I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. It was my first migraine (those real ones with partial blindness and vomiting) when I was in primary school; a panic attack in maths in secondary school because I was sure my house was burning down because my straighteners were plugged in (I hadn’t used them); it became spending a lot of time in bed in university; then working all the hours god gave once I’d left uni – heaven forbid I gave myself time to think. It’s checking and re-checking that the door is locked and going back to check again. It’s time-consuming, I’m not going to lie.
I’ve convinced myself – at one time or another – that almost every important person in my life has probably died. I went through a phase of about 3 years when I thought if I didn’t say “take care” at the end of a phonecall then the person would certainly die and it would be my fault. If I called someone and they didn’t answer – dead. If they were late to meet me, especially if they were driving – definitely dead. Someone I love getting on a plane? You could swim in my palm sweat and power a washing machine with my palpitations.
One way my stress manifests itself is by cleaning and tidying. I think it’s sort of a bid to control my external environment when my internal environment is just unmanageable.
So anyway it SUCKS. Being an anxious person SUCKS. But… after a few days of thinking I CANNOT DO ISOLATION OMG AND THE WORLD IS INFECTED AM I INFECTED IS HE INFECTED AHHHH …I realised – hell, I’ve been preparing for this my whole damn life.
Firstly, everything is clean – so I am winning at this Covid 19-fighting game. And my life has been one fit of imagining the worst case scenario after another so this is no different, except that, well, it’s real. But I don’t know at the time – when I’m panicking over nothing – that it’s not real. I genuinely worry about them, cry about them, panic attack over them, completely lose all damn control over them. But I’ve learnt how to deal with these feelings so normally I can cut them off before they blossom into something ugly – and now I feel like I am dealing with this scary situation quite well.
So, from one lunatic to another and maybe to some potential future lunatics (isolation, ooft) – what would I suggest?
1. Breathe. (I shouldn’t start with that, I’ve probably already lost you) but it really is so simple and powerful. Take a deep breath. In that moment it’s just you and your body. You might realise that you’d forgotten to breathe properly for a while if you’re tense, so you’ll feel the oxygen race through you. A wee pick-me-up and a welcome moment to centre yourself.
2. Do and be what you love. Panicky times are not times to force yourself to do anything you don’t enjoy (okay, if you’re working from home, you might need to force yourself to do that). In your free isolation time, do what you love. Read a great book – not a book you should read. Listen to the music that makes you glow from the inside – not the music you’re told you should enjoy. You’re in your house, maybe alone or maybe with some people you’re close with, so you can really just be you. All day every day. How beautiful is that?
3. Move. Also basic. But again, do the exercise you love doing. If that’s walking, do it. If that’s lifting weights – maybe you have some in your house or maybe you can just lift some heavy shit you’ve got lying about. Body weight exercises, yoga, Pilates… there are videos for everything on YouTube and many people are doing free online classes. Do the ones you love. Try something new – if you don’t like it, stop. I went for my first run in a year today – I walked a little but ran most of it – and afterwards it was like someone had switched the light on in the dark room that my head had become. Please, keep moving. (It will obviously help your health too, which, let’s face it, can’t hurt right now…)
4. Let yourself be sad. Let yourself be scared. I’ve cried a lot these past months. A lot (Let’s not forget the shit had already hit the fan several times over in Greece before corona came here) And the worst moments have been the times I tried not to cry. Pushing your feelings down is not going to help you, and they’ll come back bigger and stronger later. Let yourself feel. Let yourself feel … but limit it.
5. By limit it, I mean don’t ruminate. Try not to let your fears turn into a swirling ball of repetitive panic. That’s not useful and really starts to wear away at you. When you feel it starting, change location. If you’re watching tv in the living room, go to the kitchen and make a cup of tea. Go out in the garden. Go for a walk. Once you return to your initial position, it should be like starting afresh. One cognitive behavioural therapy technique is to tell yourself “I’ll worry about this tomorrow.” With small problems, it can mean you never worry about it again. With big ones, you at least buy yourself a bit of stress-free time.
6. Take action, don’t just obsess. There’s no point in driving a car in the rain worrying about crashing – you need to just drive to try to avoid crashing. Right? Follow the rules you’re supposed to and know you’re doing everything you can. Don’t read the statistics over and over. If you’re finding it hard to limit how much you read about the situation maybe ask a less stressy friend to update you on things you HAVE to know – or limit yourself to reading the headlines for a few minutes a day. Keep clean, keep your distance, know you can only control what you do – you can help the situation or make it worse and your effect on the situation is entirely in your control but the situation itself is not. And that’s shit but you need to accept it.
7. Don’t stay in bed. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. When this all started and I found myself with nowhere to be, I stayed in bed a lot. I mean, a lot. And the longer I was in bed, the worse I felt. Bed should be a happy place, a place you go when you’re tired from a day of doing things. It’s really shit when it becomes the place in which you’re just in a constant state of drowsiness. And it’s really hard to break out of it once it starts.
8. Give yourself some sort of schedule. Work might well be out the window for now, or maybe not but this is still relevant for your free time, and I think although we moan about it sometimes we all quite like some sort of timetable by which to live. It could be as rigid or as flexible as makes you happy. Getting up earlyish and going to bed earlyish is a good place to start. I feel great when I get up at 7 and go to sleep at 10. It really helps settle me in the evenings when I feel tired and know I’ll be able to sleep easily – night-time has always been my most panic-filled times. But we’re all different. Do what you know deep down is best for you. I read that it’s good in these corona times to make yourself a schedule that’s different from your normal everyday schedule so as to encourage you not to “mourn” your old life. So mix it up and find a schedule that suits you.
9. Get some daylight. Getting up early will help you to see the sun, apart from anything else. The daylight will make you feel more relaxed, more awake and generally more positive. If you stay indoors all day or sleep until the evening and stay up all night, you are not going to feel great.
10. Speak to people. Speak to the best people. Phone that friend who always knows how to make you feel better. Or maybe it’s a parent who manages to do that for you. My parents both calm me in different ways, even when they don’t realise it so I call them a lot when things feel too much – not for advice or anything, just to hear them. Maybe don’t speak to that one friend who panics about everything too – not when you’re panicky. Or speak to people you haven’t spoken to in ages; catch up. Speak to me! I’m always available to anyone who needs me (@melijoybee on instagram)
11. Eat – eat right. This is difficult. This is what I’m worst at but I know what I should be doing. Depending on the kind of panicked I am, I want to either over eat or under eat. So now – especially since I’m inside and totally in control of what I eat – I try to stick to 2-3 meals and one snack if I feel I really want it. I don’t let myself think about food because I know then I’ll overeat and feel rubbish. I try to read my body and find the balance. If you’re working from home, you’re not restricted to meal-times anymore so now could be a good time to really listen to your body and eat only when you’re actually hungry.
If none of this helps, then just know that everyone is freaking out. None of us knows what the hell tomorrow will look like – so at least, although all our lives are different and this is affecting us in different ways, we are in it together.
(I don’t mean to downplay mental health issues – part of how I deal with things is also making fun of them. I know that there will be people who were already struggling with their minds and this situation will be killing them. I’m sorry – and, again, I’m here for you, truly. Everyone else, remember your most fragile friends at this time.)
Love you all. Take care out there.