When it’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to be strategic. America is in a state of hyperventilation and is breathing too fast to think!

Hyperventilation is a condition in which you start to breathe rapidly. To restore the balance, you must take in a deep breath to counter the short ones. One of the most common causes of hyperventilation is emotional distress, including panic, fear, or anxiety. Our nation is in a state of all of the above as we battle health and civil pandemics!

Events are occurring so rapidly that we cannot figuratively catch our breath. The number of coronavirus infections and deaths are constantly changing on a daily basis! The efforts to provide medical care to those infected, implement precautionary measures, and find cures can’t keep up with the rapid spread of the virus. The civil discord initiated by the police-killings of black men and women have created protests lasting for months. Parents are stressed with children being home all day. Couples who were struggling to stay together…pre-quarantine…are losing the battle and seeking divorce. Anxiety and panic are running amuck in our nation…at rapid rates forcing us to take short breaths. In order to restore our “social-emotional equilibrium”, we must take a deep breath! Slowing down the emotional responses to these events is the best way to settle down so that we can rationally and objectively seek solutions to our problems.

We have developed a four-step process for helping our society to take a deep breath. It involves disengaging from the problem, lowering emotional reactions, taking control by plugging-in your brain and if necessary, collaborate.

Step 1: Disengage – This means stepping back from the chaos for a moment. Take a time-out by turning off the sources that fill your mind with an overflow of stress-filled information.

Step 2: Lower Emotions – By separating yourself from the confusion, you give your emotions time to settle down. Scientifically speaking, you turn off the part of the brain that responds emotionally (amygdala). This segues into the next step.

Step 3: Take Control – Once the amygdala is quieted, the decision-making part of the brain (frontal lobe) can kick into gear! In this step, you can begin to think about what to do instead of feel about what to do. In life, like in the game of Chess, it pays to think several steps ahead of your opponent.

Step 4: Collaborate – In thinking about what to do, good planning may require the input from others. When we master taking control, we are better able to think objectively.  Some decisions can be made in solitude, but when needed seek the help of others. Diversity of opinions spurs creativity. Collaborations can also lower anxiety by spreading the workload.

The four-step plan is useful when making individual or large group decisions.

A person diagnosed with a serious injury or illness has to plan next steps. The physician may give that patient a slew of brochures to read and refers them to others with like conditions. Initially the patient is overwhelmed and takes a break from doing anything. Once the anxiety is lowered by disengaging (not denying), the patient can think more objectively and decide the best option for them.

As schools begin to plan for the fall semester, each school district has to decide the best strategy for them. Administrators must disengage from what everyone else is planning to do and focus on their specific needs. Assembling a group of administrators, teachers, support service staff, parents, cafeteria staff, custodians, bus drivers and others who are responsible for school operations is the best way to formulate an efficient and creative plan!

In numerous blogs, we have stated that people may not be able to control what happens, but they ALWAYS have control over how they choose to respond to what happens. America, TAKE A DEEP BREATH!

Frances Goddard, LCSW, BCD
Diane Harvey, LCSW