I’m scared. Maybe that’s not what you were hoping to hear from someone else right now, but I’m all about honesty with each and every one of you. I’d be lying if I said I was remaining calm, wasn’t feeling extra anxious, and wasn’t feeling a bit terrified at what has happened so quickly around the world. I have been open and honest about my anxiety disorder for the last few years, so I wanted to open up to all of you about how one with anxiety battles with their mental health during a global crisis.
Anxiety levels around the world are at an all-time high. All of my friends have expressed their inability to sleep, their chests feeling tight, their hearts suffering from random palpitations, and negative thoughts that just won’t seem to go away. It feels as if there’s this permanently dark, gloomy cloud hanging over us all every single day, morning through night. This whole global crisis feels like a nightmare we keep begging to wake up from and waking up is just not happening.
This pandemic doesn’t feel like real life, nor does it feel like life will ever be the same again. In all honesty, it probably won’t be. Is that fact in itself scary? Right now, yes. A lot of anxiety comes with the sudden aspects of change that we have no control over. We cannot control what the world does or what others do, but we can work on controlling what we do as individuals. Grasping the depths of our mental health is one of the most important things we can focus on during this time we are all at home.
Some of us are at home in quarantine with family. Some of us are in quarantine all alone. Some of us are in quarantine all alone in countries abroad, away from our friends and family. Some of us are healthcare workers who haven’t been able to see their family for weeks, with no end in sight. Some of us are hospital staff who have witnessed unimaginable horrors daily as they combat this virus on the frontlines. Some of us are grocery store workers who are working extra long hours to deal with an influx of customers and then restock tons of items that will be snapped up in 30 seconds. Some of us have filed for unemployment and are unsure what the future holds for ourselves and our families. Some of us have family members or close friends who have suffered from this virus. Myself included. I have a close family member who is suffering from COVID-19.
To see our towns deserted feels apocalyptic. To be on lockdown and cut off from friends, family, jobs, and our social lives feels surreal. To watch hordes of people stock up on endless amounts of toilet paper, meat, baby wipes, and more… it feels like we are stuck in a video game we didn’t sign up for.
ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE WHY ANXIETY IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON FEELINGS RIGHT NOW.
For those unfamiliar with anxiety and who are battling with it during this time, imagine having this doomsday feeling every single day and for no rational reason. Now multiply that feeling by 1000. That’s how those who already suffer from anxiety disorders are feeling during this life changing and constantly evolving global pandemic.
The first thing we all need to acknowledge? WE ARE NOT ALONE. I know that seems hard as we all practice social distancing and remain in isolation from each other, but deep down it’s important to know that you are not alone in your feelings. Another important thing to acknowledge? It’s neither bad or wrong to be feeling anxiety.
One thing I have learned over the years in therapy and dealing with an anxiety disorder, a panic disorder, and a mental illness is that acknowledging having anxiety is not a sign of weakness or defeat. It may feel that way, especially over these first few weeks of quarantine. Everyone is continually reminding us to remain strong, to stay calm, and to be positive. I know those tasks seems easier said than done, especially these days. But anxiety is not weakness. We simply react differently than others, and that is okay.
I have come to grips with accepting that I am afraid. I am currently 8000 miles away in Hong Kong while my family is in San Francisco and New Jersey, and my cats are in Los Angeles. I’m unsure when I will get to see any of them again. I suffer from a mild heart condition which puts me at risk for COVID-19. My boyfriend is a pilot that is still flying around the world and I am terrified for his safety and health. A family member of mine back in the US was extremely sick with COVID-19. I am afraid, and I cry myself to sleep each night wishing I didn’t feel this constant terror.
I could just pretend I’m fine. I honestly tried doing that by continuing to post my London pics on Instagram. Keep business as usual. Try to keep a sense of normalcy not just for my audience but for me as well. But in these drastic times, honesty is more important than normalcy. While normalcy is just as crucial in remaining calm and carrying on, being open and honest first and foremost will get us farther than hiding or suppressing.
I’ll be honest in admitting that 2 weeks ago I was tested for COVID-19. I had a few symptoms and had flown in from London via Frankfurt, and so my doctor submitted me for a test due to my symptoms and travel history. I simply thought I was developing sinusitis which was why I asked to see my doctor, but she insisted I be tested for COVID-19. Before anyone jumps down my throat about being tested with little symptoms, things are different in Hong Kong compared to the US. Tests are more readily available here than in my home country, and due to my travel history, that put me at the top of the list to be tested. For 72 hours I was an emotional wreck. I avoided my boyfriend because I was terrified of getting him sick, and I wasn’t allowed to leave my apartment for any reason until I got my results. I felt extremely guilty for even being tested when tests are a rarity in my home country. The day before my birthday, I received my results. While I was grateful my results were negative (I was diagnosed with a head cold and severe tension headaches instead), I couldn’t help but feel even more guilty, anxious, and afraid. I may be one of the lucky ones, but people in my home country are in the hospital on ventilators and even most of those patients can’t be tested, and it fills me with so much rage and guilt that it’s made me sick. A family in New Jersey made the news due to how many members of their family died from the virus, with a majority dying at the hospital in my hometown just around the corner from my childhood home (less than 5 minutes drive).
To combat my anxiety during this time, I’ll admit I’ve turned to wine in the evenings to help me forget about the negatives during the day. I’ve turned off news alerts on my phone. I’ve muted texts and social media groups that are predominantly discussing coronavirus. I suffer from aggressive panic attacks daily where I feel suffocated. The best consolation for me during the time I was awaiting my results was opening all the windows in the apartment and listening to the hundreds of birds singing in the mountains. It was so comforting that I have continued to do it every single day. I close my eyes and just let their songs take me away from where I was. Their songs transport me to my favorite spots in Iceland, the Cotswolds, Napa Valley, Canada, and Cambodia, but my favorite destination to be transported to is my hometown in New Jersey. I’d think about cloudy spring mornings in Manalapan, with birds singing the start of the day as I would get ready for school and prepare to walk 1/4 of a mile to my bus stop.
If there is one thing I have learned during this time is that fresh air helps immensely. Even if you cannot physically leave your home during quarantine, opening the windows helps more than you think it will. Health officials say it’s imperative for ventilation and they are not wrong, but it’s also crucial and beneficial for your mental health. Quarantine can certainly feel like house arrest or a type of suffocation, and to keep your mind positive and at ease, sitting next to an open window for at least 30 minutes (sipping a cup of tea is an added bonus) proved to personally change things for me. The mind is an impressive place, and if you close your eyes and let it take you somewhere else, it can help you feel a bit more free.
For those who follow me on Instagram, I have started posting my 15 seconds of peace clips of calming serenity from around my neighborhood not just for me but for you as well. It’s a way to remind all of us who are currently dealing with anxiety to breathe, to stop and listen, and to feel at peace within ourselves during this chaotic time. There’s a quote that talks about how it may be stormy now, but it never rains forever. I think it’s important to hold on to that during this time.
I’ll be doing a separate blog post tomorrow that talks about what you can do to remain calm and at peace during this time we are all practicing social distancing and self isolation. In the meantime the best advice I can offer from one anxious human being to another is to breathe, to remember that you are stronger than you think you are, and that anxiety does NOT equate weakness. Feelings are never wrong. Feel your feelings. And just remember, you are not alone.
Stay safe and healthy, my friends.