The Anxiety and Grief of COVID-19

Quarantine. What? Me? You expect me to stay home, in a kind of lockdown, and I’m claustrophobic. I can’t do that. And, by the way, I’m an extrovert, so this just won't do on any level.

I’ll just go to work, go to my office, and hang out there. I’ll keep my distance, I promise! I need to be around others so I don’t have to think or feel too much, that’s what I’ve always done.

I’m used to running from one client to another. I’m used to being just a minute late for the next meeting because I'm so busy. I’m used to having to schedule when I go to the bathroom because there’s so much to do. What to do with all this space? When I’m not racing to... anywhere. Now what?

"Stay at Home Orders" & Anxiety

Then the messages from our Governor’s and newscasters: Stay home, stay home, only go out for essentials. And, if you live alone, you’ll learn to cope with the isolation.

We are a culture of isolationists, aren’t we? 

Maybe not, maybe there’s been more social interaction out there then was realized. It’s just the way it’s been done is different. Not better, not worse, just different.

And now, oh wow, the pulses are beating, denial is walking around, do you hear it? This can’t happen to me. I’m young, I’m immune, this virus won’t touch my friends or family. Until it does. Until all of a sudden, some people you know don’t feel well, they complain of feeling tired, or having no sense of taste or smell, and then there’s that little nagging fever that just won’t go away. 

And now, denial, as much as you want to partner with it, just won’t cut it. What’s a person to do? 

We’re facing a variety of complex grief. This virus has invaded our thoughts, our peace of mind, our savings, our financial calm, and rocked who we thought we were. A few days off, I can get into that, but when it  turns into a week, or two, or more...

I can’t think beyond this, and my heart is racing, not because I’m busy, not because I've got to get to the next patron, or make the next batch of coffee, or get to the next meeting. My heart is racing because when denial can’t be my best friend, then anxiety slides in next to me and says in an alluring voice, “Hi there. I’m gonna make you feel things you may have never felt—like your heart racing for no reason.”

Like sweat running down your back, and it’s not because of a fever. This anxiety is a nasty little bedfellow, and it likes to take your breath away. Yes, it can make you feel like you are not getting enough air, like you are not breathing. Well, if you are reading this, you are alive, you are breathing. 

Take a deep breath. No, not that little one you just took. I’m serious, take a long, deep breath. Ok, thank you. Now let’s talk!

Breathe Deep to Help Reduce Anxiety 

Take in another breath, as much as you can, and hold it for 10 seconds. Release it. If you were able to hold and release it, GUESS WHAT, you are breathing. You are alive. 

What anxiety and grief do is make you feel as if you can’t get enough air, and then you go into a “I can’t breathe” panic mode. Grief, in light of this virus, can capture the best parts of you.

But we are not going to let it do that. This virus has put rules out there for social engagement, but there are things you still control. Focusing on your breath is one of those things in your control. 

If you do this breathing exercise six times a day, you will regulate what feels dysregulated. You are working your brain, telling your brain you have enough oxygen and not to panic.

Anxiety & Grief During COVID-19

Yep, grief. That emotion we’d rather not feel. An emotion we think only happens when someone we have loved dies. Or we lose someone through divorce or separation.

But grief in all its forms is showing up big time. No one is happy because this pandemic breaks the ways things are supposed to be. This situation ranks along with the Big Gs of grief, like the loss or sickness of a loved one or not being able to see a parent who is in assisted living.

The rules have changed, and grief is invading our homes. Behind closed doors, fear feeds the anxiety. For some, panic sets in. The panic is fed by the narratives and stories we tell ourselves. This is where you get to be an interrupter of the storyline. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says: “Stay with the data. Stay with the facts.”

Calm these narratives, these stories, by staying with the data. Part of what makes this a pandemic is that EVERYONE around the world is affected. Financial woes are not a statement of your worth or of your success. Everyone’s portfolio, if you have one, is being seized because of this virus closing the doors of many businesses.

This is an opportunity to rethink, regather, and reassess. And to clean house.

Maybe you’ve always wanted the time to create a new business plan. Do it now! Maybe you’ve wanted to get out of the busy, hectic life you’ve been living, and maybe now is the time. Maybe you’ve wanted to be more engaged with your kids, or your partner. Now is the time. 

Reconnect. Calm your inner critic. You are not alone. 

Now is time to ENJOY THE SPACE NOT THE RACE! Find your community at home.

Contributor

About Edy Nathan

Edy Nathan, MA, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist with over 20 years of experience in the field of grief and trauma. She is a certified EMDR practitioner, regression therapist, and certified hypnotherapist. Her formal training as a psychotherapist integrates with her views on trauma, abuse, and death.