Feeling Anxious? Have Hope, You’re Not Alone

“The only thing we have to fear,
Is fear itself!

                                                                                                        – Winston Churchill

The headlines of every major newspaper in the world all speak to the same issue; we are at war with a common enemy; a contagion called COVID-19.  We know little about it except that it is powerful, hidden, and responsible for 365,000 deaths worldwide.  The United States has seen over 100,000 deaths, and the virus has put what was otherwise, a healthy national economy, into a tailspin.  It has also changed our personal lives; social distance has become the norm.  We rarely shake hands or hug, we wear face masks when we venture out, and gathering in groups is frowned upon.  Science tells us that the threat of continuing infection will remain very real until there is a vaccine that is readily available, and that won’t be until early next year.   What is equally concerning, but much less discussed is the other contagion rapidly spreading across our nations and infecting our businesses, communities, and homes.

Perhaps the most difficult part of this pandemic has been the uncertainty that now fills our lives.  Uncertainty about this virus itself; how it spreads, how it is treated, and how many will it kill. Uncertainty about reopening our communities.   Uncertainty about our plans for family gatherings and summer travel.  Uncertainty about going back to school.  Uncertainty about the economy.  Uncertainty about our jobs.   This uncertainty creates fear, which in and of itself is not bad, assuming we understand what is causing the fear.   However, when fear is combined with the unknown or uncertainty we come face to face with that contagion; ANXIETY

Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.   A better petri dish couldn’t exist; we have the perfect environment in which this contagion can develop and spread, and while there is no vaccine, there are measures that can be taken that will slow or eliminate its spread . 

Begin by accepting your own anxiety and know that you are not alone.  Some of us live in areas significantly impacted by the virus, while others have seen few infections and wonder if they will be spared.  We are all watching the headlines, news reports and social media postings seeking more information and wondering when will this all end.  It is the uncertainty that becomes so difficult to handle, and it is that same uncertainty that can cause us to panic and become an agent of anxiety transmission.

A second step is to stay informed, particularly about what’s happening in your community.  It is important to remember that there is extensive misinformation, as well as sensationalistic coverage, that only feeds into fear. It’s important to be discerning about what you read and watch.  Use trusted sources and equally important, know when to step away.  Be discerning about the amount of time you spend focusing on this one issue.

We are in a time of massive upheaval, so it is critically important to focus on the things over which you do have control; personal habits such as washing hands and not touching your face, social habits such as personal distancing and avoiding crowds; and fostering your personal immunity by getting enough sleep, exercising and eating healthy.  If your job has become mobile, create a work area and set a schedule to the extent possible.  In fact, make a list of everything over which you have control.  You will be surprised, and even comforted, by the length of your list

Anxiety’s greatest nemesis is hope!  It serves as a positive contagion and enables us to rise above anxiety’s horizon and see a brighter future.  Hope enables us to begin taking back that which we let go to anxiety.  Plan for what you can and begin being proactive. It might be as simple as next week’s dinner menu, or as grand as a business re-entry plan.  It doesn’t matter because in either case you own it.  You have control!   Remember, when we plan we are looking to the future.  Our focus leaves the present and considers a world wherein we have control.  Planning helps us to remove uncertainty.  Planning enables us to see how tomorrow can be better than today. Planning fosters hope!

Let hope replace your anxiety.  Hope is the belief, not a wish, that circumstances will get better; no matter how big or small.  It’s the belief of the 65 year old patient who fought, and left the hospital to say, “I survived COVID-19”.  It’s the single mother who has lost her job, has a family to support, and knows that new employment is just around the corner as long as she keeps believing and looking.  It is the medical personnel and first responders who have become our beacons in the darkest of times.  It is the teachers and parents who worked together collaboratively these past few months to continue our children’s education when the school doors closed, and it is our collective steadfast belief that a vaccination and cure will be found.  Sometimes hope looks so bleak in a given situation as to appear non-existent, yet those who survive life threatening ordeals will point to hope as the one thing that got them through. It is this very hope which champions the survivor, even in the bleakest of times.

Embrace the Hope!