There’s an epidemiologist among my Facebook friends. That’s been handy for authoritative resources during the current crisis.
On Friday, she shared this article by Dr Jelena Kecmanovic 7 science-based strategies to cope with coronavirus anxiety. I worked on Item 1, Practice tolerating uncertainty. Here’s what I posted on Facebook yesterday:
Today, I give myself permission to make decisions in the next couple of weeks that are imperfect, illogical, and inconsistent. What feels prudent today may seem overly cautious tomorrow, and vice versa. This is the nature of uncertainty.
Item 2, Tackle the anxiety paradox, is also good, but very short on details. I wanted to share what works for me and ask what works for others. That feels too long for a Facebook post, so here’s a blog post instead.
Dr Kecmanovic says that the struggle against anxiety can take many forms, including my personal favorite — obsessively checking Facebook and other sites for news. Not too surprising, this makes things worse. A little more surprising is that even the more indirect distractions, like Netflix binges, can also make anxiety worse–if you’re doing it to pretend the anxiety doesn’t exist. Of course, for those of us with addiction tendencies, a desire to numb our feelings is always in the danger zone.
Here’s her suggestion:
Instead, allow your anxious thoughts, feelings and physical sensations to wash over you, accepting anxiety as an integral part of human experience. When waves of coronavirus anxiety show up, notice and describe the experience to yourself or others without judgment.
My favorite way of noticing my emotions comes from the book A Blueprint for Your Castle in the Clouds: make the inside of your head your favorite place to be by Barbara Sophia Tammes
One room Tammes recommends for your castle in the clouds is a Head Office. I file and re-file a situation through each emotion until I reach a place where I have a better understanding of what to do with the situation.
Over time, I figured out an ordering that works best for me, although I suspect it might be different for every one. I use these prompts as an exercise in my journal, which, these days, is just a file on my computer.
- Shame — What can I shine a light on so that it no longer lurks in the dark?
- Fear (including anxiety) — What exactly do I fear? If the fear is 100% certain, then make a plan to deal with it. If it’s not (my fears are almost always in the realm of uncertainty), keep working through the other files to see if I can get to a more useful place.
- Anger (including resentment, unfairness, and entitlement) — What didn’t go according to plan? What am I disappointed about? What pisses me off?
- Sorrow — What makes me sad?
- Desire — What do I want? Open up possibilities by allowing for both realistic and fantastical answers.
- Determination — What can I change? What small action can I take this minute? Make a plan.
- Excitement — What about this situation gives me energy?
- Love — How can I squeeze a little love from this?
- Gratitude — What have I learned? What is good in this situation?
Once I’ve gone through that list, I’m in a completely different place from where I started. I’m usually ready to make a plan or take an action. Sometimes the action is directly related to the situation. At other times, I realize that this is a situation that I cannot change or it’s something that needs to be filed as a lesson learned. At that point, I’m free to let this go and move on to something else.
What helps you recognize, acknowledge, and deal with anxiety?