Everyone is struggling in some way after months of the world dealing with COVID-19. Some people are out there working to take care of the sick, to make sure we have food to eat, trying to find a vaccine or cure. Others of us are working from home, while many are worried because they can’t work. It’s a stressful time.
I’ve mentioned previously how grateful I am that I was through my most recent bought of depression and in a better place when all of this started. My wife has commented about how grateful she is that this didn’t happen when I was in the depths of it.
I worry a lot about what’s happening, about the recent outbreak in the far north of our province that’s hitting some of our most vulnerable population. I worry about my wife who returned to work last week. I worry about the continually rising hatred and divide gripping the world and our communities. And this worry has lead to moments of anxiety.
I say moments because I either breathe my way through it or shove it down because I have things to do and my family and I are lucky to be healthy, to be working, to be together. Last week, however, my stomach started to hurt, my body started to hurt, and I felt really unwell, but not in a “hey, I’ve got a virus” kind of way. I knew the feeling, because I’ve had it before. It’s the physical manifestation of when I’m under prolonged stress.
Thankfully I had an appointment with my therapist via telephone. I told her what was going on, that I was worried about everything happening, that I was dealing with it pretty well and I’d been able to keep my anxiety at bay, but that my body was sending me a different message. About half-way through our 55 minute hour it occurred to me that I wasn’t “dealing with it” at all.
A few weeks ago I’d mentioned to my wife that there had been several times that I’d felt like crying, but hadn’t. I told myself that it was because it was always at inopportune times — I was heading into a video conference or something like that, but even I knew that while those meetings were a reason, they weren’t the big one. I didn’t want to start crying because I was afraid that I would have trouble stopping, like it had been during my depression.
I was pushing my anxiety aside, shoving it into some pit that I hadn’t noticed was getting ready to overflow until my body said, “hey, you have to actually deal with this”.
So my therapist and I talked about worrying. We talked about worrying about things I can control and worrying about things I can’t. We talked about worrying about things that were actually happening or very likely to happen vs. worrying about things that might happen or that I perceived might happen. And we talked about not ignoring the worry and paying attention to how it makes me feel.
She suggested that I schedule time to worry and really feel it. She put as I can’t permanently ignore the elephant in the room, but I can tell it, “hey, I see you, I know I have to deal with you, but I’m going to put you on my calendar for 2 PM.” Then at 2 PM or whenever I schedule the time to address the elephant, I decide how much time I’m going to give it and I take that whole time. After that I need to meditate, exercise, or something else that lets me reset.
This might sound like a strange idea, but I get why it would work for me. It gives me space to deal with it, but creates a boundary to help me not let the worry snowball. It creates a safe time for me to address what’s bothering me and gives me a mechanism to pull myself out of that through the reset activity.
I’ll be honest, as I write this (it’s Saturday afternoon) I haven’t tried this yet, but even knowing I have the strategy made me feel better. Now I just need to, as she put it, give myself the grace to be vulnerable with myself. Everyone is stressed out from this and it’s not a sign of weakness on any of our parts. Not dealing with it, however, denying what we’re feeling will make us even sicker.