Let’s skip all the disclaimers about how some people have it worse right now — way worse — in one way or the other. It’s true, but for those of us who suffer from anxiety, it’s also not super helpful.
My experience is valid, and your experience is valid — no matter where you live or what’s going on.
Poking My Head Out
I wasn’t very useful to anyone the first week or so of ‘quarantine.’ It felt like everything changed so fast that I didn’t have time to be prepared — physically or mentally.
It seemed like one day was normal — and the next day I had to protect my aging parents from an invisible enemy like a big Montana grizzly bear. (My folks live here, too.)
See, my brain likes to run away with me. Maybe yours does, too.
Most of the time, I can keep my anxiety in check. This mess, though, threw me for a real loop. In fact, this is the first day I’ve even felt up to writing much of anything. #butthatsprogress
Changing the Station
One of the challenging things about anxiety is that it makes every other challenge harder. Worst-case scenarios run on a loop in your brain, and it gets hard to do much of anything besides fret.
That’s one reason I’m a sticky note person. You know the type, the people with little sayings written on notes tacked all over their houses. It’s a way that ‘past me’ can tell ‘future me’ to calm down or shift focus.
I’ve been writing a lot of sticky notes lately.
The key is to replace the negative and unhelpful thoughts and imagery with more hopeful and helpful ones. It doesn’t mean you’re denying reality or the gravity of a situation or feeling. It means to be a better version of yourself, you need to run a different soundtrack in the background.
I’ve been testing out a lot of phrases lately, and I wanted to share the ones that have helped me the most.
15 Mantas I’ve Found Helpful:
“Or, it’ll be fine” :: This was my 2020 “theme” before all this virus mess came along, and I still find it helpful. When anxiety takes hold, it tries to convince you that the WORST thing is going to happen. This mantra reminds me I should also consider the other (and far more likely) option — and that things will actually be OK.
“Physical distance isn’t social distance” :: I heard this distinction during a virtual church service last weekend, and it stuck with me. “Social distance” can feel very lonely and scary. “Physical distance” keeps other safe but doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Stay connected with your friends, family, and community online, by phone, etc. (You may *not* want to spend a lot of time on social media or watching the news right now though.)
“Some things ARE ok” :: It’s easy to convince yourself everything is terrible and nothing will be good again. (Even typing it, I realize that’s simply not true.) Remind yourself that some things ARE still ok — in fact, many things are still ok. Try listing some of the things in your life that are still actually ok.
“Most things most places are mostly ok” :: Ready to take that thought a step further? Try this one. It’s easy to hear bits of news from people or places that are in the deepest kind of crisis… and believe that’s how things are for literally everyone, literally everywhere. This belief comes from a good place — one of empathy — but it’s also untrue. Most of the people, most of the places, are still mostly ok — and will continue to be. And do you know why, in part, that’s the case? Because YOU are doing an amazing job helping to prevent the spread of the virus by washing your hands, covering coughs/sneezes, not touching your face, staying physically distant from others, and remaining home if you’re even the slightest bit sick.
“Distance is a choice” :: Even the word “quarantine” sounds scary AF. Not wonder our anxiety meters are off the charts. I’ve found peace remembering that staying hOMe (as Margaret likes to say) is a choice. We are not trapped; we’re choosing to remain home for this important time period to protect our elderly and vulnerable neighbors. The vast majority of people are perfectly capable (and would be happy to, at this point) go back to work tomorrow! We’re choosing not to in order to protect more people. This is for now — not forever.
“Fear is unhelpful” :: Fear and panic, by themselves, are simply not helpful. They don’t lead to action — they lead to inaction. They don’t lead to peace, they lead to more fear and panic. Anxious people are also notoriously helpful people — we’re empathetic and caring, and it’s why we freak ourselves the freak out if things aren’t going well. Fear isn’t helpful, though, so move onto more useful thoughts, feelings, and actions.
“Action > Anxiety” :: Part of the struggle during this phase is being unable to go DO the things we want to do for our communities. We can’t necessarily go volunteer at the food bank. We can’t necessarily go visit folks at the senior living center. We can’t necessarily even hire/pay people who need to work the most. It’s frustrating to the extreme. But what can you do? You could call some folks who live alone and check in. You could email your work colleagues and touch base. You could gather fabric scraps and sew medical masks for local health professionals.
If you feel extra angry that the government was so ill-prepared for a crisis they 100% saw coming, guess what? You can email or call every member of Congress. (I’ve gotten through all 100 Senate members so far, and the House is next on my list.)
The point is, you may not be able to DO the things you want to do most. But there are still plenty of things you CAN do to help others and yourself.
“This Then That” :: If your brain works anything like mine, it’ll tell you that not only must we solve the current situation ASAP. We need to solve every single situation that could potentially follow it — and right now.
Do we need to have a serious national discussion about healthcare? Heck yes. Do we need to reevaluate how we prepare for infectious diseases? You bet. Do we need to revive the economy and make sure workers still have jobs to return to? Absolutely. But first, we get through this part. Then, we need to remember how this moment felt — and double-down on changing what happens after that.
“All challenges come. All challenges go.” :: This has been true 100% of the times before this, and it’ll be true 100% of the times after this. This challenge has a beginning and an end, too.
“Look for the helpers” :: OK, so I stole this one from Mr. Rogers, but I don’t think he’d mind. He said that whenever he’d see something scary in the news, his mom would tell him to look for the helpers. There are SO many people working hard to make this situation better and safer for all of us. Medical staff, law enforcement, merchants, scientists, inventors, and everyday people grocery shopping for friends and neighbors. There are helpers everywhere right now, so truly see them.
“Food first” :: Some people eat more when they’re stressed. Other people, like me, lose their appetite. While you don’t need to be fixing extravagant meals three times a day, you do need to make sure you’re eating enough small, nutritious portions to stay functional and healthy. I use this mantra when I know I should to eat but don’t “feel like it.”
“Big challenges inspire big solutions” :: Here’s one of the truly silver linings in this turd heap. There will be (and already are some) BIG changes, discoveries, and solutions arising from this situation. Science is advancing faster than ever. More people are working together than ever. More awareness is brought to the need for better systems, processes, and preparations than ever.
“Outside is Allowed” :: It took several days before I mentally realized physical distancing didn’t mean I had to stay inside my house. Distance is a choice we’re making to protect others, but you can do it outside too. (Just stay 6 feet away from other people for the time being.) Especially now that the days are getting longer, sunnier, and warmer, do your best to get out there. Whether it’s a short walk around the block, a stroll to the park with your dog, sitting on your front stoop soaking up some vitamin D and waving at neighbors passing by, it helps. Don’t have a great outdoor option? Open those windows, make a pillow nest, and turn on an audiobook.
“Commit Now, Not Later” :: There will be a lot of small businesses, unemployed folks, and organizations in need of some special TLC once we’re back out and about. Now is the time to commit to doing more to help rebuild and revitalize your community. For me, I’m newly committing to helping our local food bank in some capacity. I also commit to helping local small businesses that need some free writing or design help to get back up and running. Plus, I want to make some nice gestures for our local UPS, Fedex, and USPS workers who are doing so much for so many.
“God’s got this” :: One of my mental struggles is not going to the barn to see my horse right now. (Reference overprotective parent mode engaged.) He’s usually my outlet, and the barn is a big part of my routine. But staying home right now doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about my barn family or that they’ve forgotten about me. One of my coaches sweetly left me a voicemail today with a Bible verse from her morning devotional because it reminded her of me. The short version: God’s got this.
See You Soon
Hopefully, a few of these mantra will help you replace negative thoughts with more positive and empowering ones. A lot of people struggle with anxiety, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong” with you. It just means we have to be more intentional about how we think — and what we think about — especially right now.
One thing I’m really looking forward to? Getting back to our yoga retreats and giving women a welcome respite from such a stressful time. We’ll see you soon, and I can’t wait <3
– Nicole, BSYR Ranch Hand
- Talkspace :: Online talk therapy if you need more tools to deal with anxiety, or simply need someone to talk to.
- Audible :: Sometimes it’s tough to focus on reading a physical book, so audiobooks can be a great option.
- Glo :: Follow along with online Yoga, meditation, and pilates classes. They even have classes specifically for easing anxiety.
- Calm :: Download this app for tons of guided meditations, sleep stories, and more. Just do it.
- Headspace :: This is my other favorite for meditations and sleep stories. They even have completely free meditations they’ve made available for this challenging time. For now, I go to sleep listening to Headspace every night.
- Advice from a Friend’s Therapist – How to Face Covid