Manage Your Anxiety

“During these uncertain times…”

I hear this phrase often.

Uncertainty. The great unknown. For some of us, that idea sounds like fun when it means venturing into a new city, in a new country, ready to explore and discover new things.

But when that new country is the land of coronavirus we are talking about something decidedly not fun.

If this is my new country, what does it look like after being here for one month?

In Stanislaus County, we have seen only four deaths at the time of this writing, so the medical aspect of the pandemic has not deeply affected the layperson on the street. It is the laws of the land that seem to govern our experience.

  • Everyone stays home except to buy groceries.
  • No one gets near each other.
  • No one shakes hands or hugs those outside their immediate family.
  • Food is delivered to our homes.
  • In this small town, people exhibit this look of relief at the sight of a new face and engage in 6-foot-apart chat.
  • Families go for walks.
  • Parents see their children.
  • Parents become the primary educators of their children.
  • We work from home.
  • We cook at home.
  • We entertain ourselves at home.
  • We spend less.
  • We become resourceful.

There is an opportunity here for good, the shutdown of the country becomes like a deep breath, a pause in our everyday lives.

Still, the uncertainty remains and when faced with an unknown danger

the natural response is fear or anxiety.

You know the feeling. Physically, muscles tense, breathing gets shallower, our heart rate increases. Mentally, we jump at new information, obsess or avoid information, we ruminate replaying ideas again and again. Relationally, we might snap at our loved ones, be more distracted than usual, more protective than usual.

Since the thing creating so much anxiety in our culture right now can be identified, let’s call it for what it is:


Ask Yourself This

Next ask, “what do I know about this?” It is important to check that what you know aligns with credible sources like WHO or the CDC. Avoid sensational titles and click-bait eager for your eyes to get them more advertising dollars.

“What don’t I know?” Perhaps there are some questions you need to get answered. There are still a lot of unknowns regarding this novel coronavirus, but sometimes, even when we are told information from a credible source, we still do not believe it.

Usually, there is a reason for this. When that happens the biggest question becomes, “what am I afraid of?” Name the fear.

Check your fears against what you know. Check it against what you do not know. Look for answers to the latter if answers are available.

Now, “what can I do?”

Do what you can. Handwashing, limiting outings to essential tasks, social distancing. Check. You have made a good defense.

Go on the offensive if you need to. Maybe you fear for your parents. Talk to them about a plan if they get sick. Maybe you fear for yourself. You can take steps to optimize your health now to make you stronger if you do get sick.

Is the fear related to finances and the future? See if you can order those ducks, access the help that is slowly becoming more available, write down your expenses and track your spending.

When you have done what you can, step away from it all. Distract yourself, practice gratitude, find an activity you can engage in that energizes you and benefits others. For me, writing, reading to my kids and gardening. They are the small things I can do in short spurts that keep me connected and keep me sane.

Make sure every day has some non-coronavirus thoughts and some non-coronavirus talk.

Then, finally, practice acceptance and letting go.

The thoughts will come to mind during your off-hours from corona-worrying. Address them with some mantra that helps refocus you. It could be the wisdom of the ages,

“this too shall pass”

or a right-now reassurance,

“I am doing all I can. It is enough.”

It may sound morbid, but what helps me is the phrase

“death comes to us all”

Having faced the death of my daughter to anencephaly three years ago, it helps me to remind myself that death is part of life. We should try to live long and well, but it is not so foreign as it feels. It is heartbreaking, but if I know that death of part of life, I know the grief will not be insurmountable.

And as the signs and t-shirts tell us,

we will get through this, together.

Are we Okay?

I am an extrovert.

On Social Media, introverts had the first laugh about social distancing, shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders being the things they prepared for all their lives.

Next came the writers and artists who necessarily do their meatiest work at home, often choosing self-isolation when deadlines loomed near.

Then, the extroverts called for help. “Introverts, you may want to check on your extrovert friends. We are not okay.”

We are told repeatedly online and in-person about the dire need to quarantine if you have symptoms and stay at home, limiting outings as much as possible. Aside from those you live with, handshakes, hugs, any contact within six feet is considered a risk, as so many of us might be carrying the coronavirus without realizing it.

It is devastating.

Cases in Stanislaus County are growing slowly, but by and large, it is still possible to not know anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Instead, we feel the pinch socially, emotionally and financially.

Socially, obvious enough. If we knew we needed relationships before or in contact with others outside the home, that need is so much more clear now. Conversation, physical touch, face-to-face interactions cannot be replaced by social media. Not even video chats can quite compare to the pleasure of, as Arnold Lobel described Frog and Toad, “They sat there, feeling happy together.”

Digital communication generally requires us to talk about something or perform in some way. In-person, we can stare at the same sky, observe the same people, feel the same breeze.

There is a loss.

Which leads me to ask, emotionally, how are you?

I mean, really, how are you?

If you are an extrovert or surrounded by children, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If you are home taking in the news and following the COVID-19 threads, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If your income is about to take a hit because your employer cannot provide paid time off or because you’re in the commission-only business or you have to lay off your employees because if you cannot pay rent you will lose your business, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If you are part of or caring for someone or love someone who is part of the identified vulnerable population, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

What does all this say about the world? Where is this all leading? Where are our social buffers? Where is our spiritual comfort?

In times like these, with our usual supports out of alignment, you might even be feeling a little bit depressed.

There is a crisis taking place in the world, and unfortunately, the effort to slow down the spread, to flatten the curve, so hospitals do not become overloaded as we saw in Italy, has its own costs.

I want to ask you to take an honest look at what those costs are in your own life. Maybe right now means Netflix and sleeping in. Or maybe it means something much harder.

Somehow, I think some good is going to come out of these dark times.

Yesterday, overwhelmed with the anxiety of caring for my needy newborn, of working from home at the same time, of uncertain income, I got on my bike for the first time in a year.

The streets are clear because more people are at home. I rode as fast as my legs could carry me.

Home again, I got out a book, the book that brought me back to reading four years ago.

And the baby got a pacifier for the first time.

Then that very night, she slept for six hours.

In the morning, I drank coffee with my husband.

Somehow, some good will come, even if it feels a long time getting there.

If you can, try to find meaning in the moments, in the little goods that crop up here and there. Begin that gratitude journal again. Watch the rain. Draw in chalk on your sidewalk. Reach out for a telephone session with a therapist if anxiety or depressive symptoms are starting to interfere with your daily duties.

Have daily duties.

And somehow, we will get through this, together.

Photo by Ronny Sison on Unsplash