Maybe you’re not feeling anxiety.
Maybe you’re just feeling numb.
Or maybe you’re not in touch with your feelings at all.
If you don’t feel like crap, then that could be because you’re dissociated. Dissociating is a very common reaction to stress. It’s a survival mechanism that puts us in self-preservation mode, so we don’t have to feel and respond to the immensity of the events that are unfolding around us.
Everyone knows about the “fight or flight” reaction, when you get triggered by a stressful situation and you’re heart starts racing, your mouth dries up, your blood pounds in your temples. You get ready for action.
That’s when you go into a state of hyperarousal. Your body is getting ready to do something.
Many people are not aware that there’s another just as common reaction to a major stressor, which is hypoarousal. Shutting down is the same type of survival mechanism, just employed in the opposite direction.
This happens when the faculties are overloaded and something in the brain kicks in and says, “Hey, why don’t we just check out for a bit until this little messy part is over?”
Sometimes it’s called being “flooded”; the organism (that is, YOU) gets overwhelmed with the emotions of fear or panic or dread and it sort of pulls the plug on parts of the circuitry. When someone becomes dissociated like this, they may describe feeling empty, or flat. They get shut off from emotion. They may say that everything is “fine” because they don’t know what other word to use for it. They lack energy and might move slowly, and not respond as they typically would.
Either of these reactions are really common when the organism (again, that is YOU) is under significant stress.
All of us are under significant stress right now.
Working from home for the foreseeable future might sound absolutely awesome, until you’re living in a world when you don’t know when you can go back to work. Or if you have roommates, or a significant other, and you’re not used to spending quite this much time holed up with one another. Or if there’s only one room in the house that has privacy, and both of you are supposed to be on web calls for work at the same time. Or the internet keeps going out and nerves are fraying. Or you went to the store to stock up in advance of your community’s shelter-in-place order, and when you got home, you realized that all you bought was Pepsi and ice cream and chips. And that after wandering around for 15 minutes trying to figure out what you needed to get.
You couldn’t make decisions at all. You couldn’t think. All you could do was obsess about how many people were in the store with you and wonder if the grocery cart you were steering around was infected with germs.
So how do you deal with anxiety if you realize you’re experiencing it?
Well first of all, this is not meant as medical advice. Many companies are expanding their employee benefits to provide more mental health services right now, and if yours is doing that, we really encourage you to take advantage of it. Sometimes they just have 800 numbers you can call in and speak with someone for half an hour, but even something that brief can be helpful. Much more useful is if you can see someone once a week for a dedicated session, which now can be done over the internet. Look into this and see if you have it available, and if so, find out TODAY what it would take to get started.
If you don’t feel the anxiety is all that bad, but you know you are feeling stressed and wish you could feel better, then it’s going to the list of old standbys and seeing if you can manage to motivate yourself to do even just one today:
- Get some exercise – even if it’s getting down on the floor right now and doing 50 pushups
- Go outside – even if it’s to open the window and lean your head out and breathe fresh air and feel sunshine on your face
- Do something for someone else – even if it’s knocking on the door of your older neighbor to see how they’re doing
- Notice you’re not in the best headspace – even if it’s only a passing awareness that, hey, this is kind of a crappy feeling right now, and deciding not to go back to social media which is a total cesspool on most sites right now
You may find yourself back on social media in another half an hour, but at least for now, you can choose to resist the pull. Breaking a habit right now is going to be difficult, so be realistic. It’s unlikely you’ll have the mental energy to sustain any change. You may find yourself reverting to the old patterns of eating a craptastic amount of no-nutrition food like Cheetos and Oreos and Mountain Dew.
It’s okay if you’re doing that.
Right now, we’re all figuring out how to survive. That awful uncertainty we spoke about yesterday, and the threat to the world order as we knew it, all of this is really tough to manage.
The first step in helping with anxiety?
Talk to someone.
Make a social connection.
Try to have a conversation with someone. Anyone. Tell them how you’re feeling. Ask how they’re doing. Get it out of your system, by naming it.
“Wow, this is really getting to me, more than I expected it would.”
You don’t have to get all high-drama or anything. Just say that you’re not feeling so great, and tell this person you’re glad that they’re in your life and can listen.
Even if it’s just the UPS guy who’s dropping off that case of toilet paper from Amazon.
Even a simple connection to a stranger can help.
This should let your brain start to regulate from the high rev that it’s feeling.
These are admittedly simplistic suggestions, and we’re not trying to say that all anxiety can be cured in such simple ways. We are saying that EVERYTHING YOU’RE FEELING RIGHT NOW IS NORMAL.
If you found yourself snapping at the check-out woman at Target: That’s to be expected. The nerves are raw right now. Nonsensical things can set you off. Hopefully you caught yourself, and apologized, or if you didn’t, then hopefully next time you’ll catch yourself earlier.
If you are in an altogether foul mood all day, every day, then please enlist some support from your friends and family, and look into some professional support from a qualified therapist or counselor.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Wow, people are really overreacting to this coronavirus stuff,” then that too is an understandable reaction — and we hope you’ll examine where that might be coming from, and see if that’s a legit place to be oriented right now, given the facts as we know them. Trevor Noah’s perspective maybe can help.
Mostly we want you to know: Feeling really messed up about this — or just feeling odd, and not being able to identify what’s wrong, or why — these are totally normal and expected. All of us are feeling it.
It might be only a low-grade sense of discomfort and unease, and maybe the suggestions for exercise, or phoning a friend, or those other stay-healthy ideas will suffice. And there are people out there who can help, if more help might be warranted. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask.
We’ll be continuing this exploration of the changing world right along with you, including some ideas that are starting to percolate here in Snarkville for how to make use of this time that many of us have been unexpectedly given.
Stay healthy, Brave Supplicant. And stay home.