Originally published on April 18, 2020
Circling Back on Coronavirus Anxiety
During these challenging times, there’s not much else to talk about on the anxiety front besides coronavirus. For, let’s face it, many of the other circumstances over which we typically get anxious — job interviews, dates, public speaking events, and the like — simply aren’t happening right now.
No, instead, we’re now left grappling with a new anxiety enemy. That enemy, spurred by the arrival of this novel virus, is our collective lack of presence, and it’s the subject of this very post. So, what exactly do I mean by that? Let’s break it down.
As the virus has changed how we live, work, and connect, it’s also nudged us to focus more on our fears. Businesses are closing up shop, folks are losing their jobs, and, most unfortunate of all, people around the world are getting sick. Thanks to our never-ending, fear-producing news cycles, we’re constantly reminded of these unfortunate happenstances.
Of course, it’s helpful to be informed of what’s happening so we don’t subject ourselves to unnecessary danger, but there’s a big difference between knowing what’s happening and drowning in said information. If we spend too much time watching such daunting broadcasts, we’ll start to receive diminishing, possibly even negative, returns.
We all know what this feels like on some level. If you’ve ever obsessed over the health of a loved one, how you did on an exam, or whether you’d get fired after making a huge mistake at work, then you know, first-hand, that worrying only makes such problems worse and perpetuates the negative feelings inside you. Only in dropping the thinking, and thus, returning to the present moment, can you get out of your cycle of fear.
Thus, as difficult as it is to do these days, that’s exactly what we must do when it comes to this virus. For if we continue to focus on how much destruction this virus will cause in the world and in our personal lives, then we’ll be damned to endure our greatest fears, regardless of whether or not those fears have manifested, or even could manifest, in our lives.
Diving Deeper Into That Critical Habit
Of course, a lot of what I’ve said in this post thus far has been somewhat high-level. Now, we need to take things a bit deeper, as uncomfortable as that may be for a few moments. The reason being is simple: if we don’t discover what it is that’s driving our fear, we may never turn around and drive it out.
So, for a second, I want you to think about what you fear most about this virus. Don’t dwell on it, just quickly think of a scenario (or two) that’s been running through your head and causing you the most grief over the past few weeks. Is it losing your job? Is it losing a loved one? Could it be facing a recession or depression? Again, whatever it is, just think of it quickly and write it down, but do not dwell on it.
Okay, did you come up with one or two things? If so, great. If not, go back and come up with at least one. Seriously. This process isn’t going to have much of an impact if you don’t.
Alright, so now that you have those one or two things, I need you to make a commitment to me and to yourself. I need you to promise that you’ll do your best to not think about those fearful subjects during the rest of this quarantine. Yes, I know that’s going to be extremely challenging, but it’s in your best interest, and here’s why:
Anxiety rarely arises from present thinking and living. Everything we think about that makes us anxious is a product of what could potentially happen a day, month, or year from now. That doesn’t mean such fear-provoking subjects aren’t real, threatening, or possible — it just means that most of them have not yet come to fruition.
As such, when we focus on those scary subjects, all we’re really doing is putting ourselves in a mental and emotional state commensurate with them having already happened. And if you ask me, feeling as though the economy has already fallen into a depression or our family has already gotten sick is no way to live.
Sure, for some of us, such scenarios may already be real; we may have already lost our jobs or failed to pay our bills last week. If you fall into that category, I feel your pain and offer my sincere apologies.
However, those real-life manifestations are not the ones to which I’m speaking right now. The problems I’m speaking to are the ones that currently exist only in our minds. For, as we’ve already seen, when we struggle with such problems, we only drive ourselves further into fear — overwhelming fear, that, since such daunting possibilities have not yet come to pass, seems, at the very least, unhelpful.
Thus, what I’m trying to say here is that we should do our best to commit to focusing on or solving such problems only when they actually arise in our lives — not when they simply become possibilities in our minds.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take precautions, plan, or think ahead. It just means we need to remember to keep our balance — to let a little fear in so it can guide us where we want to go, but not so much that it overwhelms us.
So, if you came into this post wondering what the one habit you absolutely must avoid in order to mitigate coronavirus anxiety is, here you go: you must avoid dwelling on the negative effects this virus could potentially inflict down the road; you must stop ruminating on the same scary possibilities we’ve already discussed — the ones that have not yet transpired in real life.
Again, it’s not going to be easy to do so. Our anxious brains aren’t quite wired that way. But it’s absolutely essential that you try to anyway.
Getting Back to the Present Moment
In my last post, I introduced five ways to mitigate Coronavirus anxiety. The interesting thing about that post is that while I most certainly believe in all the strategies I discussed, there’s nothing all that special about any one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they don’t work — far from it. I’m just saying they’re most certainly not the only strategies out there for mitigating virus-related anxiety.
In reality, any strategy that brings you back to the present moment and distracts you from the potential what-ifs associated with this pandemic is one that’s going to be quite helpful during these challenging times.
The reason this is true stems back to something I touched upon in the previous section. That is, anxiety rarely arises from present thinking and living; if we’re truly engaged in what we’re doing right now, then we’re not focused on what could potentially happen one day, which means we’re most likely not feeling anxious.
Thus, if nothing else, during these tumultuous times, remember that the best way back to calm is to do anything that sinks you right back into the moment in front of you.
Of course, this is going to look different for everyone. That is, some of us might find presence through painting or reading, while others might find it through cooking, dancing, or conversing with a loved one.
The specific means by which you get back to the present moment are not all that important. The only thing that’s actually important is that you get out of your head, sink yourself into that present moment, and stay there as long as you can. For, as we’ve seen in this post, fear and anxiety have a much harder time getting to us when we’re in that special place.
So, regardless of what specific strategies help you find presence most easily, write them down and engage in them regularly for the rest of this lockdown. They’ll become invaluable tools for staying out of your head and evading fear during these challenging times.
Stay safe and be well out there.
Thanks for reading! Curious to learn more?
Then grab a copy of my book, Get Out of Your Head: A Toolkit for Living with and Overcoming Anxiety.* It covers many of the topics I discuss in my blog posts, as well as a few new, key frameworks for managing fear. Check it out if you’re looking to level-up your anxiety-alleviating skills.
Or, if you’re not yet ready to jump into the book, head on over to some of my previous articles on managing anxiety:
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