As our global community continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and fears of the unknown continues to heighten.
It’s important to realize that anxiety can look different in everyone, and it doesn’t always look like a panic attack. In fact, it presents a much broader spectrum of behaviors such as feeling tense, snapping at others, or harboring deep anger and rage. Many of these behaviors are rooted in a sense of fear, which has certainly been heightened as the pandemic continues evolving.
As we practice social distancing and self-quarantining, recognizing anxiety more quickly will give you the power to take steps to reduce it in yourself and those around you.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
- Feeling tense. Many people who experience anxiety will radiate a sense of tension, where they are never able to relax. They are not easy people to be around, nor are they easy on themselves.
- Being hypercritical, both of themselves and others. This comes from a place of fear, where they have a deep-seated need to control things that are fundamentally impossible to control. They often have unrealistic expectations of other people.
- Procrastinating. People with anxiety often put off things that are important to do. That could involve things with their children, their own self-care, or even a decision to seek treatment. A generalized sense of fear paralyzes people, increasing the amount of energy it takes to get up the gumption and get things done.
- Focusing on worst-case scenario. When someone immediately starts fretting about the worst-case scenario, for even the most minor problem, it can give them a warped sense of the actual situation. Simple things are blown out of proportion until they suddenly become the emotional equivalent of a life-or-death situation.
- Expressing anger and rage. Have you ever felt so angry that you are physically shaking from head to toe? When we dig beneath the feeling of rage, it’s not about anger at all. Instead, it’s about anxiety and a need for perfectionism. It’s a fear of looking incompetent and of being judged by others.
- Experiencing physical symptoms. Anxiety is often expressed as a physical symptom, such as constipation and other GI issues, or headaches or neck pains.
Dangers of Self-Medicating
Self-medicating can lead you down a dangerous path – physically and mentally. You might feel relieved of stress initially, but when you self-medicate with alcohol regularly, it can develop an addiction, which makes depression and anxiety worse according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Drinking alcohol or taking prescribed medicines incorrectly, like benzodiazepines for example, won’t treat the underlying issue and can have a negative impact on your mental health. And using medication along with alcohol or illicit substances puts you and your loved one at great risk.
Help Each Other Through Anxiety
Anxiety takes place at a very deep level. During a pandemic with unprecedented changes to our home and work lives, many of us are still mentally sorting through our emotions, fears and worries. As new feelings surface, it may be hard to articulate them. But the best way to overcome our anxieties is to talk about them, to face them head on. We should encourage empathy and understanding with each other; be authentic. We’re all in this together. If you see a friend or loved one struggling or feeling frustrated, reach out and remind them that you are there for them. Ask if there is anything you can do. Offer to listen. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone is to really listen, and to let them know that we hear them.
Despite what the memes on social media suggest, attempting to drink your anxiety away is never a good idea. Our culture practically glorifies alcohol consumption as a way to stay calm and deal with everyday life. With some drastic changes we’re making to #StopTheSpread of COIVD-19 over the past several weeks, alcohol is being positioned as a way to self-medicate the stress of parenting, being cooped up with our families and children, and maybe simultaneously working from home. Just remember that there are better ways to deal with anxiety than turning to alcohol.
There isn’t a better time to practice self-care and mindfulness. Keeping healthy attitudes and sharing healthy activities that you can do together that don’t revolve around alcohol will keep you connected and feed the soul!
By Joseph Garbely, D.O., DFASAM