Managing Coronavirus Anxiety Begins with Grief
One of my readers asked me to write about coronavirus anxiety. I’ve spent the past week coming up with solution-focused approaches to the pandemic because that’s how my brain is wired — I spent seven years and tens of thousands of dollars on my education, so it’s only natural that I want to share what I’ve learned.
I want to feel useful, and supporting people’s mental health journeys is a surefire way of pretending I am not as powerless as the rest of the world, stuck in their homes, watching the days tick by and wondering when the chaos will end.
But I am, even with my master’s degree, my Goodreads list full of counseling textbooks, and the voice in my head that always sounds vaguely like a psychoanalyst. I am powerless, stuck in my home, watching the days tick by and wondering when the chaos will end.
I was going to write about small, concrete actions you can take to manage anxiety. But, before I do, I need to address the elephant in the room.
We are probably looking at our new normal.
It’s a hard pill to swallow. Just this morning, I spent a good 25 minutes crying about the state of the world. I was angry and bitter, and a little bit maniacal. But I was also neck-deep in grief — an undesirable yet pesky emotion that I’ve been putting off for weeks. But wounds don’t heal unless we acknowledge them. We can’t tackle our anxiety until we come to terms with everything we have lost.
In “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo describes her ritual of thanking her belongings. It is, in essence, a gratitude practice. Before donating clothes, appliances, and well-loved couch throws, Kondo takes a moment to thank them: “Thank you for keeping me warm last winter. Thank you for making me a fresh pot of coffee every morning. Thank you for accompanying me through my Netflix queue.”
Kondo’s way of doing things isn’t for everyone, but I think we can learn something from her intentionality, especially now.
So much of anxiety, at least for me, is the uncertainty. We don’t know what’s coming. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last. Can we make plans for the future? Should we? How do we live responsible, fulfilling lives in this unpredictable time? So many of us are lacking structure. We are separated from loved ones and bombarded by bad news. People with underlying health conditions like me have an extra helping of fear — a super virus that preys on compromised immune systems is one of our worst fears.
Anxiety management in the time of coronavirus begins with grief. We have lost so much, as individuals and as a society. We’ve canceled plans. We’ve retreated into isolation and are suffering the absence of something vital to our well-being — connection. Many have lost their jobs and are navigating the depths of financial and food insecurity. We’ve been ripped from everything we thought we knew, and are faced with the daunting task of making something out of ruin.
I invite you to sit with the things you’ve lost as a result of this pandemic. Don’t beat yourself up for grieving the small things, such as lunch dates and workspace familiarity. Like Marie Kondo, take each loss in the palm of your hand and acknowledge the pain. Cry if you must. Take as long as you need, and don’t be afraid to talk to yourself like you’d talk to a friend. Say “That sucks.” Say “I’m sorry this is happening.” If you can, spend some time in nature and observe the world as it fumbles through the dark. Take solace in the fact that loss coexists with the beauty of spring.
Don’t rush the process. Grieving takes time.
Next week, I’ll share some ways to manage anxiety by planning for the future, and taking those plans lightly. But I want to end this column by acknowledging my losses.
Like so many of you, I was anticipating this year’s Cure SMA conference. My parents and I were going to take a week or two and drive to Orlando, FL. A few weeks later, we were going to travel to Denver, CO, for my aunt’s wedding, which my dad was supposed to officiate. After years of school, I was looking forward to graduating and spending time with the people I love without thinking of deadlines and forum discussion posts. I had so many plans — outings, parties, and last-minute Target runs.
The year 2020 was going to be “my year.” And this is what I get for dreaming big — a global pandemic.
It hurts, but pain is the way through.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.