During this shelter in place, have you felt nervous, apprehensive, or on edge? Have you been finding it hard to relax or ‘switch off’? Does your mind often jump from worry to worry about anything and everything? If you answered yes to any of these, you may be experiencing a mild case of anxiety. And that is okay!
As we all know, this world health crisis is a trauma that we are all collectively experiencing in our own ways. What some might not know, however, is that May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. Using this as an opportunity, I’d like to provide some insight on what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder, and share some tips for how one might manage their own anxiety.
Anxiety is something that everyone in the world will experience once in their life, as it is the number one most common mental illness.
In these times, the reported accounts of anxiety have skyrocketed, and crisis lines are constantly getting calls from anxious citizens. Upon learning this I came to a realization. I’ve learned that the events we see unfolding in our country and the world are triggering emotions that may be new to some. It is also triggering a deeper reaction for those with pre-existing mental health issues, myself included.
To me this quarantine feels like running a mile underwater, when everyone around you is on solid land. It feels like you are putting so much effort into being productive and just finishing the race while it seems like all the others are doing just fine. Let me tell you—everyone on that track feels that same feeling. You are not alone.
Anxiety is something that has followed me around all my life. From moving houses and between countries, to discovering and accepting new parts of my identity, I have always had a voice in the back of my head that over the years I’ve come to name simply as “It”.
“It” tells me that even though things are good right now, the good times won’t last. ‘It’ tells me that when times are bad, they will inevitably get worse. ‘It’ has often given me physical symptoms like nausea, a racing heart, and excessive fidgeting. I don’t like ‘It’, but I know that ‘It’ is most likely never going to go away. Consequently, I have learned to recognize ways to understand and manage those thoughts.
Quarantine has been especially hard for me, as the routine of everyday life was something that kept me grounded when everything in my head was uncertain. Even if I felt like my world was falling apart, I knew that tomorrow I would have fifth period English class, and I could use things like that as an anchor.
After my routine was replaced with essentially nothing, what could I hold on to? This uncertainty spiraled into weeks of sporadic panic attacks and depressive episodes that left me in bed all day, ignoring everything around me.
However, quarantine has also given me a space to redefine my relationship with my anxiety. It has forced me to develop better coping mechanisms that are effective and allow me to feel more control within my own life.
This shelter in place has altered our collective reality, our understanding of safety, and most of all, our sense of control. The earth is now something that is dominated by this virus and unfortunately that is not something we can change in a day. We as a society must learn how to adapt because times will never go back to the way they were before.
If you are feeling pressure to keep yourself at the same pace as before this quarantine, if you are feeling discouraged or frustrated about your future, let me remind you again that you are not alone.
You can be patient with yourself during these times when everything is changing. You do not have to have the same expectations of yourself as you would in a normal week, because nothing about these weeks are normal. You are allowed and encouraged to be emotional, and to grieve the life you have had to let go.
A tip I would give to students during this time is to develop a routine. It doesn’t matter necessarily how productive it is, or how long it may be. Nonetheless, having a routine allows you to have something to look forward to. For example, getting up at a certain time of day or washing your face could be the start of your own routine!
Another tip is to practice recognizing your anxious thoughts, then challenging them. For example, you can challenge your own thoughts by asking these questions:
What would I say to someone who thought this in a similar situation?
Will I feel the same way about this in three months?
Is there another way of looking at this feeling?
What evidence is there that this thought is true?
By changing how we think in stressful situations, it puts ourselves into perspective and allows us to be, overall, calmer. (???)
Lastly, talk about it! You may never know the weight of what you are feeling until you put it out into the world. Whether it be ranting to a friend or confiding in a trusted adult, getting your thoughts out in the open helps get that uncomfortable weight off your chest. Chances are, that person understands what you are feeling and is willing to help you through it.
Our world is forever changing, and we as a species are always trying to find new ways to adapt. You never know what’s going on in someone’s life that they aren’t talking about. So be kind to one another and inspire empathy!
Links/ phone numbers
Selma High Health and Wellness: https://selmausd-studentmentalhealth.weebly.com/
California Youth Crisis Line: 1-800-843-5200
Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741