Times are tough for many of us and they are just going to get worse. I’m not being pessimistic when I say that. Surging virus numbers are forcing many places to slow down or reverse re-opening. Hospitals in some of those places are overwhelmed. The extra unemployment payments end in a few weeks. Any new help from the government looks unlikely.
Aside from the threat of the virus, we will now be facing untold numbers of people who will become homeless and/or starving. We all know the Republicans are more than happy to sit back and just watch this happen. No actual help will be on the horizon until 2021.
This is all hard to swallow. Add in people who are going stir crazy from lockdown cabin fever and the literal daily drumbeat of things getting more and more horrible and it has become a recipe for misery and stress. This has been going on for months and there is no end in sight.
But some of us have a hidden tool we can use to help us navigate these difficult times. We have anxiety.
It might seem odd to think of your anxiety as your friend, but if you can exert a small amount of influence over it and re-purpose it for these challenging times, it can help you.
Higher Stress Tolerance
People who have lived with anxiety for a significant period of time often have a higher than normal stress tolerance. I don’t mean that in the sense that they don’t feel the stress. I mean they can still function under levels of stress that would crush others.
I have what is considered high functioning anxiety — meaning I look like I’m okay because I can hide the rolling terror that exists beneath the surface of my seemingly normal façade.
It also means that I’m used to feeling scared and on edge all the time. My level of anxiety fluctuates but is normally pretty high, so the pandemic anxiety I feel is only slightly above what would be my norm.
If you are always anxious, then the addition of new things to be anxious about is usually easier to integrate into your life.
Use that to your advantage. You can focus in and keep things moving when others may be paralyzed with indecision or fear.
Plus you are used to feeling anxious long term. As this drags on and deepens even the strongest people could start to crack under the pressure. But for those of us with anxiety, it is not that different from every other year of our lives.
Familiar with Worst-Case Scenarios
When you have anxiety your mind presents you with worst-case scenarios all the time. Many of us, have problem-solving minds and have tried to make plans for the worst-case scenarios. Most of our fears are not rational — no a scorpion isn’t going to come out of my jewelry case and sting me — -but my mind has planned what to do if it does.
Because a pandemic is something that experts have warned us about for years and they have happened before, I bet many of my fellow anxiety sufferers already had at least a rough outline of what the plan was if this went down. And here we are.
Even if your mind did not prepare you for this specific scenario, it knows how to make plans for when shit happens. Let it make plans. Indulge your anxious preparations (to a reasonable extent — not 8 months' worth of toilet paper).
Do your best to not let your mind wallow in fear. There is much to be terrified of. When your mind reminds you of that, ask it what you are going to do about it. Then make a plan. Even if you end up not needing the plan, you will feel better for having thought it through.
Plus sometimes unexpected things happen. Somewhere in your plans, your mind may have come up with some weird fear and you will be the one with the contingency for it.
Before the pandemic what I worried most about when I was out and about was mass shootings. Because of my anxiety, I was hypervigilant in public places. My habit was to scan any new place I was in as soon as I arrived. I noted exits and any large things that could be used for cover. As I worked my way through the location I would periodically scan the people around me and notice any that looked out of place or nervous. Just working the statistics of mass shootings, I did pay more attention to younger white males. They were the ones most likely to be threats.
I have managed to mostly redirect my hypervigilance to pandemic issues. People without masks. Areas where there is no way to stay apart. Lack of social distancing. In fact, I’ve gotten so attuned to social distancing, that a few times I’ve stopped dead without realizing why. I unconsciously noticed the people in an area I needed to go and my anxious mind stopped me before my conscious mind realized I needed to wait. If I’m out, hand sanitizing is a constant habit whenever I touch anything outside my car. My hands get washed the second I walk in the house — -I drop my purse and any bags I have and head to the sink. And yes, they do get washed again after I unpack.
I’m sure many of you have specific things you were hypervigilant about as well. If you were a germaphobe, you were well set up for this pandemic. If not, hopefully, you can easily redirect your hypervigilance toward keeping the virus away from you and yours.
Anxiety is usually seen as a negative, but occasionally, it can turn into a positive. Rally your natural worry to come to your defense and help you get through these unusual times.