For those of us who struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, the last few months have been, well, not the best of times.
Personally, I have the ability to find at least several things to obsessively worry about on even the most carefree, sunshine-filled days. My brain is able to imagine apocalyptic, doomsday-style scenarios even when there is, in fact, no imminent danger to me or any of my loved ones. Add a novel coronavirus and the words “global pandemic” into the mix, and my anxiety has a field day. I was describing it to a friend recently and put it this way: “I usually get really nervous before I fly: for the last few months, I feel like I’m about to step on an airplane all the time.” It’s not fun.
In talking to more friends, however, it seems nearly everyone is experiencing some sort of “pandemic stress.” For some, it manifests as anxiety; for others, it’s depression or anger. One of the biggest contributing factors seems to be all the uncertainty: the question marks and unknowns that continue to pile up. Now, I try to be flexible and easygoing, one not easily rattled by things like last-minute changes, but I’m feeling more than a little shaken. All the uncertainty is making me realize just how little control I have over, really, anything …
I have, however, discovered several things that at least partially diffuse my pandemic anxiety. Like cleaning my house, for example. I think the physical movement works out some of the stress. Seeing how much dog hair I vacuumed up or the pile of now-dirty rags in the laundry room makes me feel as if I have control over something — even if it is only the dirt in my house.
Exercise helps a lot, particularly exercise outside. I don’t think I have ever been so grateful to live where I do. Safely socially distancing while I hike or run is generally easy, and I am thankful. While I have paved routes with spectacular views right out my front door, I have found myself seeking out a trailhead more than ever before. Sometimes I go to Fox Run Park, to experience the quiet wisdom of the towering pines and feel the soft earth under my feet. Other days I set out on one of the numerous trails on the front side of Mt. Herman, either alone or with a few friends — appropriately distanced, of course. As I meander my way around — climbing high up the hills, feeling far from civilization — I feel a peace come over me, as the beauty outside of me washes over the chaos inside.
The same couple of friends I hike with have come over for socially-distanced happy hour on my patio. The conversation and laughter we have shared from six feet apart have felt like a life-saver to me. Things like 1,000-piece puzzles or intricate crafts have helped all of us during the pandemic, as they require intense focus and concentration, leaving little mental space for worry. Crossword puzzles have never been so interesting to me until now, enabling me to escape for literally hours at a time.
And though all these small actions help relieve my anxiety, help me escape reality for a little while, I eventually must return and face my fears head-on. Will my kids get sick if they go to school? Will we lose our jobs? Will the country shut down again? Will people I love die?
I have no reassuring answers to these questions that haunt me and many other anxious souls. But, for whatever reason, as I was hiking today, the words of St. Julian of Norwich tumbled into my head. Julian must have been acquainted with anxiety, as she watched the Black Death ravage her town, killing close to half of the people there. Still, though visions, she was assured there was a loving, good, benevolent force embracing all of humanity, saying, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
I’m not sure I believe or entirely understand what those words mean, but I do find the parallels between Julian’s time and ours interesting. So, although all is very much not well, I will repeat those words in these anxious days, and try to trust. All shall be well. Peace, dear friends.
Elizabeth Eden is a mom, writer, yoga instructor and musician. She lives in Northgate with her big, beautiful, messy clan. In her free time, she enjoys wine, dystopian novels and documentaries on quantum physics. Send her ideas and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.