Covid-19 and Anxiety…. what a perfect storm. All these years people have suffered from Anxiety and we, as therapists, have said, “Don’t worry! You’re safe! It’s all in your mind” And now, the perfect combination of Armageddon and loss of control have arrived. Together they create Anxiety beyond what we might have imagined was possible.
As a result, our minds can find themselves hurtling off into the future imagining all the possibilities that Covid might bring. This could be anything from mild disease to death, from loss of employment to reduced earnings, from a couple of weeks feeling fluey to long term organ failure. What a fun rollercoaster the Covid Express is!
Life Was Always Uncertain
I know I’m being flippant here. Sometimes, though, if we don’t laugh we end up crying. I do know how awful Covid is, but I’m here to help. I’m here to give you a morsel of hope and a few ways in which to begin to cope.
The thing is… life has always been uncertain. We have never been able to predict exactly what would be happening in the next five minutes… never mind five hours, days, months. It has just felt that we could for most of the time. For example…fish and chips on Fridays, the Olympics every four years, Ant and Dec winning the TV presenters awards… But in reality, anything can happen at any time. We have no idea what the future holds, and we never have had.
At the moment, Covid has brought this uncertainty into sharp focus. And this means that our brains can go into meltdown. The ‘what ifs’ begin to appear in even the calmest of minds. What if this happens? Or what if that happens? What if I or my family die?
Uncertainty equals Anxiety
Uncertainty is not something that we, as humans, enjoy. We like to be in control, certain, sure….because that means that we are safe. When our environment is out of control, uncertain, we can feel in danger and our very existence under threat. When we are under threat our unconscious mind triggers the fight or flight response so that we can escape from that danger. The symptoms of that response are the feelings of Anxiety.
So we can feel sick, sweaty, full of dread. Our hearts can beat out of our chests and our minds can overthink until we lie sleepless and afraid. It may be that this comes in peaks and troughs or that we experience a constant low hum of Anxiety. Whatever is your experience, please do not despair. Firstly, this is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Secondly, we can do something about it.
Environment & the Bath Tub of Stress
Now that we realise that the feelings of Anxiety are due to that environment of uncertainty, perceived threat and loss of control, we can begin to change things. Remember, we have always been uncertain of the future, but we have managed that fear. We are the only animal on the planet who knows that we are going to die one day. And yet, for millennia, we have plodded through life pretty happily. We can plod again!
If you were to imagine your body as a bath tub full of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, right now you are probably brimming over. One tiny thing can cause the tub to overflow. What we need is a plughole that can release the pressure. We need to change our environment from one of threat to one of safety. So how do we do that?
Connection & Self Care
When we are safe our bodies are awash with hormones such as Oxytocin, Endorphins, Seratonin… We need to create an environment for ourselves which gives our minds and bodies evidence that we are safe. Yes, I know that we are not totally safe, but, as I mentioned before, we have never been totally safe.
We need to connect to the things which give our lives meaning. These are different for all of us, but a pretty good starting point is to reflect on connection, in the moment, with the following:
How are you connecting to those things right now? Have some of them fallen away? Were some not there in the first place? Humans are social animals and we need to connect with other people. We need to talk and laugh and hug, to give and serve. Studies have shown that Nature gives us a hit of the good hormones and that regular exposure can reduce blood pressure and increase immunity. We could create a triple whammy and go for a walk, in Nature, with a friend. How would that feel?
Connection, Control, Meaning
When we look at those areas above and begin to think about how we can connect, we start to take back control. Little by little we spend more time involved in things we love and enjoy. Even if you can only manage ten minutes to start with, that’s ok. Ten minutes doing something you love releases a burst of those good hormones and releases some of the stress. We begin to send the message that, “We are safe”. As time goes on we are able to give ourselves permission to spend more time connecting and creating that environment of safety.
These splashes of self care, of connection, start to shine a light into the darkness. We begin to create structure in our day and through structure we bring control. When we have control we have safety. When we have safety we no longer need the fight or flight response, Anxiety.
Therapy, the sign post
Does it seem too simple? Or maybe it seems too difficult? Sometimes we can reach a stage where it feels too hard to put advice like this into practice. Perhaps we feel completely exhausted by this whole situation. If you do, there is no shame in feeling that way. This is not weakness or failure, it is a normal reaction to the way things are. Noone in living memory has been through this before.
It may be that, for a while, you need a hand to guide you to that place of safety. It probably won’t take that long, but it’s comforting to have someone by your side. That is where we therapists come in. We are here to support you, to help you create the connection you need, perhaps to work a little deeper for a while. Maybe you need someone to hold the lamp that lights your way.
Whichever scenario hits a chord wth you, know this… you can get through this. You can find peace again and you are not alone.
If you would like to have an informal chat about how I can help, contact me now on 07894564287 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to Kunal Shinde, Melanie Wasser and Santiago Lacarta at UnSplash for use of their images.