Maybe you’ve noticed yourself or loved ones reacting more, crying more,
or just generally being more on edge. Your sleeping could be restless, and you find yourself much more tired than usual. All these signs are
completely normal given our current reality: we are anxious.
If you look on Merriam-Webster’s dictionary website, the word pandemic
does not refer solely to disease outbreaks.Instead, it means something that is affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population (2020). By this definition, we see that COVID-19 is not the only pandemic currently impacting us — though the anxiety pandemic is closely linked to it.
Contrary to popular belief, anxiety is not actually a bad thing. Sure it’s uncomfortable, but the experience of tightness in your chest, shallow breathing, and elevated stress levels is a natural response to what is going on around us. COVID-19 is a threat, plain and simple, and our bodies and brains have noticed this, and are doing their best job to protect us.
“Protect me?” you might be wondering. “How could feeling anxious
protect me? It feels terrible!” True, at first glance, anxiety appears to us as discomfort. Feeling uncomfortable in your own skin is a typical description of anxiety. But remember, when a threat such as a disease looms in the back of our minds everyday, it makes total sense that we would feel uncomfortable, like we are on high alert!
Picture a deer enjoying a drink of water. Like us, deer have internal
security systems that constantly scan for threats. Now imagine that the
deer can sense there is a bear in the nearby bushes. How focused on
getting water (a universal need) do you think the deer is when it knows
there is a threat lurking behind that tree? Its focus shifts to the most
important need: survival.
Our security systems fire up our bodies to act in a protective way,
typically via three actions: freeze (play dead), flee (escape), or fight
(self-defense). Perhaps you’ve noticed your tendency to space out when
thinking about COVID-19. Or maybe you turn off the news when reports
come in, or shush family members when they mention it. Maybe you have
gotten extra mad at someone in the grocery store for walking too close
Heightened anxiety triggers action. Our internal security systems are
working overtime during the COVID-19 pandemic as they scan our
surroundings, interpret incoming data, and signal you that there is an
invisible threat nearby. It’s no wonder we’re stressed!
This all makes perfect sense in light of where we find ourselves today.
Because underneath a protective feeling like anxiety (which motivates
action) lies a whole host of emotions that could be arising for us.
Perhaps you are experiencing the sadness we all feel when we lose
something (like freedom to travel), or the anger that comes up when a
personal boundary has been crossed (like being restricted from the doing
activities you enjoy). Many of us are likely feeling the fear of
something bad happening to us or a loved one.
The COVID-19 pandemic, understandably, brings up a lot for all of us.
These are stressful and uncertain times that trigger systems within us
that are meant to keep us safe from threats. But actually getting in
touch with what we are truly feeling, underneath the anxiety, allows us
the opportunity to see our feelings through. What does this look like?
Remember the last time you cried over something important to you? Crying
did not solve the sad circumstance, but it did release something for you
that otherwise would have lingered and festered inside. Many times after
we process our emotions through, we breathe a sigh of relief, and we
Again, getting in touch with our emotions and seeing them through does
not solve the COVID-19 problem, but it reduces our suffering along the
way, and helps build resilience in the long run. Seeing emotions through
can be hard work, and sometimes work best done with a professional.
Family TLC has highly-trained mental health workers who understand the
stress you are experiencing, and can help in the first steps of
processing whatever is going on for you, right now.
pandemic. (n.d.). The Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pandemic