Dealing with Anxiety in Uncertain Times

These unprecedented times are throwing us into uncharted territory. It brings up so much fear and anxiety. Will life return to normal? What might we go through? Will my business survive? Will my parents survive? Should I self-isolate now? Will I have enough? Will those I love have enough? Will those I love be ok? Just writing these lines I feel the fear rise up in me. If I google Coronavirus I feel more fear.

And then I remember.

I remember there is more to this life than my small needs. I practice this in mindful meditations. I practice connecting to my inner resource, to my greater depths, to the deep well of calm within, to nature, to trust… but that doesn’t mean I don’t forget. Often. There’s a reason it’s called a practice.

I can’t control what will happen but I do have choices. We love to feel like we have control but the truth is we never did. Coronavirus is highlighting that truth and many others. That doesn’t mean we don’t have personal power.

This process reclaims your personal power in the face of overwhelming fears.

So what can we do as anxiety arises? Push it away? Tell ourselves to be sensible and carry on? Meditate it away? Self-medicate it away? Quell it by gaining control over our loo roll supply?

When you are feeling anxious please know that you have options. The first is self compassion. “Be kind” has become a cliche but seriously, be kind to yourself right now. Those who suffer from anxiety regularly will know it is often accompanied by a strong inner critic telling you all the reasons why you aren’t good enough in this moment.

Your inner critic is an old voice that deep down is trying to protect you, but right now it isn’t helpful. You can literally say “thanks for the advice” and ask it to step down. And then think about what you’d say to a friend who was suffering in this way? I’d start with how natural anxiety is at this time.

Next get really specific about your anxiety. We wildly exaggerate our fears so it’s helpful to get clear on exactly what you think you are scared of? Chances are you feel unsafe because of the uncertainty and you are clutching at multiple perceived threats. If you get curious about about your anxiety what are you really afraid of? Think of the threat and ask yourself what that means to you? What is the specific personal threat you perceive? You might realise there is nothing there and you were absorbing other people’s fears. You might end up seeing that it was something you feared before you’d even heard of Coronavirus about who you are as a person and your value and safety in the world (as a parent, as a professional, daughter, sibling, partner, other).

Anxiety occurs from an equation: when the (perceived) threat is greater than the (perceived) capacity to meet the threat. Logic! It already helps doesn’t it? If the threat is greater than the ability to meet it, then anxiety is a useful mechanism to move you to action (to do something to change the capacity part of the equation). Unfortunately many of us get stuck in thinking about the threat – useful up to a point – and then act out or numb out in ways that actually reduce our capacity to meet the threat.

Once you are clear on what you genuinely fear, you can assess the criteria needed for the capability to be greater than the threat. What would need to happen so that you are capable of meeting the threat and dealing with it? Now you are dealing in facts not fear.

Some of the things needed will be within your control and some of them will be out of your control. This is life. You can only be responsible for those that fall within your control. This might be where the lesson lies in accepting what are you actually responsible for? (many of us assume responsibility for others that simply isn’t ours to hold).

It’s worth noting that you can also go too far in the direction of capability over threat. This over reaction will be because you haven’t really faced the reality of the threat but are still dealing with exaggerated perceived threats. It’s a way of trying to regain the feeling of control. Again be self compassionate and think about what – in reality – this situation needs, not what the over blown perceived threat would warrant.

Chances are there are numerous options to deal with the situation and some of them are simple. If it’s health you can improve your nutrition, movement, mindful breath and hygiene. If it’s paying a specific bill you can move money around, you can ask for support from a range of sources. List all the factual options to meet the threat, be imaginative, be bold.

This is where mindfulness can change the game. It’s useful throughout at any stage of dealing with anxiety but I believe it’s really powerful in creativity and you may need to think a little creatively with how you meet the threat in these unusual times. (See the creativity that COVID-19 has already produced in a previous post.)

Mindful breathing. Inhale for a count of 3, hold your breath then exhale for a count of 5. Set a timer for 2 minutes. Focus on something natural like a plant or the sky and let your gaze soften. In for 3. Hold. Out for 5. Repeat and give all your focus to your breath.

Immediately after look around your environment and name three things you love and are grateful for. You can also follow guided breathing practices here.

This short process, with a longer exhale than inhale, will start the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone in your body). Then it will give you the feel good kick of gratitude. You can do it anywhere at any time. Obviously you can do more than 2 minutes but as a quick fix it works well.

Now your physiology and mind is a little calmer and more grateful return to the list of options. Pick one. Try it. Start. If you start to look for perfection you might be seeking control again. Pick an option and commit to it.

Taking mindful action that increases your capacity, accepting that you can’t control it all, dealing with a specific scenario rather than a perceived threat, keeping your physiology calm, choosing things to be grateful for. All will help deal with appropriate anxiety that you might be feeling right now and help you regain your personal power in the world.

If you want further support with any issues that have come up for you, please reach out. I’m glad to support you at this time.

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