Back in 2019, I decided to share with Bangor Metro readers my then-10 month journey with generalized anxiety disorder and some tips I learned to help manage my symptoms. But flash forward to 2020, and we were thrown into a mental health crisis due to the high rate of disease, death and social isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
With my anxiety worsening as the pandemic continued — exhibiting symptoms such as nonstop overthinking and compulsiveness — I realized I no longer knew how to live with it like I once did.
So I tried to change that. Although I do not speak for all when it comes to mental health, here is what I found to help create a safe space for myself when the outside world stopped feeling so safe.
Modifying coping strategies
The five things I wrote about back in 2019 that helped manage my anxiety were thinking positive thoughts, medication, exercise, journaling and talking to someone. But my triggers and symptoms have changed since then and I had to modify my coping strategies in turn.
In my efforts to find ways to pass the time in quarantine, I found respite in new things. I found a love for baking and coloring and saw how focusing on one task would prevent me from going into an episode of overthinking. When I decided to try therapy again, I discovered online therapy was a better option for me as I could message my therapist everyday. Instead of just thinking “positive thoughts” I started to meditate so that I could deal with my overthinking and stress in general. And once I determined that journaling was actually making me feel anxious for a period, I stopped. I might find my way back into journaling or in-person therapy again, but I’m going to do what works for now.
Consistency is key
I learned the hard way that consistently working to manage my anxiety is extremely important. I started getting lazy in managing my symptoms a few months before the pandemic started. I stopped going to therapy because I felt I no longer needed it. But I wish I hadn’t. Unfortunately, I had to start all over when I wasn’t feeling well instead. Feeling good mentally before the pandemic didn’t mean I should have stopped working on myself. I knew that if I wanted my coping skills to stick this time around, I had to work at it.
It’s okay to feel ‘bad’ emotions
As the weather grew colder in November and coronavirus cases started to skyrocket, I decided to move indoors because I was terrified of getting sick. When the weather was nicer, I was able to take solo walks, see my parents on their back porch and go on distanced hikes with my friends. I hadn’t really been alone up until that point. In my newfound isolation, I started to think about the life I had before the pandemic, what I wished I could be doing, and how going back to “normal” might not happen as soon as I thought. Add that to some personal non-pandemic related events, and I started to feel a weight of sadness, grief and frustration. After talking with my therapist daily about my feelings (and using breathing and meditation techniques) I learned that it is normal to have these feelings and I should not be hard on myself for having them. I’m lucky that my emotions don’t become all consuming or debilitating (and if they are for you, reach out to someone), but I know that my feelings, especially now, are perfectly valid.
I become increasingly anxious and paralyzed with indecision if I don’t maintain a daily schedule. The only way I can get myself out of it is to basically force myself back into a routine. I used to rely heavily on external factors to help me get that structure. Going to work made me get dressed and do my hair, and training at the gym or yoga studio got me out of the apartment.
As the initial two to three week shutdown lasted longer than anyone expected in March 2020, I let go of those small routines. When I started to become anxious and indecisive like I used to in the past, I thought that maybe getting back into a routine would help create some normalcy in my life again. I decided to start doing my hair and getting dressed as if I was going into the office even though I was staying in my living room all day. Even though I prefered in-person instruction, I decided to go to yoga online because I wasn’t comfortable to be indoors with people yet. I started to enjoy the online format and eventually restarted teaching classes from my apartment; something I’m enjoying immensely. It’s surprising how much of a difference those small changes made.
The pandemic has reminded me that I need to listen to my body and how I’m feeling. My goal is to turn these positive changes into habits so I can prepare for whatever my post-pandemic life turns out to be. I just need to be patient and do the work. I guess that can be one small positive thing it has done.
Rosemary Lausier, Bangor Metro