How EMDR Can Calm the Anxiety of COVID-19

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a kind of therapy that helps people with intense anxiety disorders, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It has been relatively popular for a few decades now and can teach our world a lot about how to manage unwanted anxiety.

What makes it different from other forms of therapy? Well, EMDR focuses on desensitizing us from our trauma without asking us to go into intense detail about it. This makes it a great alternative to talk-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

Let’s go over how EMDR can calm anxiety related to COVID-19.

How EMDR Works

EMDR basically proved to the psychological community that our brain can heal in the same way our body heals. When unimpeded from further harm, it has the ability to heal itself. 

If you’ve ever had a splinter or a shard of glass stuck in your hand for a long period of time, you know that eventually, skin grows back right over it. It still hurts when you hit it too hard, but if you’re able to remove it, the wound heals over, no matter how long it was hurting you.

EMDR works to isolate “splinters” of trauma from our memory so that our natural healing process can begin. Then, we can reorganize traumatic memories into a more appropriate space in our mind. This step is known as “reprocessing”.

The Power of Bilateral Stimulation

EMDR works by having patients come up with a negative memory to focus on during the session. The therapist then asks the client to picture it clearly in their mind while following a moving target with their eyes. This is known as bilateral stimulation. 

Researchers believe this triggers the same biological response that ensues during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) when we sleep. Humans rely on this for many reasons, one of which being it helps the brain process and store all the information we took in that day. 

By focusing on a negative event during bilateral stimulation, we give our brains the chance to reconsider the event neutrally instead of emotionally. We now have the power to control how we feel about the trauma without getting overwhelmed or panicked by it.

Using EMDR Without the R for COVID-19-Related Anxiety

After reducing the level of pain we feel toward the event, our therapist helps us replace negative thoughts about the event with positive ones. 

For example, a veteran struggling with PTSD may associate the affirmation, “I am home and I am safe” with their trauma, so that whenever a flashback appears, so does the affirmation. This helps trauma survivors reshape how they see their trauma. It was debilitating, but now it’s empowering.

The anxiety-calming effects of EMDR occur right before the “R” or the reprocessing stage. This is where you can use EMDR from home to help cope with anxiety surrounding COVD-19.

The Butterfly Hug

Although bilateral stimulation was originally thought to be sight-focused, it can also work through touch. Desensitize yourself with a practice called the butterfly hug.

  1. Think about COVID-19 and assess how your mind and body feel.
  2. Link your thumbs together so your hand looks like a butterfly.
  3. Hold your butterfly hands against your chest.
  4. Gently tap your collarbone back-and-forth while thinking about COVID-19 and breathing deeply.
  5. After a few minutes, re-assess how your mind and body feel when thinking about COVID-19.

Working with an EMDR therapist can help to more accurately track changes in emotion through subjective units of disturbance (SUD). Still, the butterfly hug is a great way to ground and calm yourself in moments of anxiety without tracking SUDs perfectly.

The more time we spend fearing our new world, the less time we spend living authentically in it. If you’re ready to build the tools you need to recover from anxiety, suffer no longer. Read more about EMDR therapy and contact me for a counseling consultation today.