Covid

Anxiety in the Midst of COVID-19

With the unstable state of world affairs brought on by COVID-19, I thought it best to write about the main reason people come to therapy: Anxiety.

Anxiety vs. Panic

Anxiety is a mind-body state of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. We see this on the rise with Coronavirus.

Worrying incessantly can cause significant distress and interfere with daily life. When anxiety is uncontrollable, it spikes into a panic. Panic is an overwhelming fear or anxiety that leads us to believe we are literally dying – this is what panic attacks feel like.

When our anxiety has spun out of control (and not yet reached panic) it can cause us to soothe with food, substances, or other compulsive behaviors. Anxiety interferes with our intimate relationships, causing us to act outwith jealousy and rage or act in by withdrawing or shutting out our partners.

Rumination: the Root of Anxiety

Primarily, anxiety is caused by overthinking; psychologists call it rumination.
Think of rumination as a wave of thoughts that are constantly rolling around and crashing in your mind. If you answer yes to any of these questions, it’s likely that you’re in a pattern of rumination.

  • Do you ever find yourself dwelling on a problem over and over again without getting anywhere?
  • Do you spend a lot of time thinking about how terrible you are or comparing yourself to others?
  • Do you get stuck fearing criticism or disapproval?
  • Are you continually shaming yourself when you don’t meet your expectations?
  • Are you in the habit of chronically judging your emotions?

So how did we get here?
In the brain, rumination (having the SAME thoughts over and over again) creates and solidifies neural pathways that make it easier and faster to access thoughts, moods, and actions we’re used to. Think of this as a dirt road that, initially, is full of bumps and rocks, and require effort as you slowly navigate and create a path. The more you drive this road, the smoother the path becomes as it gets carved out and worn in, until eventually, you can go full speed!

Rumination makes it easier and faster to access thoughts that make us feel worse; it perpetuates anxiety and reduces our motivation to approach life. The ideas, beliefs, and mantras that we ruminate on then create our internal mood. Anxiety is a sign that we are ruminating over and over in a way that makes us feel worse without making any progress. So then, now that we understand that overthinking is not something that is happening to you, rather it is something you are doing, you can work to gain control of your racing mind.

How to Rid Yourself of Rumination ~ and stop scaring yourself!

Our human brain has an average of 64,000 thoughts a day!

The first step in changing a pattern is becoming conscious that you are doing it. We can do this with mindfulness. Try to notice the differences between helpful and unhelpful thinking – notice when your thinking helps you solve a problem or inspires you to make a plan, and when your thinking paralyzes you. Stop the fearful, negative, shaming thoughts in their tracks, notice them without judgment, and mindfully redirect them.

You can redirect a useless thought patterning using a strategic thinking technique called SMART. Ask yourself, are my thoughts:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Limited

Notice if rumination causes you to deny expressing your authentic needs while in relationship with others. If you don’t express to others how their behavior upsets you, they will likely continue acting that way, which leads to more distress for you. Take a risk and state your truths to others.

There needs to be a balance between thoughts and actions. Rumination causes us to procrastinate and AVOID. Avoidance can become a habit because it feels safe. We avoid out of fear of vulnerability. Avoidance perpetuates anxiety. Replace avoidance with approach behaviors (in this case, approach behaviors are verbal and emotional, due to safety and quarantine procedures).

We also use rumination as a way to avoid painful feelings. Worrying is a barrier to disowned emotions of anger, sadness, fear, and shame. Instead of worrying, own your emotions, feel them, and voice them.

Stay healthy by caring for your mind, body, and spirit. Remember we are all meant to survive and thrive!
With love, XXOO,