Higher State of Anxious-ness
Updated: Mar 17
With the current COVID-19 situation and the wall-to-wall media coverage, it’s hard not to feel some level of anxiety about what might happen over the next few weeks and months. Anxiety is something we all live with – an emotional state we enter into in varying degrees and at varying times, depending on what we are doing, who we are with, what we are thinking, what’s happening to us and what experience we have.
But how can we cope with anxiety?
The word ‘anxiety’ has been medicalised somewhat which can be very helpful because it allows us to access the right kind of support if we need it – but if we think of it as emotion – anxiety is worry and worry is a fearful state – we are simply scared! We feel a threat and that threat might be a very real one - for example the ongoing fear of living with someone violent – or it can be a perceived threat – a conjured fear based on how we feel about ourselves and from what our experience of life has been. If we’ve been bitten by a dog as a child, years later we may experience a replay of that remembered fear when dog passes us on the street. Life has taught us dogs can bite and our brain has stored that up to keep us safe in the future. So anxiety is a state of fear because we feel under threat.
I know that I have the capacity for extra-ordinary catastrophizing. When I became a parent, something activated in my DNA allowing me to conjure all kinds of disasters simply on the premise that my son hasn’t phoned when he said he would. The first time he cycled off to school on his own I had already imagined the many and varied road accidents he was probably in. If there was a glitzy awards bash for this stuff and a category of ‘Best Catastrophiser’, I feel I could easily be the Meryl Streep of that world.
For me, anxiety is a big zingy onion with many layers. We have our own fears about ourselves, who we are, how others see us and our own experience of how the world has treated us. Then around that are some bigger layers about daily life, money, the people we care about, our future and the future of others, the country we live in, and even the world. The phrase ‘climate anxiety’ can make some people roll their eyes, but the reality is that we as a species have an awareness of the state of the planet and what we are doing to it so on some level, that ‘big picture’ anxiety - the outer onion layer - will inevitably have an impact on how we feel.
So right now as the world reacts to the COVID-19 virus, we might have our worries about our own health, the health of loved ones and those who might be particularly vulnerable, then the worry about what this means for work and school, fear over how it affects our income and the ability to pay the bills, fear over getting toilet paper and pasta (although I can’t help but feel there will be enough pasta, everyone – just chill out in Tesco a bit!), fear about how long this will go on and how it will affect the country and the economy (and the football!), and then on top there is worry about the world in general and what this means for humanity. I have read too many post-apocalyptic novels. Curse you Stephen King for my imagination! Anxiety certainly can have momentum and be hard to slow down.
The reality is that fear is exhausting and that is why anxiety is a heavy burden – it requires energy and that energy has to come from somewhere according to Sir Isaac Newton. As always, it’s all about the science. So looking after yourself when anxious is vital – vitamins and minerals and rest and sunlight and fresh air and cuddles and humour and Netflix and some chocolate and sleep. The body as well as the mind needs to be looked after because they aren’t too separate things – they are one organism. But while we can maybe raise our awareness of the more personal levels of anxiety, how do we manage our anxiety over things we have no control over and how can we self-soothe?
Making it smaller can give us back some control. Focussing on what we can influence, bringing it down to something small and achievable can remind us that we are not powerless, that we can do something. When there is a huge incident like a terror attack, there is always the message – “look for the helpers”. Instead of focussing on the perpetrator, look at who helped the injured or wrapped someone in a blanket. Look for the things we need to remind ourselves that although there are scary things, there are also things that soothe us too.
I’ve realised that I am verbally downplaying the worry about this virus when people talk to me about it. My attitude can be quite blasé (“It’ll be fine!” “it’s just another flu!”) and I make jokes about it. Perhaps that is my way to self soothe – my defence mechanism that I am using to cope with this weird and worrying time, to allay an underlying anxiety over something I can’t control.
So I can wash my hands and be careful not to touch my face, and practice my elbow bump (which BTW is cool!), and drink orange juice for vitamin C, and walk the dogs in the spring air and attempt to complete the whole of Netflix, and make jokes.
Do you remember when the news just talked about Brexit endlessly? Ahh…Brexit…happy times. Who knew we’d miss that?