Life lately feels like a blur. The last year has been extremely difficult for me personally, and it seems to have spread to the rest of the world as well. I managed to deal with my demons from the last year, and I thought 2020 would be “My Year” – the year that things change for the better.
January started off rough – I had to come to terms with some news I wasn’t expecting, and I got sick – I had a really bad cough / congestion / upper respiratory virus/infection that seemed to last for weeks. In actuality, it lasted for 2 months before I could stop blowing my nose and coughing. Right in time for COVID-19 to come into the picture, and keep fueling my fears.
The number of cases where I live has skyrocketed in the last two weeks. In addition, I was in NYC right at the end of February, when the initial spread was starting. I took the subway a few times and explored bars and restaurants in the city – being careful of what I touched and I carried around hand sanitizer, but the threat of COVID-19 wasn’t yet “real.” It was something I would hear about the news, in other countries. It was a fear, and I was careful, perhaps overly careful for the time, but it was still there constantly in the back of my mind.
I’m not going to lie. I have developed severe anxiety over the last few weeks of this pandemic, and the thought of going outside has become paralyzing. We are all working from home until at least May 1 now, many businesses are shut down, and we aren’t really sure when things will go back to “normal,” if they ever can go back to normal.
With each day that passes, my anxiety gets better, and I feel more hopeful, slowly slowly. I have started taking things day by day, because that’s all I can do right now, since everything else just seems up in the air and uncertain. This pandemic has left us all feeling not in control, and taking care of things you can control has become our life line. Sure, I need to take some of my own advice, which is hard, but I am actively trying. Here are things that I have realized with my excessive time to overthink:
1. We are all scared – we just all deal with it differently.
It feels isolating when I am sitting at home, mind going a million miles per hour, catastrophizing every situation and hypothetical situations that could happen. I have found it comforting to talk about my feelings with others instead of being embarrassed about it, and I have found that there are many more people who feel the same. People deal with things differently, and a lot of people do not communicate it because they also are worried about coming off too vulnerable. But it is in being vulnerable that we make those connections with others and grow and can feel better about the situation – when it doesn’t feel like you are alone.
People have various degrees of fear about this as well – some people isolate themselves in their homes and do delivery everything, while others are scared but still go out to do the essentials like grocery shopping, because they have to. Fear manifests differently with each person, so don’t feel like you are the only one who is scared. Open up, talk about it. The more we express our emotions, the lighter we’ll feel and the more connected we’ll feel.
2. It’s ok to grieve what life used to be.
I recently read an article that described this unyielding anxiety as grief – anticipatory grief and also grieving what life used to be. It seems like overnight we said goodbye to our daily routines, our coworkers, our lives – and it’s ok to be upset. It’s ok to be upset with plans and trips being canceled. I’ve had major events and trips be canceled, and it’s ok to be upset because I was really looking forward to them. It’s ok to not be positive all the time, contrary to what social media tells us. So many posts about staying positive and not giving in to negativity, but you know what, GO AHEAD and feel all the feels and emotions. We are only human, and it’s really impossible to not be upset at the current situation.
Anticipatory grief is also a real thing. We anticipate the worse that can happen, catastrophize situations that haven’t yet or will happen, which just fuels the constant fears and worries. This is definitely something I have been dealing with, and finding ways to ground yourself really helps. Noticing what is around you currently, like the chair, your pet, the sun shining thru the window, the softness of the blanket, the warmth of the heat in your home – can help bring you back to the present. Also, journaling things you are thankful for, can be a good exercise in bringing you back to the present. This is all easier said than done to someone dealing with anxiety, but it’s doable, just baby steps.
3. The media can be the worst enemy of anxiety.
I recently had to delete social media apps from my phone to limit my exposure to sensational news articles. I now currently only look at the COVID numbers, and avoid reading news articles. It’s important to stay up to date with what is going on, but know your limits. I would scroll on social media and the constant reports of death and fear and worry just became too much. First case accounts of nurses struggling in the ER is great to help enforce what we need to do to stop this spread, but it has made me sick with fear, as someone who is following the rules. The constant profiles of people who have died from the virus helps put a face to the victims and enforces the importance of social distancing since it can affect ANYONE, but not so great to my overly emotional self in this vulnerable time. Instead it fuels my fears of getting sick.
4. I have never appreciated the little things as much as I do now.
I have never so much appreciated getting dinner and drinks with a friend after a long hard day of work as before. Never much appreciated the freedom of just being able to pop into the grocery store to get food and ingredients necessary to cook / bake something without a worry. Never much appreciated some delicious take out delivery as a treat. Never so much appreciated being able to see my family when I want without worry of making them sick. Never much appreciated being able to be in a crowded gym or go out on a hike. Never so much appreciated the internet and technology to keep us connected. This virus has made us all realize all of the little routine things that we take for granted. I hope after this is over, we will invest in our local restaurants, our nature, our relationships, and really understand what is important in life.
5. Technology is part of our lives, and it keeps us connected.
Never has technology played such a HUGE role to keep us connected more than now. Back when I was a child I remember thinking of video calls as being a thing of the future. That future is here, and now. Even though we are all socially distancing and staying away from friends and family temporarily, technology has kept us closer than ever. I have at least one video call a day, either for work or for social, and it has made all the difference, and doesn’t leave you feeling as alone. Video conferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp – have been revolutionary in keeping us well connected. I am so thankful for these platforms in this time.
6. Video chatting is the new black.
I have had so many virtual lunches, coffees, happy hours, dinners, meetings – it really shows that you don’t need to physically be with eachother to be connected. It really shows that in times of need, we all can come together. Humans are innately social beings, which is why this social distancing has been incredibly hard on us, especially in a country where we have the freedom to go where we want when we want. But for a temporary freeze in that, video chatting is the next best thing.
7. It’s ok to not be as productive during this time. We are in a worldly crisis.
Along with all of the positivity posts, I’ve seen too many posts about staying busy and productive, picking up new hobbies and things like cooking, baking, cleaning, etc. It’s ok to NOT do any of that. It’s ok to binge Netflix and not get out of bed if you want one day. We are all working from home right now, but I don’t feel productive every day, some days it’s really hard to focus. I read a quote the other day that said, we aren’t just working at home right now, we are at home, during a crisis, trying to work.
“We aren’t just working at home right now, we are at home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
So whatever you get or don’t get done, it’s ok. Life continues the next day.
8. Taking things Day by Day.
I’ve mentioned this a few times now – but taking things day by day has really helped.
I was worried about developing symptoms, but I said I would deal with it each day. I didn’t have a fever that day, nor other symptoms, and I couldn’t control what the next day would bring, so I had to take it slow. At some point we draw lines over how much we can worry about things. Worry also can impact your immune system, leaving you in a constant fight or flight response. So taking things slowly, day by day, helps lower the things you worry about and thus hopefully boosting your immune system a little more.
9. It’s ok to not volunteer for things that are extra.
With the whole pandemic going on, scientists across the globe are rushing to do research to learn more about the virus. Companies, organizations, people, are all looking for volunteers for various positions of helping out with COVID testing, doing research, helping out with essential projects, and more. While this is great if you have the mental and physical bandwidth, it is also ok to NOT do this. A lot of these positions are volunteer based, and while it is great to give back to your community, realize the emotional and mental toll it can take on you. We are still expected to progress in our own work since we are “working from home,” unless your job was told to go on a break, so it’s not worth taking on more stress if you can’t handle it. I know I have felt guilty for not volunteering to help out, and maybe this is unpopular opinion, but I think it is also unpaid labor. A lot of grad students and scientists are volunteering their skills and time during a dangerous and stressful time, and most likely won’t get paid for it. It’s really however you feel is right, but take into account your mental health and capacity. If you can handle it, do it! If not, don’t let yourself feel guilty.
And there you have it – a few things I have learned about myself/realized after three whole weeks of social distancing/working from home. It is definitely not easy, and tons of constant work in progress, but I hope some of this can help you if you are in times of distress.
Are there any other things you have realized or learned during this time? Do let me know in the comments below!
Stay safe, stay healthy,