As a person with anxiety, I’m used to being the token worrier in any situation. It’s part of my charm, plus you know I’ll always come prepared with just-in-case snacks.
Pre-coronavirus, I knew how to de-escalate my anxiety using some techniques I learned in therapy.
I’d think to myself, “Yes, it’s possible that my friend didn’t answer my text message because I’ve deeply offended her and now she hates me. But is it also possible she just forgot? Do I have any proof of her newfound hatred?”
If you’ve been in therapy, you know how this exercise goes.
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But now my anxiety has taken on a pandemic-specific tone, and it feels harder to talk down.
I think, “Yes, it’s possible that my parents or in-laws could contract this virus and die. But is it likely? Actually, yeah, it kind of is.”
My husband’s uncle passed away from Covid-19 in April, making this fear hit even harder.
As someone who normally works from home, casual outings used to be something I looked forward to as a mid-day brain break in the pre-corona days. I found pleasure in strolling the grocery store aisles looking for ingredients for dinner.
Now, these small pleasures don’t feel nearly as carefree. My husband and I do grocery runs as infrequently as possible, buying simple ingredients that can make a variety of meals. While we’re there, I eye other shoppers, wondering if they’ve been adhering to the guidelines and the mask mandate.
As businesses continue to reopen, I constantly waiver on my own comfort levels.
Am I comfortable with a trip to the dentist? What about to the hair salon? How would I feel about getting on a plane for an anniversary trip in October?
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Then I check Instagram and see some people posting pictures from weekends that make it look like the coronavirus is gone. It leaves me wondering if I’m the only one feeling anxious and unsure about how to proceed.
Though social media may lead me to believe otherwise, I’m not alone with these feelings.
A Healthline survey shows more Americans are now dealing with prolonged anxiety, depression, and fear than before the coronavirus pandemic.
Dina Gambella, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Fellow Traveler Counseling, says she’s seeing an “uptick” in anxiety and depression and a drastic increase in requests for couples and family therapy at her Dilworth practice since the pandemic hit. Gambella says the struggle with intense isolation is taking its toll and manifesting in different ways.
“Isolation is traumatic in itself, right? We can’t see our families. We can’t go to work. Some people are losing their houses or their jobs. And trauma has lasting effects on how we think, interact, and see the world. We’re going to have to be aware that people are going to have long-lasting effects from this, whether that’s anxiety, depression, family issues, or body image issues.
“But it’s also dangerous to assume that we’re always going to be in this anxious state. That we’ll always be in fight or flight. So then we need to work through it.”
If that isolation is wearing on you, Gambella emphasizes the importance of reaching out and connecting in safe ways.
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“Find support, whether that’s on a Zoom call, doing a socially distant lunch, or going to a counselor. Someone told me they were doing a virtual poetry slam last night, and I think that’s fantastic. Any creative new ways to connect is my push,” she says.
If you’re like me and are struggling to gauge your new levels of comfort with what used to be everyday activities, Gambella says, “We all know comparison is the thief of joy. It comes back to the mentality of individuality. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something, just accept that’s where you’re at and try not to compare yourself. Seek connection and support to work through why some of those barriers are happening.”
Every brand in the history of the world is using commercials to talk to us about “these unprecedented times” and while I’m tired of the cliche, the sentiment is valid. There’s no reference point for handling a pandemic in modern times. We’re all trying to find our individual level of comfort, and it’s OK if that changes weekly or even daily.
Wherever you’re at, I hope we all come out of this with a newfound appreciation for the times when we didn’t give much thought to giving someone a hug or visiting with family. And seriously, please just wear the mask.