Mel Schwartz L.C.S.W.

A Shift of Mind

Anxiety

Overcoming Anxiety in the Age of Pandemic

You can remain calm and focused in the midst of fear and chaos.

Posted Apr 02, 2020

Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

Let’s begin by looking at what we mean by the word anxiety.

Anxiety is the emotional/physical response that occurs when our thoughts attach to fear. There are times when fearful thoughts serve us and are adaptive. Currently, these thoughts may help us maintain vigilance in keeping our distance from others and being hygienically scrupulous.

Yet there are thoughts that don’t serve us as they seek out fear. These are often thoughts that seek certainty and demand to know the future. The future obviously isn’t knowable. But if your thoughts demand to know what can’t be known, anxiety results.

Our thoughts wage war with uncertainty, and uncertainty always wins. The pandemic provokes an extreme of uncertainty. The more you need to know the future, the more anxious you will feel. It’s that simple.

We cannot know when the coronavirus will retreat, whether there will there be a second wave, or all the ways in which the virus might be transmitted. There is a limit to what we can currently know. The more your mind demands certainty, the greater the fear, distress, and anxiety.

Exercise:

Reflect on what anxious thoughts you have based upon the unknown of the future.

Ask yourself right now:

“What is causing me distress and anxiety? Does it have something to do with my fear of uncertainty, of what could go wrong in the future?”

New thinking:

"I’m OK right now in this moment. If I stay focused in the moment, this moment will unfold into the next moment and become the future that I’m so apprehensive about." Keep your thought in the present and release your need to know the future.

Create a healthy and resilient future by staying focused on the present.

Capture the fearful thought, see it, and release it. Think of this like the concept of catch and release that people may employ when they fish.

Remember, reality is actually uncertain, and the pandemic in particular presents extreme uncertainty. This is why anxiety is so ramped up. Paradoxically, we must accept uncertainty.

Accepting uncertainty allows you to remain present in the moment. Unless you or a loved one are in danger or ill in this moment, keep your thoughts in the present. When your thought wanders off fearfully to the future, it evokes anxiety.

As I explained in my TEDx talk, Breaking Free from Anxiety, training your mind to accept uncertainty and remain present in the moment frees you from distress.

Exercise:

See your fearful thought.
Say to yourself, "It’s just a thought. I don’t need to become the thought."
Set your intention to keep your thoughts focused on the present.

Of course, there are many other challenges that may be causing anxiety. Financial concerns, loss of freedom, isolation, enduring conflicted relationship, and managing children in containment are just a few. We’ll be discussing these in upcoming posts.

In the meantime, remember that the pandemic will pass. As George Harrison sang, “All things must pass.”

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