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Collective Anxiety

“We’re in this together.” That’s what Dr. Ghebryesus, the director of the World Health Organization said March 11th in a press conference regarding the rapidly spreading COVID 19 pandemic. As anxieties ramp up in response to the virus, I continue to think about this phrase and am reminded of the most vulnerable in our communities. While our lives are changing rapidly and the next few weeks and perhaps months will most certainly look different than we had planned, if we continue to focus on the collective good we can unite as communities and ease one another’s burdens.

Clients often come to me and say “how can I stop feeling so anxious?”, and while there are times that it’s important to throw all the coping skills we can and perhaps even medication at anxiety to reduce its intensity, I also tell my clients “listen to your anxiety”. You see, feelings are a teacher and anxiety is our bodies natural response to threat. These instincts are often good and can help us respond to danger effectively. In the midst of a fearful situation our amygdala kicks in and directs our attention to the threat in order to respond. Collective anxiety is just the same, it helps engage society in addressing the threat. So, let’s listen and take caution.

However, when anxiety becomes prolonged or we are over exposed, those once helpful instincts can become paralyzing, both individually and collectively. Here are a few things I suggest to help maintain a healthy level of anxiety.

1) I urge you to be careful how much media you consume and how discussions about the virus dominate our conversations and activities. Set boundaries for yourself. I suggest checking the news sometime in the morning hours and maybe once again late afternoon, but during work hours or those precious moments with family, leave it alone. If your social media feed is loaded with posts about the virus, delete the app for a short time, or take a break.

2) Take a moment each day to check in and ask yourself if your anxiety is simply causing you to go into self-preservation mode, or if you’re remembering the collective experience and the power we have as a whole to protect and provide for others in need. Feeling empowered to “do something” can help you regain a sense of control. Order some supplies online for a local shelter or call someone you know may be vulnerable to feeling lonely and isolated.

3) Get moving and get outside! Take the time for yoga, a walk around the neighborhood, or shoot some hoops in your driveway. Even if you’re confined mostly to your home a rhythm of outdoor activity can make a huge difference.

4) Do something creative. Pull out your craft supplies, or bake something you’ve been wanting to try, maybe rearrange some furniture, or just doodle. Anything creative can be healing for you. Our brains are healthier when our hands are put to work and our minds are stretched in creative ways.

) Lastly, if your anxieties are already high and you’re struggling to manage, please seek help. Don’t wait if you’re struggling to get a good night sleep or those anxious thoughts seem to be uncontrollable. Therapists like myself are readily available and can even engage by video from the safety of your own home.

We can’t begin to know the long term effects of the pandemic. Not only the lives lost, but the financial stability and overall mental health of our communities. But we’re in this together.

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