I have lived with high levels of anxiety on and off since my early teenage years and into my adult life.
For me, anxiety looks and feels like shallow breathing, panic, tearfulness, feeling mentally ‘foggy’, fatigue and talking to myself in an unkind way, which is one of my biggest challenges.
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty it has brought to our lives, I’ve been waiting for my anxiety to ramp up.
I’ve been ready for it.
It’s been like watching a storm roll in. I thought I’d just need to put my raincoat and gum boots on, grab my umbrella and I’d be fine.
But to my surprise, I haven’t needed my raincoat, boots or umbrella – not yet at least. So far, I actually feel okay.
Perhaps years of living with and learning how to manage anxiety has prepared me to cope with this difficult period in our lives. Could it be that all that practice I’ve had dealing with feelings of stress, helplessness, worry and uncertainty has given me a head start in managing the mental and emotional impact of this pandemic?
I have a toolbox of techniques I can dip into when I feel my symptoms bubbling up. Each person’s tools will be a bit different, but here are some things that work for me:
- Doing one thing at a time, especially when I have a lot on my plate
- Getting enough sleep
- Exercise – running, walking, cycling or swimming (while practicing physical distancing measures)
- Setting boundaries in and outside of work – it’s okay to say “no” to some requests
- Chocolate – especially rocky road or scorched almonds (in sensible amounts)
- Fun – for me this includes dancing to ‘80s pop in the kitchen, watching feel-good movies or drawing
- Crying – not letting the tension sit inside my chest and letting it all out
It’s not rocket science, but I have to say I feel a bit like an anxiety lighthouse at the moment because I’m spending a lot of time guiding and supporting friends and colleagues who are experiencing some of these feelings for the first time.
Leaders at my workplace know I live with anxiety and have asked me to help with staff wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve been involved in communications planning, providing practical tips, developing useful messaging, and running meditation sessions using video conferencing. It’s a really practical way for me to help others during this crisis.
Friends and colleagues ask me for books and other resources that I’ve found helpful in the past. As a result, I’ve picked up some of my favourite texts again so that I can I send them quotes and excerpts from the authors I think will resonate.
The most effective resource for me has been to reduce the loaded layer of judgement I put on myself when my anxiety shows up. In my experience, this is one of the first/main hurdles that friends and colleagues will ask me about. I explain how I’ve put in time and effort to reframe my feelings about my anxiety. While the physical symptoms still come and go, I know that I can decide how my mind responds to them. I remind them that we wouldn’t judge others or ourselves if we had a physical ailment or disease. It not our fault. It’s no ones’ fault.
I post my insights and suggestions on social media, reply individually to those who ask questions, and send texts to groups I’m a member of that want to learn more. The latest group I’m part of is with some neighbours in my apartment building. We use text messaging to talk about challenges we are going through, then follow up with a discussion during physical distancing stairwell sessions once a week, sometimes with a cup of tea and slice of cake.
People living with anxiety are sometimes perceived by the broader community as struggling and unable to cope with life’s hurdles. However, anxiety has prepared me to cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. I’m very grateful to the medical professionals, my meditation teachers, and my family and friends for holding my hand every step of the way up until now. It means I can pay that kindness forward.
This won’t be the case for everyone, but my anxiety has helped me hone the skills needed to manage the sense of powerlessness, worry and unpredictability that come our way during the pandemic.
So, if you know someone who lives with anxiety, don’t be afraid to ask them for advice on how to cope if the coronavirus outbreak is a source of stress.
They might just surprise you.