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I Have an Anxiety Disorder – but When Coronavirus News Hit I Actually Felt Calm

Battling generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) doesn’t come without its challenges. Prescription medications, exercise, diet and social supports all help to a degree. Nevertheless, it’s still something I battle on a daily basis. Adding the additional world health crisis — of the coronavirus (COVID-19) — to the mix is enough to set even the most well-adjusted of us into panic mode. Being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be downright debilitating at times. On the other hand, battling GAD prepared me to cope with COVID-19.

When the news broke that COVID-19 would be a health crisis in the United States, as it had been in other countries such as China and Italy, I felt an unexpected sense of calm, focused energy. I read articles from reliable news sources. I followed the preventative measure guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO). I didn’t hoard resources that everyone needs. Yes, this includes toilet paper. I refused to be the self-indulged shopper who buys not only 10 packages of toilet paper, but also 10 of every cleaning product imaginable, even down to baby wipes when their oldest child is 10 years old. I’ve seen the eye rolls; they are well-deserved. Instead, I only purchased what I would need for a couple of weeks. I even spent time binge-watching shows on all of the streaming services. At first, it felt strange and unnatural to so easily find a sense of calm without being triggered. Was there something wrong with me for not being triggered by such a large scale health crisis? Was I downplaying it to avoid processing my true feelings? Did I purchase enough groceries, or should I have added another pack of toilet paper to my basket? (I’m joking. Well, sort of.)

The best tools for battling GAD come from therapy. I’ve talked with different therapists over the years; some weren’t a good fit and others have really helped. It’s important not to give up on therapy just because of a negative experience with one. I am currently seeing a therapist whose warmth and calm demeanor, along with medication management, is the right fit for me. Her office offers teleconferencing so that we can social distance. In therapy, I developed coping skills for the persistent worry in my everyday life. I am better able to recognize when I am experiencing distorted thoughts and reframe my thoughts. Instead of focusing on what events would unfold in an alternate reality where the worst-case scenario happens, I separate my worries by what I can versus cannot control.

In one strategy, I draw a large circle on a blank piece of paper. Inside the circle, I write worries of mine that I can control. Outside the circle, I write worries of mine that I cannot control. Rather than feeling weighed down with panic, dread and overwhelm, I focus my thoughts on the worries written inside the circle: the ones that I have control over the outcome. Do I have control over who I’m exposed to? Yes, I can follow social distancing guidelines by quarantining myself at home with my family. Do I have control over the spread of COVID-19 where I live? No, I cannot control the actions of others. I can control my own actions and make choices that protect my health and my family’s health. Once the worries that can be controlled have been identified, it’s helpful to create a to-do list with steps for improving the situation involved with each worry. After accomplishing things on my to-do list for the worries I can control, I feel more in control overall.

Working from home during quarantine is a privilege of mine that I do not take for granted. There are essential workers who continue to go to work amidst the health crisis of COVID-19. I’m truly thankful for all of our essential workers. When I’m not brainstorming virtual education ideas for my students, I brainstorm new projects around the house. I also set time aside to read and write. Writing has always been one of my most effective coping skills. For others, art, music, exercise or socializing through video chat may be coping skills that work best. During quarantine, figuratively pressing the reset button is a positive compared to the uncertainty we all face.

We finally have the time to complete that home project we talked about six months ago. We can declutter and organize our spaces. We can learn to play the guitar now that there’s time to practice. We can spend more quality time with our partners, children and/or pets. We can place our worries inside or outside of the circle, take deep breaths, remind ourselves of the positives and press on like the anxiety-battling warriors we are.

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Photo by Soroush Karimi on Unsplash