaking on the phone – and of course, videochatting with anyone in our social network. Remember: We might be isolated – but we’re not alone – and we need each other now more than ever!

With Physical Intelligence, we can enhance our ability to view the world from perspectives other than our own, innovate and find new ways to connect with each other, pivot quickly in terms of how we engage with community members, draw people together in times of crisis, and rely on our own inner strength, creativity, optimism, and resourcefulness to build a network of support across communities and the globe.

For more information about how Physical Intelligence can help you, your team or your organization, visit us at or order our book (shortlisted for Business Book of the Year and named one of the ten most influential business books of the year by CEO Today, on sale now.

About Companies in Motion

There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations available now.)

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