Coping With Anxiety During a Global Pandemic
Anxiety. Even the word sends shivers down my spine. For years I always felt this heaviness on my heart, this lump in my throat, I began to notice my palms would get sweaty and my heart would start to race if I was putting myself into a situation that wasn’t familiar. Not once did I ever consider I was suffering with anxiety. I think it’s something that more people suffer with than they actually realize. It’s like an overwhelming cloud of doom that engulfs you every time you step out of your comfort zone.
At the beginning of the pandemic I think I could safely say I didn’t think anxiety affected me. But oh how it’s a completely different story now. Today it is the 23rd of January 2021 and I haven’t left the house yet this year. Every time I try, every time I wake up and think today is the day, I head to that front door and there is a force much stronger than myself that pulls me back into the safety and comfort of my home. With people around me saying, “Come on you need to get out,” I become even more reluctant to do so.
The overwhelming fear of not knowing what is on the other side of that door and not being able to have any control over it always overpowers the risk of stepping outside. One thing I have always had a phobia of is anything with a mask, so as you can imagine when the pandemic made it compulsory for everyone to wear masks, the fear took over my body once again. I think it’s the fact of not knowing who is under the mask. I strongly believe that you can tell a lot about a person through their face, their wrinkles, their laughter lines and the smile they have. The second you put that mask on, to me, their identity just isn’t the same. I can’t tell what that person is thinking, their reaction, how they are feeling, I can’t judge from their face what they are like, I can’t make that judgment when I can only see a small section of their face. For me, this makes me feel unbelievably vulnerable. It takes me back to that day, on holiday when I was a child and a Disney character came up to me and jokingly tried to take my shopping, people assumed I should have been OK with it because it was a well known character, but for me that wasn’t the case. I had no idea who it was under that mask, nor did I know their intentions. I could not read their face to figure out if they were joking or if they were being serious and I was actually in danger. Ever since, whenever I see anyone with a mask that overwhelming vulnerability floods my body and I go back to that 8-year-old child scared and confused.
One thing lockdown has taught me is that I cannot carry on sheltering away from any risk or anything that could make me feel vulnerable. As a 25-year-old young lady, I cannot live the rest of my life in this constant state of fear. Although it’s hard and every single part of my body is telling me to stay at home, I have to break out of this cycle. From doing intense therapy and writing my own blog page, I have learned that the best way to not let your anxiety win is to stand up tall and fight back. Breathing is the most simple and important way to overcome anxiety, wherever you are, however you’re feeling this is a tool that you can use and it will instantly make you feel safe. Stand still for a minute, focus on your breathing, take long deep breathes, feel your chest expanding as you do so, concentrate on the feeling of the air filling your lungs and then leaving your lungs, does it feel cold? Maybe it feels hot? Notice how it feels, notice how your body feels, are you standing up? Working from your feet upwards, what can you feel? What sensations do you notice? What can you smell? What can you hear?
Be present. Notice everything, no matter how small. Notice that tickle on your back, notice the breeze on your face. Be in the now. This is one of the best techniques I use to ground myself. When I’m feeling really anxious, I like to think of my happy place, for me it’s my bath. I like to imagine the water as it fills up around my body, I like to feel the warm water touching my skin, the sound of the water rushing out of the taps, the smell and the texture of the bubbles as they land on my skin. Wherever I am, I can remember my happy place and the joy it brings me and how calm I feel when I’m in my happy place and it helps to take the anxiety out of a situation. Once you have mastered both of these techniques and you use them regularly you begin to beat the anxiety and you can push yourself harder to do more things that your anxiety once crippled you from doing.
For more tips, tricks and general advice about all things mental health, please follow my blog @lifewithbpd.
You are not alone.
A version of this story originally appeared on Facebook.com.
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