As I inhaled, I closed my eyes and attempted to count to 10. One, two, three, four, five, six…as the air quickly deflated out of my lungs I was met with a barrage if questions. Why could I not make it to 10? Was I inhaling wrong? Was this a symptom of COVID-19?! Of course, these thoughts only made my breathing even more shallow. By now, I had spent quite a few days indoors under the stay-at-home orders. I had also read enough to know about the symptoms of COVID-19. What was one to do during a pandemic riddled with uncertain futures and death seemingly present at every corner? I’d argue, one might breathe a bit shallower and ponder questions about their own health and stability. I’d argue, that perhaps having anxiety during the times of COVID-19 was not only expected, but somewhat the norm.
Defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease based on the imminent or uncertain outcome of an event, anxiety is something most people experience. Being nervous about a job interview or meeting someone on a blind date are both reasonable events where someone could experience anxiety. Anxiety becomes problematic when it presents itself in individuals’ lives in unwanted and unwarranted fashion, inhibiting their ability to carry out their daily routines. For example, those who suffer from anxiety disorders may experience invasive thoughts, trouble sleeping, or difficulty functioning in public. Anxiety can also manifest itself physically in the body as those who suffer from anxiety filled episodes could experience heart palpitations, panic attacks, and sweating. For many during the time of COVID-19, anxiety may be experienced in mild or moderate forms, drawing attention to the importance of mental health.
Being Kind to Yourself
Beginning in March, emails began to roll out from my organization about preparations for remote instruction. I watched as my colleagues struggled to understand online tools and prepare assignments. I listened to others whisper about having to come to work despite being considered a “non-essential” employee. I waited upon my fate, coming to the office, seeing less and less individuals in the halls. Truly, anxiety was present. I worried about getting clearance to work from home. I pondered the possibility of being laid off. Still, I showed up at work to do my job. I attempted to work through the extra noise in my mind. I was arguably burning my candle from both ends. Something had to give.
After receiving permission to work from home, I noticed the difference in how my body felt. There was a relief knowing I did not have to be in public spaces, but also new anxiety as I figured out how to manage my schedule and meet project goals. I also needed to maintain my house, pay my bills, and move around as much as my space permitted. I quickly learned that adjustment would be a marathon, not a sprint. I had to take a deep breath and realize that part of dealing with anxiety was also to be kind to myself. It was the gentle nudge to remind myself that I would indeed get a hold of things as I continued to practice. It was the friendly reminder that there was absolutely nothing normal about what we were currently experiencing, so to expect normalcy of work or anything else could be asking too much.
Anxiety About What COVID-19 has Changed
There are currently over 1 million positive/presumptive positive cases in the United States, with over 60,000 deaths. To date, 30 million people have initiated claims for unemployment since mid-March. Instances of suicide from frontline workers have been documented, as well as numbers on domestic violence cases. In some of the most population dense areas of the country, essential workers fail at practicing social distance measures by default as steps to keep them safe has not been implemented by organizations or local government. Children suffer with new education models and a lack of food. Black and Brown people risk being discriminated against or wearing a mask to remain safe. As a nation, we find ourselves in a place of great stress and uncertainty, further complicated when the management of such is done without proper care. COVID-19 has bought about many changes that would naturally provoke anxiety under any other circumstance. It is not abnormal to be concerned about what it currently being experienced. It is not a bad thing to feel your feelings.
Coping with Anxiety
As questions loom about what things will look like after orders are lifted and people start to return into the public, many are still grappling about what to do now. Since the time that many stay-at-home orders have been enforced, researchers and mental health professionals have come together to encourage the public on steps that can be taken to mitigate the impacts of anxiety during such uncertain times. Here are a few of their suggestions on coping.
- Turn media off! – Unplug the TV. Be intentional about what you entertain on social media. It can emotionally triggering to watch news reports on COVID-19 for several hours, and because so much misinformation is spread via social media outlets, disancng yourself from the media can be helpful once you get the information you need.
- Grieve what has been lost – It’s ok to feel sad about what you have not been able to experience due to COVID-19. Students will miss proms and graduations. Others have missed out on vacations, special occasions, and simple meetups with friends. Accepting that you have lost things and may lose more is not unhealthy. It also helps you put things into perspective that could help assist you in mitigating anxiety around the fears of the future you choose not to address.
- Adjust and Find Joy – With the challenges present in physical distancing, innovations have arisen that help to create a sense of closeness. Join a Zoom meetup or dance the night away with other users on IG Live. Get caught up on your favorite TV show or even take some time to rest and sleep. Those things that bring you joy, pursue them. Anxiety is less likely to be present when you do.
- Seek professional help – Mental health professionals are available via telehealth services to assist you. If you feel that you are having increasing difficulty to manage your anxiety or simply need someone to talk to, many resources are being made available to address your concerns.
A New Normal
It is uncertain what our country will look like after COVID-19. We do not know the outcome of jobs, education, or society at large as many will be returning to a new normal without loved ones and colleagues. When we resume, many will still be in stages of grief, working through what they experienced while we we apart. Perhaps, what we can remember as we emerge from our homes is to keep this in mind. To keep in mind, we all have experienced some level of anxiety, and many of us are still working through that. And to remember them is also to remember that there is an anxiety that we deal with that is very personal and can be managed. As we embark on a journey we have never been, we take a deep breath and close our eyes. We count to ten, exhale, and repeat.