Photo by Dave Puente
These last few weeks have been rough.
And of course, that’s coming from a place of absolute privilege because feeling cooped up, claustrophobic, overwhelmed, frustrated, lonely are the feelings in the best case scenario. Every day I’m grateful for my family’s health, that we’re all still currently employed, that feeling stuck at home is the worst of what we’re dealing with; but that doesn’t mean this situation isn’t hard.
I’m by no means any sort of mental health expert, I’m just someone with anxiety who’s spent a decent amount of time in therapy over the last year and there a few coping skills I’ve learned that seem to be helping a lot during this pandemic. And since they’re helping me, I figured it couldn’t hurt to share.
One Day At A Time
When I’m struggling with anxiety I have a hard time with the future. I have this really fantastic brain that likes to come up with all sorts of “what ifs” about what could happen, and usually they’re pretty bad scenarios. Obviously, that only seems to make the situation worse, so last year my therapist told me that when things get hard and feel overwhelming, to take it one day at a time. You wake up, tackle that day and what needs to be done, then do it again the next day. Last year I went through an unbelievably hard break up where sometimes even looking at an entire day was too much, so she told me to take it to an hour. One hour at a time. I’d get through that hour then focus on getting through the next one. Honestly, when I think about how long social distancing and sheltering at home could last, I start to panic. But waking up and staying home just for one day isn’t that hard, so that’s what I focus on.
Worst Case Scenario
Ahh, the worst case scenario. As I mentioned, my brain is so good at these. You could tell me any story and I could tell you which it would twist and turn until the whole world was burning. I used to believe thinking about the worst case scenario would help prepare me for it, but it just made my anxiety a hundred times worse. I’d think about it and fixate on it until I was an absolute ball of nerves and it inhibited my day to day well-being. Funny enough, what helped tremendously for me was confronting these worst case scenarios on paper. I’d write them down, then make a plan for if they happened. Somehow writing them down gave them so much less power and if the worst ever did happen, I was ready to face it. I had to do this recently when I saw my friends losing their jobs. My mind immediately went to work panicking about how I would lose everything and my life would be over if I lost my job. How would I pay my bills? Would I ever find another job again? I wouldn’t be able to pay rent! So I wrote a plan for if that happens. I called my best friend who had previously offered for me to stay with her & her family and asked, if I lost my job could I live with you until I get back on my feet? She told me, of course and just like that – instant relief. (I know, I’m so lucky to have that option.) Trust me, I’d be an absolute mess if I lost a job I love so much – but I’d pick up and start over like so many people have done before, are doing right now.
(Also, a part of my WCS plan is working on emergency savings for these worst case scenarios – if you haven’t checked out Dave Ramsey he’s an awesome tool for finances right now.)
What Makes Me Feel Normal?
This is a new one for me that my therapist just recommended this week (thank you video chat sessions!) when we were talking about everything that’s happening right now. She asked what I was doing that makes me feel normal. It took me a minute because as an extrovert who had barely spent a night at home in the last year, nothing about this feels normal right now. But on my bad days she was right, there was comfort in doing some of things I did before. For me – it’s walking, I did that even before shelter at home and walking in the sunshine (at a safe social distance from others) and feeling the fresh air gave me some renewed energy. I once even made the drive to my gym and even though I couldn’t go in, just doing the motions made me feel a little better. I filled my little apartment with bright, fresh flowers. I love getting facials so ordered a to-go facial from my favorite local spot – it wasn’t the same, but it was a piece of normal that made me so happy. I get take-out meals from spots I used to frequent and wave to my favorite chef’s from afar. Now I look for little moments every day that make me feel normal.
Feel My Feelings
Alright, I know this sounds incredibly cheesy, but this was huge for me! I used to get incredibly frustrated when I felt sad last year during the breakup, so angry with myself for not just being able to “get over it” and move onto being happy immediately. I’d feel frustrated with myself so I’d push the feelings down to a dark place until they started coming out in the form of panic attacks. Sounds fun, right? Finally, my therapist got me to a place to when I would feel sad, I’d let myself feel the feelings and not beat myself up for them. Somehow, again – I’m not a therapist, not getting mad at myself made the feelings bearable. I think the best way I can understand it is that if a friend called my crying or upset I’d never tell the they’re stupid, so why was I doing it to myself? Once I stopped beating myself up for feeling a certain way, I could deal with the feelings and get back to a good place more quickly.
I started to do this again when we were told to shelter at home. At first I told myself I shouldn’t feel frustrated or upset because others are going through so much worse right now. It’s true that people are going through worse, but this isn’t normal for anyone. Fearing for our health, our employment, our friends & family, not being able to see or hug people we love – it’s really hard and really exhausting. During the last month I’ve had at least one bad day a week. It’s usually when I’m off work and I can’t do any of the things I used to do and love. Now I know it’s coming and still roll my eyes at myself for crying, but tell myself these feelings are normal.
A friend mentioned they’d heard we’re all going through the stages of grief, so I did a little digging and found this great article. There’s so much loss happening right now and the stages of grief aren’t just reserved for death. It’s ok to feel any of these at any given time. It’s ok to feel whatever we’re feeling.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
When I have those crappy days, I text a friend and tell them I’m feeling bad and need a phone call or Facetime. My therapist has let me know I can always text or email if I need to schedule an extra session – and I’ve used that more than once.
And even outside a global pandemic, I’m a huge fan of therapy. It’s helped me so incredibly much and I’m so grateful for the last year of working so hard on my anxiety because it’s helping me through this very difficult time. I’ve found all my favorite therapists through PsychologyToday.com. You can search by insurance, read bios and find a good match.
We all need a little extra help sometimes and that’s totally okay. Asking for it can be awful, but wouldn’t you jump to help your friend if they reached out? If you need help with meals, there are people who want to feed you. If you need help but don’t know where to start, check out Colorado Crisis Services and go from there.
Stay safe & healthy everyone!
When I'm not exploring the trails, I'm a Meteorologist! You can see me weekend mornings on NBC affiliate 9News in Colorado. Have a weather question? Don’t hesitate to ask!
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