Anxiety and Covid

A perfect storm?

Anxiety and Covid together may well be a perfect storm for some. But where did all this annoying, sometimes crippling anxiety come from?

Let’s go back a few million years, to the long journey of evolution that has taken us from crawling out of the sea to homo sapiens. Imagine a distant small furry ancestor running through the undergrowth in search of food, water or sex. A sudden and unexpected rustling of grass, or a fast shadow overhead, or a sound on the edge of hearing could all be signs of a predator waiting to pounce.

So our ancestor freezes and their body chemistry starts to change. It breathes faster, fuelling its blood with oxygen. It pumps that blood to the legs and it empties its bowels so that it can run faster. Our furry forefather may feel a little dizzy because the legs are now getting a larger blood supply and the brain a little less. That’s fine though, because if it does have to run or fight it will do so on instinct.

Animals that can do this at the right time survive. The ones that can’t, don’t.

In a similar way, the animals that can recognise the face of a predator hiding in the bushes because of the pattern of shadows it makes, will survive. That’s why people see Elvis in the patterns on a piece of toast or find a crisp that looks like Donald Trump.

We are hot wired for anxiety. But, let’s not forget that anxiety looks after us. It tells us if we are in real danger. It reminds us that we are about to do something that has an element of risk, so that we can be better prepared.

The problem we have in our modern world is that our fears aren’t usually about survival, they are about other things such as what people will think of us, or how we will get on with an aggressive boss, or if people laugh at us if we make a mistake, and so on.

Our anxiety is a response from our unconscious mind. This part of our mind is incredibly fast and is working all the time. Our conscious mind is very slow and ponderous by comparison. So when we have an anxiety attack it rushes at us while our conscious mind lumbers behind it shouting ‘Stop’.

Here’s an example of the difference in speed between the conscious and unconscious mind.  Remember when you were learning to drive? You had to force yourself to get all your movements and actions in the right order. That’s because it was your conscious mind learning something new, and it can be a bit of a lumbering beast. But once we learn something, it then passes into our unconscious mind, and we do it almost without thinking, and much more quickly.

Our conscious mind rationalises that our anxiety isn’t usually about personal safety, it’s about situations where our risk is minimal. And it doesn’t understand. So we berate ourselves, we tell ourselves we are being stupid or pathetic. Maybe others around us are doing that too.

So where are we right now?

In addition to all our usual anxiety triggers we now have Covid.

For those who are anxious about going out, lockdown may seem perfect for them. But when it ends, they may well struggle to start going out again. For most people, being isolated from other people is creating anxiety because we are by nature social beings. Being left on your own with your thoughts may work well for an author, but it may play havoc with someone who has a predisposition to anxiety.

But life is about risk, we cannot remove risk from our lives, but we can manage it. So if we are anxious about Covid, we can still go out, just follow all the guidance about social distancing, masks, handwashing and so on. Perhaps it’s best to avoid places where social distancing isn’t really possible.

Are we right to be afraid of Covid? Yes! It could make us very ill, or we could pass it to others and it will make them very ill. When it comes to Covid, our anxiety is perfectly understandable. But in my opinion, it is better to reduce your risk as much as you can and go out (depending on any rules about travel), than staying at home and losing contact with people.

Of course, thanks to technology we can now video call online, chat, text, message, even just a good old-school phone call. Even more old-school, why not start writing letters again?

Doing something productive is a great way of dealing with lockdown. Catch up on housework, jobs that need doing around the house and de-cluttering. Getting rid of years of accumulated tat can be very rewarding. Write that book you have always talked about, learn a language, paint pictures, distress your furniture…the list is endless and up to you.

I limit my exposure to the news, because it can bring you down. You can even have a social media holiday so you can get on with doing something positive.

But if you have a bad day, that’s OK. There are many people having bad days, even when times are normal. Anxiety attacks are very human and they will pass. Be kind to yourself.

Download my Free Anxiety Relief PDF and work through it.

There’s also my 10 minute Anxiety Relief video, if you prefer pictures over words 🙂

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