Anxiety Sufferers – How to Survive a Pandemic

woman calm

So, as someone who has experienced anxiety and panic attacks a lot in my life, I understand how many sufferers of anxiety feel right now with regards to the Coronavirus (Covid-19). Most of us who have been conditioned to be anxious from an early age tend to worry about so many things anyway, but when the entire fabric of the world is changing, it stands to reason that we need more than ever to take care of our mental health at this time.

My own experience of anxiety began in childhood, probably around age 3-4, so it’s been a lengthy time of conditioned behaviour on my part. It has taken me a long time to find ways of managing anxiety. I’m in my early forties now and I do find that sometimes management goes out of the window and instead I go into ‘full on’ panic mode.

This pandemic has triggered me a lot and I imagine anyone who suffers from anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, depression and other mental health issues are also feeling triggered.

Many say that to cope with this pandemic we should limit our use of social media, limit how much news we watch or read, and while I agree this is good to some extent, I also feel that when fear is a deeply unconscious conditioned response, getting facts and information can be calming and steadying and can help us prepare, plan and find ways of emotionally coping with our current reality.

If you have had a little bit of nervousness and fear, please don’t compare this to full blown anxiety or people who suffer from panic attacks. A little fear is healthy and natural, it protects us from harm, it encourages us into new experiences, but anxiety when ongoing can be very debilitating. For those who are agoraphobic or who have obsessive compulsive disorder (especially related to cleanliness) this time may be particularly frightening.

Living with Someone Who Suffers from Anxiety

Before I go into how to cope with this pandemic as an anxiety sufferer, I first wanted to just give a clear heads-up to loved ones or friends of people who suffer from anxiety right now.

  • High Alert – Please be prepared that our anxiety may be on high alert. For me it has involved being super protective of my best friend Michael and my mother. Michael is 83 this year and my mother is in her sixties and had cancer and chemotherapy last year. My mother also has mild lung disease. So if you have friends or family who are on edge constantly, remember why.
  • Checking in On Loved Ones More Often – Another reaction may be checking in with you, probably more often than most people would. When my friend returns home from the supermarket, my anxiety has been kicked into overdrive, fearing he caught something while out, insisting he washes his hands, double checking he has washed, even after I have just mentioned it, five minutes later I mention it again. I’m also finding myself asking him if he is okay, repeatedly. I know this is because a part of me is scared of him getting sick, so I’m having compassion for that scared part of me right now. If you can be a little more understanding and instead of becoming frustrated with us or upset, please know we don’t want you to get sick or die and it’s simply heightened fear, not us trying to boss you around intentionally.
  • Obsessive Cleaning – Some of those you care for may be cleaning more than is needed. For some this is a coping mechanism and for others it is part of a mental health condition like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Give your loved one’s extra love, pay more attention to them, distract them with humour if possible, give them other things to focus on if you can. Treat them to a soothing massage, put some calming essential oils in a diffuser if you have one (and they are not allergic of course). Find ways to bring calm into your home. Reassure them with facts NOT sensationalist headlines.
  • We May React by Being Snappy – If we are feeling extra sensitive and fearful about what is happening and we feel our feelings are being invalidated or explained away, we may snap. If you feel okay doing so, simply hold the space for our processing of our feelings. Sometimes we need to talk them out and eventually we come to clearer conclusions and less scary understandings.
  • Prepping for the Apocalypse – Yes, not all of those people panic buying are selfish. Some of them are probably highly anxious people. Some may feel so scared that it turns into anger as a protection mechanism. With anxiety, a fear for survival can kick in and this means all rationality goes out of the window. So, while we can also shake our heads at those ‘panic buying toilet paper purchasers’, let’s bear in mind that some of them may be in serious mental health trouble right now. Not all, but some.

How to Manage Fear When Everything Is Out of Control?

virus woman mask

As someone who knows anxiety intimately, it’s a fear of losing control or a fear of death (the same thing really!) and the ironic action needed to manage the intensity of panic, when this fear of losing control sets in, is to surrender to it.

So, to manage a fear of losing control, we surrender our control.

How on earth do we do this?

We Recognise the Positives in The Anxiety

Often, we tend to worry a lot. I think many anxiety sufferers find that if we just worry about something, and for me verbalise that worry out into the world, it doesn’t happen. It is like if we just worry, we can protect everyone. It’s irrational, yes, but it is how we can often be. We think that as we worried about ‘whatever’ it was in the past and it did not come to be, it means we have some sort of superhero anxiety quality that prevents the event from materialising by worrying now.

We, in a way, become super prepared for potential suffering, but in process of this constant worry and anxiety, we suffer anyway.

Anxiety is simply an intensified version of preparedness. We are excellent planners, innovators, organisers, so we really ought to give ourselves  a pat on the back there, but somewhere along the way we just got a bit lost, something triggered us somewhere in our lives, be it childhood, to someone dying, to even the medications we may be taking, something triggered us into intense preparation and a need to control.

So I guess in the middle of a pandemic, while other people are keeping level headed and calm, we could be those who organise our family, make sure every eventuality is taken care of and as we are so used to preparing for the worst (instead of preparing for the best) we would make excellent leaders at this time.

I am saying this with a smile, because I think anxiety gets a bad rap and maybe we need to turn around our self-judgements when in an anxious state to simply have a compassionate understanding of why we do what we do and how if we can simply dial it down a notch, we can be very effective human beings.

I know that when I am going on holiday for example, my ‘crazy’ list-making of what to take and what is needed has gotten me and my holiday friends through some challenging situations. So, I pat myself on the back for that.

We Get It Out of Our System

As I mentioned above, one of my coping mechanisms has been when the panic sets in to verbalise my fears ‘out there’ to someone, anyone who is in hearing range. And while I know it may seem irrational, there is some wisdom in this.

In mindfulness meditation it is called becoming the watcher. In other words, outside of an anxiety situation, you may objectify what is happening as something out there. It’s not who you are, but something that is passing by, like clouds that pass across the sky. For those of us who experience anxiety, we simply went a bit too far with this by speaking about it and worrying about it, as a way to control it, whereas mindfulness would mean we simply become more mindful of what is actually taking place as a way to allow it, not control it.

So, I would simply verbalise, ‘There is intense fear coming up right now and that’s okay’.

The point is not punishing or beating ourselves up for feeling the fear or making it bigger than it needs to be, but by giving ourselves absolute permission to feel it.

I know many people think with anxiety especially, that allowing ourselves to feel those feelings fully, could mean we drown in them, or we have a panic attack or heart attack, but it’s generally not what happens.

The turning towards the fear more often than not dissipates the fear.

With this pandemic, you could be watching the news or someone has told you about some Government measures taking place and your heart starts to race, your mouth goes dry, you feel like a rabbit in headlights, so you turn towards those feelings, you don’t try to get rid of them, you don’t do any of this to get rid of those feelings. You do this to give yourself space for change to naturally happen.

We Do Still Prepare – BUT Not All of The Time

You can’t expect to free yourself from anxiety during a pandemic, but you can open to the fact that this time could be an opportune time to release resistance to it and also find ways to prepare and plan that allow you to feel calmer and less reactionary to sensationalism in the news.

So you choose your sources wisely for your planning. Following Government sources and World Health Organisation recommendations. You don’t take your planning ideas from random strangers on social media (or even your friends or family) and you don’t look at the trashy red top newspapers or overly emotive news channels.

You get clear about what is calm, clear, factual and you eliminate unnecessary viewing of those headlines created to provoke fear and panic.

If you are worried about your health, your ability to pay your bills if you are forced into self-isolation, see what you can plan now, do what you are able, rally around your neighbours, your community, find out what your local area has in place. Are there support groups or financial services that could help you through a difficult period? Is your specific health condition more susceptible to viruses? What do you need to do to keep yourself and your family safe?

Finding these things out now is key, so if you do need to practice greater self-care due to sickness, you are not toppled over by other things.

Yes, things may get dicey for a while, but accept that you can and will handle it because you have handled so many other challenges in your life so far – even with anxiety!

If Needed – We Book Extra Therapy Sessions

If you see a therapist of counsellor and need extra right now, book them in now, maybe booking in advance so that you have support when you feel you may need it. If you feel you are not coping, talk to someone. Don’t bottle it up. Share.

We Begin to Develop New Ways of Looking at The World

forest woman

While watching Sky News of all things, during a particularly panicked evening, I saw a small video of an interview with street performer Danilo Muscara in Italy. It was very short, but he made me smile. The interviewer said:

“Are you worried?”

He responds with a smile.

“The situation won’t change if you worry or don’t worry. I don’t worry”

So, while a simple view to have, I understand it takes a lot of practice for those of us who worry a lot, but the fact is, if we worry or don’t worry, the situation does not change either way.

I learned this the hard way, that no amount of me trying to make things change or control my reality made things change. The more I am able to accept ‘what is’ the more relief I feel.

And with Coronavirus for example, the greatest fear for many people is that it is unknown, but as my best friend said clearly to me this week, EVERYTHING is unknown and uncertain.

One of those off the cuff sayings often given to us is ‘I could be hit by a bus tomorrow’ and it is true, anything can happen, and anything does happen.

Many of us will not even experience the virus, some of us will and whoever gets it or doesn’t, we can’t control that. We can use hand sanitiser, wash our hands often, limit contact with people, make sure we have enough food and healthcare at home, but in the long run I am a big believer that if something is meant to be, it will be, no matter how much I try to make it not so.

And this is why we need to start reading or listening more to people who may have a more Zen way of living life (I have included a list at the bottom of this post and please see the books in my sidebar), to understand that everything is subject to change. And that is what the world is going through right now, huge change. Humans don’t like change as much as many of us want change (but only change that is comfortable).

Being just brutally honest with ourselves, life as we know it will change.

Maybe not with regards to our health, but more than likely in the way we run our lives, how our countries operate. Globalisation will change, capitalism will change.

This pandemic is here as a wake-up call for humanity. In a way it has its pros and cons.

PROS

The Pros being that there will be less war right now. We learn what is important. We discover where there are problems, for example in supply chains and relying too much on outer sources to provide us with basic sustenance and products (toilet roll panic comes to mind!). And we will learn to slow down, be encouraged to practice greater self-care and become more a witness to what is unfolding instead of drowning in all the information out there.

CONS

The Cons, some people will leave this earth plane, our medical departments may be overrun, we may need to adapt what we eat, how we behave. We may have to socialise less, and this year’s vacation may have to be put on hold. Financially, markets may crash and many businesses may go under.

And these are potential upcoming facts. Nothing more, nothing less.

And as Danilo said

 “The situation won’t change if you worry or don’t worry. I don’t worry”

All we can do is to be prepared, find new ways of viewing the world, accept ‘what is’ and take steps from there.

Sending you lots of love during this intensive period of change.

You are not alone.

For more support on anxiety please visit:

How to Embrace Anxiety

How to Embrace Anxiety and Manage the Symptoms

Why Do We Suffer From Anxiety?

7 Tips For Managing Anxiety

Insomnia Can Be Cruel – How To Find Relief

Teachers to follow that may help you see life differently

VIDEO Byron Katie on Anxiety

VIDEO Pema Chodron – What To Do When You Lose It Completely

AUDIO Tara Brach – Healing Anxiety – How Meditation Frees Us

VIDEO Mooji – I Don’t Feel Peace

BOOK EXTRACT Jeff Foster – How To Meet Anxiety

ARTICLE  Thich Nhat Hanh – How To Overcome Anxiety

ARTICLE Lao Tzu – Conquer Anxiety With Lessons from the Tao Te Ching

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Kelly Martin
Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin is the author of ‘When Everyone Shines But You’ , a passionate writer and blogger questioning life’s illusions. After what seemed like a decade of intense anxiety, feelings of failure and grief from the loss of her father she chose to take a mindfulness path and has not looked back since. Kelly encourages people to find the treasures that lie within the pain and suffering and to learn to see themselves as ‘enough’ exactly as they are, right now through her writing and You Tube channel .

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