Coping with anxiety – when nothing is in your control

Written by: Rowan Bland

It is not surprising that levels of anxiety are high in the current climate. The world is currently experiencing a global pandemic, and because of this, life has had to change. Currently absolutely everything is out of our control. For students in particular, who are faced with cancelled graduation, online exams and being forced to isolate alone in flats or return to potentially problematic home lifes, anxiety is an hourly battle. It is a difficult task then, to try to help yourself and others cope with anxiety. In our current isolation, with limited access to mental health resources such as therapy and medication, we are having to figure out how to learn to live with anxiety. In other words, we are being taught to let the anxiety sit. As a sufferer of a chronic anxiety disorder, I might seem like someone with the knowledge and experience to tell you how to cope with the anxiety. The problem is – I don’t know. I don’t know how to cope with anxiety, and actually, that statement in itself helps me cope.

Through the lens of social media, I am currently seeing two types of coping mechanisms for anxiety sufferers in the current climate. One is allowing yourself to wallow – if you want to stay in bed all day, eat chocolate and binge watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, go for it. The other suggests hyper activity – get up at nine in the morning, plan a nice outfit, write a poem and go outside for a walk. There are problems with both of these. At a time where your whole life is up in the air, and ‘normalcy’ is but a distant promise, you cannot force yourself towards productivity. It might provide a distraction from the anxiety, but you will burn out unless there is some form of relaxation woven in. This is capitalism at its nastiest – even when there is a deadly pandemic, you must constantly grind, grind, grind.

However, at the same time, staying in bed all day and watching endless television might lead you to dwell in your anxiety, to become comfortable with your unhappiness and fall even deeper into a hole of mental health troubles.

The truth is, coping with anxiety during uncertain times is an extremely personal journey. Before the Corona virus hit, I was anxious about graduating. Knowing that my future was so uncertain, and that I didn’t have a purpose anymore was terrifying, anxiety inducing, and quite frankly, hard to cope with. Suddenly these issues are the least of my worries, and I learn that my anxiety is ever changing. It constantly adapts to whatever is happening within your world. You can’t control the world, and you cannot control anxiety.

Thus, comes the coping. I believe that dealing with anxiety is a lot to do with the very small details of your life. You cannot solve mental health problems by going for a nice walk. Anyone who suggests that to you does not understand anxiety. For me – walking out of my room and attempting to have one conversation with a real person can help ground me in reality. Anxiety tries to suspend you in a limbo of uncertainty and fear. So, find the things that bring you back to earth. My therapist reminded me, once, that thoughts are not real. They are merely conceptual images, phrases and sounds passing through your mind. There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thought. Anxiety tries to assign traits to your thoughts, and label every abstract concept your brain thinks up. None of it is real. I would lean into this realisation. It has always comforted me.

My last tips for coping with anxiety during a time with no control would be these. Firstly, acknowledge your feelings. You are anxious – so lean into it. It is completely ok and understandable to feel this way. Secondly, delete the news app. Turn off news notifications, and mute any buzzwords that might trigger you. During a global pandemic, the reminder on your phone of bad news will do nothing to help you. Next, download audible – I myself have found it annoying and patronising when I’m told to ‘breathe’ or ‘read a book’ when I’m anxious. However, listening to an audio book can be extremely helpful, as it takes the work of reading away. When you can do nothing but lay in bed all day, you can at least listen to an interesting book. Lastly, choose to focus on what you can control. What are you going to have for dinner? You get to control that. So cook your favourite meal and load up on Buffy. You deserve it – you are allowed to be coping with anxiety. You are allowed to be anxious when things are out of your control. Lets get rid of the ‘lets roll with the punches mentality’, and instead, be kinder to those who are struggling in your life right now.


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