How I'm Living With Anxiety During a World Pandemic
The world has shifted dramatically in the past few weeks. Entire countries are on lockdown, and many of us are being urged to practice social distancing. It is an unprecedented time in our history and one that might be particularly difficult for those already dealing with a form of mental illness, like anxiety.
I Am One of Those People
Over the years, I have learned various different, healthy ways to deal with my anxiety. I go to yoga, share my thoughts with others when I feel overwhelmed, and make sure I am taking the right steps to ensure I am always practicing forms of self-care.
If I could control at least some aspects of my world, I could manage my anxiety. Well, imagine how all of that flipped when the number of things I could control became a much shorter list.
I was suddenly hyper-aware of the friends and family members that still had to venture out to work on a Monday morning while I was able to work remotely from home.
I constantly updated my social media feeds for more information and asked myself an endless list of questions: Will the people I know be okay? Will the people I don’t know be okay?
I Was Living In My Fear
Hearing that someone had left their house for a non-essential reason made me inhale sharply. I became more sensitive to the way people were talking to me. I snapped at my loved ones for not taking the situation as seriously as I was.
This new way of living for me went on for a while. I would toss around in a restless sleep for nights on end, preparing to wake up with an aching body and broken lungs. Surely I must have picked up the virus at my yoga class? At the restaurant I visited last month?
After more than a week of quarantining myself in my home and working remotely, my panicked emotions began to slowly subside. I was still anxious, but the intensity was not as horrible. That being said, I knew I had to take conscious steps to manage how I was feeling.
How I’m Living With Anxiety During a World Pandemic
What was happening around the world wasn’t something that was going to just disappear overnight, and it was time to train myself on how to deal with it.
1. Take the time to slow down & breathe
Many times during the past few weeks, I can feel knots of panic rising in my chest. My breathing becomes heavy, and my muscles tighten. My mind runs with endless, negative possibilities. It’s important to become self-aware when moments like this begin to happen.
Of course, it’s going to be completely normal to have moments of anxiety right now. Feel those emotions. A couple of days ago, I burst into tears, but I felt better after letting out how I was feeling. You also need to take steps to lessen that anxiety if it begins to spiral out of control.
When I feel the panic rising in my chest, I take myself to a spot in my house where I can be by myself, and I do this simple breathwork practice:
- Inhale four times
- Hold your breath for four counts
- Exhale four times
- Hold on empty for four counts
This proven technique brings anxiety levels down and takes you back to a more neutral state.
2. Stay off social media platforms
Staying updated on factual information is no doubt important, but constantly refreshing Facebook to read the latest headline is not a healthy way to stay informed. I began to recognize that my overwhelmed feelings were very closely related to many of the articles I would find myself reading from less than reputable websites.
So, one day, I decided to stay off of my social media platforms completely and only watch the evening news to get the latest and relevant updates. The result? My day was substantially better than the days where I had spent every hour checking in on a new (and usually, extremely negative) article.
Try this out, and if you do go online, look for positive stories and messages. There is so much good being done in the world right now amongst all the negative things that are happening, so we just have to try a little harder to look for those nuggets of light.
3. Stop thinking you need to “do more” with your time
Let me explain this one a little bit further. I personally felt a lot of pressure to try and churn out extra work and even start on a new project when I began staying at home.
Shouldn’t I be optimizing my blog? Or putting out a bunch of social media content? Maybe I should learn a new skill? Why aren’t I starting a podcast like that other girl just did?
Many of the narratives I found myself reading online were brands, and just people in general, encouraging others to use their newfound time to “do more.” Start a blog, write a business plan, grow your Instagram following - things like that.
Now let me be clear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing any of that if that’s what you actually want to be doing. But on the flip side, shouldn’t we also embrace doing less with all of this time we have? Moving a little more slowly throughout our days? Spending an extra 20 minutes in a warm bath? Watching a silly movie simply because it will make us laugh? We are always so keen to maximize our time, and churn out work, that we often forget the benefits of actually just taking care of ourselves, feeling our emotions, and going with the flow.
The minute I let go of feeling like I had to walk out of this thing with a fully written novel and knowing how to play the piano, I felt as though a gigantic weight had been lifted from my shoulders. There is no right or wrong way to feel right now. Don’t push yourself in an unhealthy way; “doing less” is just as valuable as “doing more” right now.
4. Read a good book, or crush a workout
Laying in my bed watching Netflix most nights is great, but I quickly realized I needed to do other things at home as well. I had gone from doing yoga, volleyball, and dancing every week to having all of those things canceled.
Well, it was time for me to get creative.
I am an avid bookworm, but it isn’t easy to read when you have a million things on the go. With most of those things in my life now being paused, I threw myself back into reading and almost instantly felt a shift in my mood. What a perfect time to actually sit down and read that book you’ve had on your living room shelf for the past three months.
Stories for me were always magical because I could escape to any place around the world: Venice, London, New York, Washington … The list of places I have “been” is endless. How lucky we are, now more than ever, to have stories.
If reading isn’t your cup of tea, there are always creative ways to crush out a workout at home. Although it’s not quite like a hot flow room at my favorite studio, it’s easy enough to throw my yoga mat on my bedroom floor and follow a flow online. Yoga also has amazing health benefits.
Make sure to check in with your local studios; they might be offering virtual classes!
5. Remind yourself “this too shall pass”
What is happening around the world is scary. We are living with a feeling of uncertainty hanging over our heads. One thing that has helped me curb my anxiety more than anything is reminding myself that nothing lasts forever, and this too shall pass.
I am not in control of this situation. It’s not as easy as going to a yoga class and feeling my stress melt away. I need to accept I am not in control of this and come to peace with that. Letting go of control is, in a sense, gaining a certain amount of control (and sanity) back.
I remind myself how lucky I am to have a home to stay in and a job that allows me to work remotely. I think about how grateful I am to have so many friends to stay connected with and that there are healthcare workers and essential services workers out in the world doing good for all of us.
Sending Love to You All
We can all do a beautiful thing for ourselves and others by being cautious and staying home if we can.
When we come together as a collective, I truly believe anything is possible. So check in with your neighbors (over the phone), breathe, and stay safe. You got this.
Read next: How to Start the Week Anxiety Free