EarthRise Wellness: Prioritize where to focus your anxiety

Commit to boundaries and get creative.

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and with concern over transmitting the coronavirus to older populations, many of us were unable to pay a visit. An even more challenging prospect, especially for those of us who live far away from our families, is not knowing when we’ll be able to travel to see our relatives again.

There are many layers of confusion that we’re all living through right now. Navigating this new terrain is going to be tough.

That does not mean impossible. Anxiety, as Søren Kierkegaard wrote, is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. How each of us deals with it defines our character.

There’s anxiety, then there’s an anxiety disorder, fear, and depression. Each has specific qualities. Depression, for example, is in part defined by the inability to foresee a better future. By contrast, sufferers of an anxiety disorder can imagine one. We’re just overly concerned about how we get there. That anxiety can prohibit us from even taking a step.

It’s important to note that anxiety is not an individual condition. This is a topic I’m investigating deeply in my forthcoming book, but this article by Lynn Steger Strong sums it up quite well during the coronavirus era:

Individual shame and an individual desire to succeed in ruthless systems has kept many of us quiet about this country’s failures. They’re now so blatantly apparent.

I also found this round-up of five signs that coronavirus anxiety is threatening your mental health valuable. In short, they are:

  • Trouble sleeping. I’ve written about this extensively for Big Think. Start here and here. I also cover why so many people are exhausted during the pandemic.

  • Focusing on bad news. Check out this piece on shifting your mindset for details on how to avoid this habit.

  • Losing interest and pleasure. I recently wrote about techniques for mitigating loneliness during this time.

  • Feelings of helplessness or crippling anxiety. I can’t say I’m avoiding this completely. But I also know I’ve been helped by Stoic philosophy lately.

  • Suicidal ideation. I’m fortunate to never have gone this deep into anxiety or depression. I also attribute my longtime love of Buddhism for helping me to keep my head on straight. Check out these 10 Buddhist quotes that put transience into perspective, because one day this too will pass.

Do you think our masks are bad? Here’s a plague mask from Poveglia, 1899.

Over at Fast Company, this advice from Adam Goldstein is quite helpful. He reframes anxiety as a natural immune response—it keeps you aware of potential dangers, an old evolutionary trait. Having too high of a “Paranoia line” can be debilitating, however. He continues,

For example, you may stay home and avoid crowds, which helps keep you and those around you safe from infection, but you might also buy three years’ worth of toilet paper for fear of the world running out, which isn’t actually necessary.

Anxiety protects us at times like this, especially with too many states reopening without proper precautions. We just need to focus on the right things to worry about. That’s the thing about anxiety: it trickles into the dark spaces that it has no place being.

Goldstein offers a great checklist for dealing with anxiety right now:

  • Prioritize where to focus your anxiety. Going back to a crowded beach? Probably not the best idea. Worrying about running out of toilet paper? That’s not really a concern at the moment. Make sure you’re not confusing what needs concern with what does not.

  • Set reasonable expectations. Again, Buddhism: we suffer because our expectations are not met. If we expect everything will turn out fine, we must prepare ourselves in case it does not. Emotional flexibility is critical.

  • Put stress into perspective. Humans are capable of overcoming great obstacles. This is a scary time, but we’ve endured far worse. That’s not to say this moment doesn’t demand vigilance. Just remember what you’re capable of. It’s likely much greater than you imagine.

Check out last week’s Stretch Session if you need some downtime. There are 26 classes currently archived on my YouTube page.

For a little more perspective, Naz Behesthi at Forbes offers three calls to action for navigating the stress of the moment.

  • Commit to boundaries. I don’t check Apple news two dozen times a day. Ok, some days I do, and that’s a boundary I must enforce. I’ll never completely ignore the news; being an engaged and informed citizen is essential in a democracy. But I don’t need to see the numbers every single moment.

  • Practice compassion. Well, there’s Buddha again. Empathy is the ability to feel what others feel. Compassion goes one step further: by feeling what they feel, you can reach out and help. That extra step is essential. Remember this if you spend a lot of time on social media. You need to keep your guard up against all the false information coming your way.

  • Get creative. Outside of traveling, this is the time for bucket lists. Here are five skills to learn right now. There are many more, of course. But keeping your mind occupied on learning new things is a great way to focus your mental energy on something positive.

Finally, I came across one nice de-stressing technique over the weekend: listening to Khalid’s cover of a song that’s been burned into my brain for decades. Enjoy. See you next Monday.