Over the past three months, I’ve been having almost daily panic attacks and anxiety around the thought of death. No medication has worked, and in fact, was making it worse. I went from someone who was relatively carefree to someone who’s scared from moment to moment and often scared to leave my house or drive. And then COVID-19 happened. Why am I telling you this?
Because I told my sister once that suffering has a purpose, and now is the time to put my money where my mouth is and prove that I believe that as more than a trite thing we tell people in times of difficulty. A belief isn’t truly a belief until you embody it. At that point, it becomes something more; it transforms into a living, breathing faith.
I choose to believe that everything I’ve been going through was so that I could better serve others who are suffering now. If you feel anxious, terrified, panicked and like your entire world as you knew it has been ripped away from you, there are some things that can help ease your moments of anguish. I know, because I’ve done them, and they carry me through when I feel like I can’t keep going. In order of efficacy:
- Movement is crucial. Get at least thirty minutes of some type of movement every day that elevates your heart rate, but don’t overdo it. Walks, hikes, bike, freestyle dance in your underwear, YouTube or Zoom fitness classes (donate to the instructors – see service tip below), whatever…but it’ll help your body process the stress hormones and relax you. Anxiety is also an energy that centers in your head and weighs on your heart. Moving energy away from your head into the rest of the body and getting blood circulating freely will alleviate a large part of what you’re feeling.
- Be in nature as much as you can. Breathe fresh air, feel sunshine on your skin, take off your shoes and put them on the grass, touch trees, smell flowers, etc… It’s really easy during a time like this to stay in bed, read all the panic-inducing news stories or plow away at work on the computer, but all of those amplify anxiety, because they keep you ruminating in your stressful thoughts. See my first tip above for why this is a bad idea.
- Acts of service. It doesn’t have to be big. Things probably feel overwhelming right now, and you may feel paralyzed as to where to start. Think of one small, or even micro, good deed that you can do for someone. Donating to a good cause, saying something kind, checking in on a friend, family or neighbors, sharing an uplifting video…you get the idea!
- Express gratitude. I firmly believe that anxiety and being thankful can’t exist in your mind at the same time.
- Acceptance. There is suffering in life for all of us. All of us will one day die, hopefully, as painlessly as possible. Work on having the courage to accept that this life and all the suffering that comes with it are temporary, that we must live it the best that know how and that, once we’ve done our best, the rest of it is out of our control. You can only control what you do and the feeling you create in and around you. Accept yourself, too. You’re going to feel up and down and both are understandable and totally ok.
- Mind your media diet. Your brain’s energy goes in waves, just like sound and light. Be careful about the auditory and visual frequencies that you’re ingesting. Calming, relaxed, and upbeat are important at a time like this. Mix good music with dancing, and you kill two birds with one stone.
- Body tension and release. Working your way through each area of the body, tense and then release completely.
- Deep, slow belly breaths. For as long as you can manage to keep your focus, breathe as much as you can through your nose, because mouth breathing triggers your body’s anxiety response.
- Eat your fruit and veggies. Panic can induce over- or under-eating. Try to still keep a balanced diet and eat as many fresh things as possible. A connection to things that are as alive as possible (just like getting out in nature) will help you feel positive.
- Benadryl. For when you really can’t take it anymore, it’s easily accessible, non-habit-forming and has a similar result as benzodiazapenes (i.e. Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan) typically prescribed for anxiety, but without nearly as many potential side-effects. This will also help you sleep. Take it only when you really need it. It can still damage your body if overused.
- Orgasm. Even if it’s only by yourself, and even if you feel like you’re not completely up to it. Releases all kinds of feel-good chemicals and you’ll, again, feel more connected to life.
None of these things will make everything 100% ok again. To be honest, I don’t think anything can do that, and we won’t be the same after this. However, it’s important right now to reduce the anxiety you’re feeling in order to stay healthy and be better able to help others.