Anxiety in Uncertain Times
The COVID-19 pandemic is the first we’ve had to deal with in the US. Our routines are disrupted, the economy is in trouble, many people’s livelihoods are threatened, parents are scrambling to provide child care for kids, stores have long lines and empty shelves as people panic- buy. We see images of how it has ravaged other countries and fear for our own safety and well-being, and that of our families and communities.
Most of us are not used to this kind of chaos and uncertainty. People have different levels of tolerance for the unknown and for uncertainty as well as different amounts of social and financial resources. Social distancing is a new concept and practice for us, which while helping to keep the virus from spreading, can create its own problems of social isolation, depression and anxiety.
Fear and panic are at least as contagious as the virus itself. While anxiety itself is a natural response to a challenging situation, making us alert and helping us respond in ways that keep us safe and functioning, it becomes problematic when it becomes chronic or morphs into panic.
People especially susceptible to extreme anxiety or panic about the virus often have suffered some trauma in their lives. You have already lived through something extreme and unprecedented and the current situation creates a PTSD type response. If you tend to be an anxious person or are a highly sensitive person, you may also tend to be more prone to catastrophizing and panic.
Without our usual routines and structure, it becomes especially important to create new ones to help us manage these unprecedented, uncertain times with as much equanimity as possible. Below are some suggestions as well as resources.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley