Anxiety in the time of Coronavirus

When we found out that Covid-19 was a thing, it was pretty anxiety provoking.

When we found out that Coronavirus was on its way to us, we reached various states of panic. Different for each of us, of course, but I doubt there were many people who didn’t lie in bed at least once thinking about the deaths of their family, followed by their own untimely demise.

Desperately awful as feeling anxious is, at least we were all in the same boat, right? At least everyone was feeling awful together, and that included the government, who – whether we vote for them or not – were going to do something to try to keep us safe. At least the anxiety was caused by something of which it’s rational to be scared: something new, dangerous and fast moving.

I drove past my local garden centre today – Day One of ‘we’re still a bit locked-down but not quite as much’ – and it was packed. When I say ‘packed’, I mean thronging. I mean that the carpark was full and there were people parked in the overflow carpark.

Clearly, a lot of people no longer feel that anxiety. Or, if they do, their need for summer bedding and a cast concrete otter is greater.

For some people, though, they will not be feeling an acute sense of relief that the danger is beginning to pass. Their anxiety levels will still be sky high. They will still be trying to navigate themselves through a world which is still newly dominated by fear and ‘what if?’.

To those people, I say ‘Welcome to the club: sorry it’s a shit club’.

In all seriousness, though, I do wonder how many people’s mental health will be affected negatively in the long term by Covid-19. My eyes were opened to the real world on September 11th 2001, when I suddenly discovered that some people wanted to kill other people for absolutely no obvious reason whatsoever. Everything changed that day and nothing has ever been quite the same since. I was eight years old, so I came to the anxiety thang at a fairly young age, but I’m sure that Coronavirus must have had the same effect on many, many people.

So, here it is. If you’ve never felt anxiety before and suddenly you’re feeling dogged by it, these are my observations for the newly anxious:

  1. You will find that anxiety changes the way your body feels. It makes me feel sick and sends sharp stabbing pains into the sides of my head; it gives one of my friends really intense stomach cramps. It sucks because you’ll probably suddenly feel like there’s something very, very wrong with your body. It’ll probably make you wonder whether you’ve not, in fact, caught Covid, but contracted some other, deadly disease. Obviously, don’t just put all symptoms down the anxiety, but be aware that it can make your body react in very, very strange ways to extreme emotions.
  2. Anger. You will feel angry. I think, personally, it’s rational to feel angry about feeling so rubbish all the time. Things anxiety has made me feel angry at: the world, for putting me in a position where there is so much to be angry about; other people, for telling me to calm down (PRO TIP: nobody ever calmed down because they were told to calm down) or for not realising the seriousness of the situation, or simply for being able to not feel anxious; myself, for being so stupid and not being able to rationalise things that really could be rationalised…
  3. It might be worse at certain times of the day or night. I personally have worse anxiety between 7.30pm and 8.30pm. Why? Nobody knows. It’s both irrational and ridiculous. But it happens.
  4. You will feel exhausted. This might be because you can’t sleep, or it might just be because your body is using so flipping much energy on feeling anxious all the time that there isn’t that much left. If you’re ‘lucky’ enough to be prescribed medication for your anxiety, then you might as well just say goodbye to ever feeling like you don’t need a nap right now.
  5. You might develop obsessions. Seemingly stupid obsessions. When I am struggling, I often worry about having stepped on the threshold thing between rooms. If I do so, I have to go back and put my foot on the carpet on the other side. Don’t ask me why – there’s no real reason. My own interpretation of this is that my brain and body are feeling very anxious, but there’s no apparent reason why. Therefore it’s easier for me to deal with it if I can pin it on something. This is slightly more rational but doesn’t really help things.
  6. Magical Thinking. Welcome to the wonderful world of Magical Thinking. I’m going to include this with fear of contamination. Both are like spaghetti and can truss you up good and proper. Magical thinking is that thing you might have started doing where you think ‘If I can repeat the word duck twenty times in the next twenty seconds without being interrupted, then my family and I will be safe from Coronavirus’. Not rational, but really it makes sense: your brain is trying to allow you control of an uncontrollable situation. Contamination fears might also be extensive: have you ever tried making a chain of all the people who have touched something and working out whether any of them are carriers of the deadly virus or not? It’s not easy.

So. What do we do about it? What do you do about it?

  1. Remember that it’s OK to feel anxious. There’s nothing wrong with worrying or feeling scared about something that is – quite frankly – scary. Let yourself feel that anxiety.
  2. Distract, distract, distract. Find something repetitive and mind-numbing, or interesting and exciting, and do it. Even the most severe anxiety will start to dissipate if you distract yourself. Tetris, crocheting and plucking the hair out of your legs with a pair of tweezers are all excellent activities for this purpose.
  3. Try to ignore the physical feelings. Paying attention to them will generally make them worse. Having a cup of tea and being warm usually helps. As does having a cuddle.
  4. Square breathing. Here’s a link. It’s fabulous. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFdZXwE6fRE
  5. If it goes on and on and on and it’s disrupting your life and you can’t think and nothing is making sense anymore and you’ve not slept for five weeks and you start to think the dog is plotting against you, probably get some help. Doctors are used to dealing with anxiety. CBT is helpful (https://www.hpft.nhs.uk/media/1655/wellbeing-team-cbt-workshop-booklet-2016.pdf) and this is very similar to a book we used when I was in hospital. You can get other versions on Amazon if you’re looking for something with a proper profesh front cover. Spend some time working on it every day.
  6. If you do go to the doctors and they want you to try medication, give it a go. I was anti medication for years but, actually, it’s allowed me to live a somewhat normal life for the last five.

So yeah, welcome. I really hope your membership is short and that, as Covid goes away, so does your anxiety. It can be crushing and terrible and painful and awful, but also it can and does and will get better.

In the meantime: just try to calm down…

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