Unfamiliar things are happening and there are many things up in the air. You may be wondering exactly how long the kids will be out of school, worrying about what your future income will look like, trying to manage suddenly working from home. You may be trying to decide whether to cancel your upcoming plans (or just having had them cancelled for you) or how to finish your semester at school from a distance. You may have a sniffle and be trying to decide whether you need to get tested, who to contact, and what the implications may be. You may love or be someone who is in a high-risk group. You may have your own history of trauma that makes the stories coming from Italy and elsewhere even more difficult. Many of life’s normal routines that we take for granted are suddenly off the table. Similarly, things that were moving forward at a predictable pace like medical procedures and planned events are suddenly on hold indefinitely. Rituals that we use to highlight important events are also put on hold or cancelled. Whether you’re experiencing some of the above or all of the above, it is a lot.
There has been a lot online lately about managing your anxiety while society adapts and adjusts to Covid-19 moving through. They all echo similar themes namely limit the amount of time you’re reading or thinking about Covid-19, stay socially connected (even if socially isolating) but take space if you need it, maximize eating healthily, staying hydrated, exercising and sleeping well. Develop a routine. Maybe throw in some relaxation, stretching or meditation. These are all important and I’ll put some links to websites I think do a better job of discussing coping strategies at the end of this if anyone is interested.
However, if you’ll bear with me, most of what I’ve seen or read is skipping what I think is a really important first step and that’s just to acknowledge and validate that feeling anxious right now makes sense and is probably a pretty normal response. Often whe
n we feel anxious, our first reaction is to the anxiety itself: to feel like it shouldn’t be there, that we’re doing something wrong if we feel anxious, or we somehow need to ‘get it under control’. This ends with feeling anxious about feeling anxious and we all know where that is heading. For most of us, if not all of us, some level of anxiety makes sense right now. Our bodies feel anxiety and fear as a way of providing us with extra energy for when unfamiliar things are happening (and, well, yeah).
Evolutionarily speaking, your body is getting you ready to fight off or run from whatever that strange noise is in the bushes. So, something unfamiliar is happening, here, have some energy! Feeling worried or nervous about it? Have some more energy! So much energy. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s hopefully what is motivating you to wash your hands more, monitor yourself and others for symptoms and keep your social distance when it might be easier and more pleasant to go out.
If you do feel like you’d like to have a little less energy pumping through you, managing anxiety really comes down to being gentle with yourself, acknowledging the anxiety is there for a reason and either (a) decreasing the amount of energy your body is giving you (self-calming strategies) or b) burning off whatever extra energy is there.