Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Big Uneasy: Coping with Covid 19 and Anxiety

September 28th, 2020 · coronavirus, COVID 19, covid 19 and anxiety

This third post on “Emotions of the Pandemic” focuses on one of the more powerful and obvious manifestations of our COVID 19 experience: anxiety.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

We may be used to thinking of anxiety as a “disorder” or a “problem, but as the American Psychological Association reminds us,

Anxiety is an emotion [italics mine] characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

“Anxiety”, APA website

Anxiety is a regular part of human life, which everyone experiences to some degree in the course of living ordinary life. Yet it can also be one of the most excruciating experiences that we can have when it’s at its worst.

Psychology and neuroscience affirm that anxiety is the nervous system’s standard and predictable response to uncertain and threatening circumstances—to crises. Our brains and nervous systems are wired to feel anxious when we encounter threats that have unpredictable aspects.

The Alertness Emotion

Anxiety was created by evolution for a purpose. It’s meant to protect us and to keep us alert when we’re facing situations of potential threat. It’s intended to motivate us into taking action that keeps us and the people and things near and dear to us safe when there’s danger in the environment. So, anxiety can actually be a very good thing, that enables us to take good care of ourselves.

However, we can become overloaded with anxiety in situations where we feel we’re dealing with too much uncertainty. If it gets too great a hold in the wrong way, anxiety can overwhelm our capacity for coping, and it can cripple our ability to function effectively. For many people, this has been the experience with COVID 19 and anxiety, as they deal with digestive issues, headaches, relentless worry, sleep problems and nightmares, and experiences of sudden rage that seem to come out of nowhere. It’s not surprising that some people are turning to alcohol, drugs or other means of diversion at record levels. As renowned physician and addictions counsellor Dr. Gabor Maté emphasizes,

A lot of us carry a great deal of anxiety that we usually cover up or distract ourselves from, through work, relationships, going to the pub, watching sports, exercising. Some of these are good things to do, but they can also function as a way of binding or diverting our anxieties.

Now that there are fewer of those options for coping, people’s anxieties are rising, and that’s showing up in their behavior. [Much] anxiety was not born of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was there before, and in almost every case, it goes back to people’s earliest experiences.

Mate, Gabor, “When The World Won’t Hold Us”

Denial, Minimization, Diversion

Certainly, when it comes to COVID-19 and anxiety, the anxiety can be so continuous and so overwhelming for many people that they try consciously to deliberately minimize it, or, on an unconscious or semi-conscious level, they deny its existence, or try to divert from it. They seek to live their lives as if nothing untoward or different is happening.

It may well be that much of the resistance to wearing masks or engaging in social distancing comes from the fact that acknowledging the anxiety that the present situation arouses is simply too uncomfortable or painful for individuals to take in. Also, in many cases, the anxiety of the COVID situation connects too powerfully with other anxieties that we’re had in our lives for an incredibly long time, but may have been able to keep at bay—until now.

COVID-19 and Anxiety: How To Deal with It

If you’re facing an overload of anxiety at the present time, how can you best deal with it, and restore yourself to experiencing normal and appropriate levels of anxiety, as opposed to overload?

One simple answer is to connect with things that give a sense of calm. This can include quite a number of straightforward practices, including deep breathing, and exercise of many forms. Many people find great value in practices such as yoga and T’ai Chi. There’s a lot of scientific evidence that getting out and exercising in green spaces enhances relaxation and a sense of well-being.

There’s something I’ve mentioned before is limiting consumption of news channels. These days they’re full to the brim of stories about COVID. One good approach can be to confine yourself to one trustworthy news choice, which you listen to just once a day, rather than bathing yourself in the constant 24 hour a day news cycle.

Another important type of thing we can do is to move our anxiety towards action. We can do this by doing something where we take hold of our power. Generally speaking, anything that you can do that genuinely increases your sense of control in your life, and helps you to feel that you do have power you can use is good. It will tend to help you feel better and less anxious. This could involve help for other people, or creating things that bring more of what you want into your own life.

To effectively address COVID-19 and anxiety issues, it can be extremely valuable to do therapy with a depth psychotherapist who can help you to greater insight about the roots of your anxiety, and how it might relate to what is trying to emerge in your life. This can be very valuable, if the therapist also has an understanding of the neuroscience of anxiety. For people who are experiencing the COVID-19 crisis as a major life transition, this kind of help can bring important healing and growth.

With very best wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Coronavirus: Coping with COVID 19 Uncertainty and Anxiety

March 16th, 2020 · coronavirus, COVID 19

In very rapid order, we have seen the COVID 19 novel coronavirus epidemic push itself into the center of our attention.

The novel coronavirus has emerged as a major public health and economic issue.  In an attempt to control its spread, public health officials are now placing more controls on our social and economic activity.  COVID 19 has certainly shot quickly into a place of prominence in our collective consciousness.

What is more, many of us are experiencing very real effects on our daily life, as our society wrestles to control the spread of the virus. I am aware of how many people in my client group have been asked to self-isolate because of possible exposure to COVID 19 in the workplace, or because they themselves or a relative have recently returned from travelling to the U.S. or overseas. I expect that this is fairly representative of the population of the Greater Toronto Area as a whole. If so, there must be a great many people who are being directly affected.

Psychological Impact of Coronavirus

These substantial effects experienced by many can have very real psychological effects on individuals. It’s not uncommon for people to feel a sense of loss of control and loss of freedom, as various restrictions come into effect. As a result, many people seem to be experiencing some degree of anxiety or depression about the current situation.

In addition to the specifics of COVID 19 quarantine, self-isolation, and other restrictions, many people are also feeling a great deal of anxiety about the financial impact of the coronavirus situation. We had been in a stable and growing economy for quite some time, but now, at least in the short run, things seem considerably more choppy and unpredictable.

Such feelings can be that much worse for individuals who have a history of anxiety in any of its forms, or any form of depression, and for those who have undergone any of a large number of types of traumatic experience. The fact that we are all subject to an unending stream of new, angst-provoking material in the news stream also makes our reactions more intense.

Avoiding Panic and Herd Mentality

In dealing with this type of situation, it is very easy for individuals to slip into a mindset characterized by panic. It is possible for anxiety to become so intense that it turns into terror or unreasoning fear, which interferes with our capacity to think clearly. As prominent anxiety expert Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg explains, this occurs when the amygdala, the part of the brain that acts like a “smoke detector” (or crisis detector), associates a state of felt uncertainty with intense feelings of fear.

This type of panic response can easily intensify a kind of psychological response that social psychologists such as Stanley Milgram refer to as herd mentality. People look to the group more intensely for guidance when they are in a state of perceived fear or peril. Jungians are very aware of how such states in groups can lead to what Jung called temporary “mass psychoses“, where an entire group is subject to delusions about a situation or is responding in ways that are patently irrational. This can lead to the kind of hoarding phenomena that we have seen recently, where people, without any rational basis have been stocking up on household supplies to such an extent that big box stores in our area are completely stripped of toilet paper (!), in the groundless belief that shortages are about to occur.

Finding Personal Power and Creativity

One of the things that we can do for ourselves in response to the uncertainty around COVID 19 and coronavirus is to seek places in our lives where we can exercise our control of events and our personal power. There are perhaps some things at present that we can’t control, but it can be very important for us to ask, where in my life can I exercise a sense of control at this time?

For instance, I may currently have to stay at home, having been told not to go into my work at this time. This may lead to a sense of powerlessness and limitation. Yet, are there things that I can do in my own home that would give me the opportunity to exercise my personal power in a way that feels good or satisfying? Are there connections I can make, things I want to learn, possibilities for the future that I don’t normally get to explore? Alternately, are there people –family members, friends or others — whom I can contact via phone, online or other media so that I can offer support — or gain support?

One area where it might be very important for me to exercise my personal power would be the amount of news or information related to COVID 19 that I let into my life. Often, people tend to instinctively seek information in a time of uncertainty, in a bid to gain more control. However, that can backfire, if people find themselves subject to a bottomless deluge of information all keyed to increasing peoples’s anxiety.

As we know, in recent years, the media have discovered that raising peoples’ fear levels increases views for news items. Healthy, self-compassionate self-care at this point may well involve limiting or eliminating the amount of coronavirus news that comes into your life. You may want to see some news, perhaps, but now may be a very bad time to be a news junkie — so simply stay away!

A final thing that you might do for yourself is to find support from a good, affirming therapist, such as possibly a depth psychotherapist. Working with the right kind of therapist at a time like this may well help to increase your sense of control, and to clarify what is really important for your life journey at this time.

With best wishes to all during this demanding period,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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