In some ways the constraints of quarantine have brought many people closer together while keeping them farther apart. Not sharing space hasn’t stopped connection. New friendships have been forged. Former ones have been rekindled. The pandemic has also resulted in many people becoming all kinds of acquainted with what may have been a new or former foe: anxiety.
Concerns about health and economic fear have left many minds reeling. Anxious thinking is a mental a top that won’t stop spinning.
Anxiety is a complicated beast. I often explain to clients that in your brain, anxiety perceives a threat that you may or may not encounter fifty blocks down the street. It preps your mind and body for action in the here-and-now as if the threat is on the block you are currently walking, staring you in your face all up in your personal space.
Anxiety has a strong biological basis and can often physiologically: restlessness, fatigue, muscle tension. It also hijacks a person’s thinking. People who are feeling anxious may have ongoing apprehension. They frequently carry around foreboding fears that the worst-case-scenario may become a reality. Sometimes anxiety comes out sideways through irritability. When someone is preoccupied and mentally mired down with fear, the result can be limited reserve for more thoughtful relational responses. Anxiety can negatively impact your ability to secure the shut-eye you need. When the noise of the day is no longer around to drown out the volume of anxious thoughts, some people struggle to fall or stay asleep.
Managing anxiety is not a simple straightforward process, but there are actionable steps you can take to fight back.
Throughout the pandemic, people have come to talking more openly about their experiences of anxiety and panic. Seeing that the anguish of anxiety is widely shared has left people less scared to speak about their own struggles. Those who have spent much of their lives wired with an anxious bent, may be saying, “See, this anxiety business is all kinds of awful, isn’t it?” It’s more than “worrying.” It is cognitive noise that keeps you from hearing anything else that is being said to you. It is distracting. It is draining and depleting.
Authentic conversations about anxiety have an important place, but take care to not become a sponge for anyone else’s panicked evaluation of an environment. Emotional contagion can quickly activate and amplify an anxious response. Set boundaries. Find the nearest exit (conversational and/or physical) if you recognize that the temp on your anxiety thermometer is starting to shoot straight up in close proximity to someone in your sphere.
Anxiety is an adaptive response. It has helped keep the human race running for a long time. It is important that we have an anxious response when there is a real threat, because it helps to prime our bodies to respond appropriately. Without anxiety, our brains and bodies wouldn’t get revved up to react if we were being attacked. We are designed to stay alive, to self preserve. When wires and signals get crossed in our brains, the anxiety switch doesn’t always shut off at the right time. When your system is on overdrive, you do have agency to take steps to take the edge off of the anguish. Calculated moves can be made to help bring your body and mind back online.
Don’t Be Anxious. Take the action you need when you are. Then, Just Be.