I have a confession to make. I haven’t given myself much time to think about or process what I’m feeling in relation to the current pandemic.
Yes, I’ve had moments of anxiety, but I haven’t explored the basis of that anxiety. It’s simply easier to say, “It’s the pandemic,” without getting into the details. Then I try to get busy again so I can keep the anxiety at bay without thinking about it.
Of course, this isn’t a particularly healthy approach, but I honestly hadn’t thought much about that fact until I listened to an episode of the podcast Unlocking Us by Brené Brown. The podcast was titled “Brené on Anxiety, Calm + Over/Under-Functioning”, and it pointed out something that I often ignore.
Over-functioning in a crisis can be just as damaging as under-functioning or panicking. And I often try to over-function as a way to avoid feeling whatever’s going on with me.
Since then, I’ve been exploring a little bit more about why it’s important to recognize our emotions, including ones we often try to ignore. Feelings like stress… loneliness… fear… and uncertainty. All things that are coming up more often for people right now.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned, as well as a few things that may help you accept those feelings and move forward with less anxiety.
Denial Makes the Feelings Stronger
Have you ever noticed that when you try to deny a certain emotion, it just comes back stronger? If so, you’re not alone. Even worse, those feelings tend to come out when you least want or expect them.
For example, denying that you’re feeling stressed and anxious right now could mean that you lash out at someone in your family, a friend, or a coworker. It might even be for something minor, but it’s just enough to tip you over the edge and bring up all the emotions you’ve kept bottled up.
Those feelings might also emerge as mindless eating. I’ve certainly heard stories about people who buy enough groceries for two weeks, only to find it gone in a few days.
And if you’re stress-baking, someone’s got to eat whatever you’ve baked! That’s fine, but it’s not so great if you’re eating on automatic pilot as a way of ignoring your feelings.
Avoidance Lengthens Uncertainty
Then there’s the fact that the longer you deny something and avoid it, the longer your uncertainty and anxiety about the situation drags out. You might find yourself imagining disastrous, worst-case scenarios.
It doesn’t help that, right now, many people are dealing with catastrophic situations. You might lose someone you love without saying goodbye. You could get sick yourself. You might lose your job – or maybe you already have. You might run out of money to buy food.
It’s very easy to get stuck in these thoughts and imagine what can happen, but spinning out that anxiety over time doesn’t help. It puts you in a state of perpetual uncertainty, which is more stressful than almost anything else. For example, in an article from Parasol Wellness, the author noted a study performed by Harvard that found people who were waiting to find out about a cancer diagnosis were more stressed than people already living with cancer.
On the other hand, if you confront what you’re feeling, you’re no longer living in uncertainty or denial, and you can start to move forward.
How to Tell What You’re Feeling
To face your emotions, though, you have to know what they are first, and that’s sometimes easier said than done.
Part of the challenge these days is that getting in touch with your emotions means being somewhere that you can be quiet and alone for at least a few minutes. For some people, this may mean leaving the house. Perhaps you can go for a walk, or sit in your car. Or maybe you can stay inside by taking a bath to keep everyone out of the bathroom for a while (although if you have small children, that’s not a guarantee).
Wherever you are, the goal is to take some deep breaths and turn inward to notice your emotions. You may also want to see how your body is feeling since our bodies hold our anxiety and other emotions in certain spots. For example, my shoulders have been very tense lately, which for me is a sure sign of stress.
You might also want to sit down somewhere with a pen and paper to write (cat optional), or with a laptop. if you write stream-of-consciousness, you might be surprised by what comes up.
For myself, I often don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling until I write it down. I recently sat down to journal and discovered that one of my biggest sources of anxiety right now is losing someone without being able to say goodbye or be with others to mourn. I know how hard it was to lose my mom in more “normal” circumstances, and I can’t imagine what it would be like now. And I also feel incredible sorrow for all those who are in that exact situation – and there are many.
While you’re going through this exercise, don’t judge whatever comes up. Your feelings are your feelings – they’re not right or wrong. Simply identify them without censoring them.
Accepting Your Emotions
Once you’ve named what you’re feeling, you need to accept those emotions.
This doesn’t mean giving in to depression or sadness or loneliness and letting the feeling take over. It means acknowledging what you’re feeling, no matter what it is, so you don’t need to fear it anymore. The emotion also becomes less destructive once it’s known and accepted.
Additionally, once you accept your emotions, you don’t have to spend all that time and effort to push them away. Instead, you can focus on what you can do to make things better.
I realize that this might be a challenging time to improve things, but it could be something small. For example, I heard one person say that he and his wife sit down every evening to make a schedule for the next day so when they wake up in the morning, they have the comfort of a plan. That’s something most people could do.
Your improvement might also be choosing to reduce how much news you’re watching or reading, doing some stretches that relieve stiffness or pain, or finding some funny or cute online videos to watch. Personally, I’m a fan of this video of kittens visiting an aquarium.
Finally, doing something to help someone else is a great way to redirect your energy and get you out of your own anxiety.
How Are You Feeling?
With all that in mind, how are you feeling? Do you have any strategies or thoughts for getting out of uncertainty and anxiety? Please let me know!
Part of my strategy moving forward will be journaling, but I also want to find creative ways to help others. And I’ve ordered some “stress balls,” those rubber balls you can squeeze to strengthen your wrists – and apparently help reduce stress. (I’m getting them for my wrists, but I’ll happily take the added stress-relief.)
And finally, remember to be gentle with yourself. This is a strange and scary time for all of us, and it’s okay to be feeling anything and everything. I just hope this helps you pay more attention to those feelings and find some good ways to manage them.