Well, it’s been a weird few weeks. My husband and 3 kids and I went on vacation with friends for spring break. We returned home to closed schools and empty grocery store shelves. Coronavirus, the now global pandemic, has forced us to isolate in our homes to slow the spread of this killer with no cure. Yes, stress and anxiety have arrived at our home. Yes, I offer stress and anxiety counseling for my job. I have to take my own advice now more than ever before.
My kids have been out of school for 3 weeks now. Though my sister lives only 20 minutes away, I haven’t seen her for a month. The kids are doing online school, and both my husband and I are working from home. We only leave the house for essentials, yet essentials are hard to find in stores. We cook almost every meal at home, and we watch tv. A lot. No more Starbucks. No more dining on bustling patios at our favorite restaurants. And no more hanging out with friends for any of us. That’s a LOT of family time.
What’s Happening to Me?
I’ve been publishing a blog every week for a while now, but it’s been more of a struggle here lately. My energy is running low, and I’ve had less motivation to do many things that typically come naturally. Creativity is out the window, as my mind is wandering to things unrelated to my job. I work as a therapist in Plano, Texas helping people with eating disorders, anxiety and depression. So I decided to write this post about what’s on my mind– how these changes are impacting all of us, myself and my clients included.
It’s important to be able to make sense of things happening to us, whether that’s how your eating disorder developed, or how stress is negatively impacting your relationships. This insight gives us a sense of manageability when we feel powerless. It can also can also reduce feelings of shame that there’s something wrong with us. We might tell ourseves we aren’t coping as well as others. We might believe we should be doing as well as we’ve done at other times. But how do our brains and bodies respond to stress? COULD we be doing better?
Stranger Than Fiction
We see this in movies all the time. Something ridiculous, magical, or vaguely unreal is presented in the context of a mundane, familiar world. In “Harry Potter,” Hogwarts students go shopping for school supplies, get frustrated with their teachers, and play sports just like any kids might. But instead of 3-ring binders and highlighters, they’re buying wands and spellbooks.
In “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Joel goes to your average everyday clinic and fills out the paperwork before taking a seat in the waiting room. But the doctor performs a procedure of completely erasing Joel’s memories with his ex-girlfriend from his consciousness. It’s . . . almost normal.
So even when books and movies push the envelope, they still send that envelope through the post office. Or, you know, by owl 😉
One of the weirdest things about the Covid-19 pandemic is how much appears to be normal even in the midst of everything changing. Sure, the NBA is cancelled and airports are empty, but you’re still getting emails about productivity from your boss or kids’ teachers. You’re still texting your friends about Love is Blind, and wondering what to eat for dinner. Except now, we don’t choose a restaurant based on the menu variety or the Yelp reviews. We’re favoring the places we’d most hate to see boarded up after all this is over. The places with the most Lysol-able take-out containers. The places we know would pay their cooks for sick leave.
Even something as simple as ordering pizza requires what I call Coronavirus Calculus. There’s a sacred order in touching the containers, washing your hands, touching the food without touching the containers, washing your hands again, asking your kids to wash their hands . . . These are small details, of course. But just like in those magical movies, they’re also clues that we’re looking at a different world than usual.
The New Normal
In this new reality, we are doing as much as possible online, reworking childcare and travel plans, and basically seeing every item through germ goggles. Meanwhile, there are still things we expect to be business as usual. We are encouraged to maintain a semblance of routine, even if we have less work, even if we’re not commuting, and even if there’s virtually (pun intended!) nothing routine about our lives right now.
And I don’t know about you, but I’ve been noticing certain side effects to the pandemic that have nothing to do with the illness itself.
Maybe you’ve been searching for words that you definitely know (I got stuck on “pollution” the other day!) Maybe you forgot to submit a report that’s been second nature to you for years. Maybe you finally have an opportunity to do everything you’ve always wanted to do when you have the time, but none of it really seems exciting anymore . . .
It turns out that our absent-mindedness and even our apathy are serving a very adaptive purpose. Well, adaptive for caveman times at least. Allow me to back (way) up.
How We Handle Stress: Fight, Flight, Freeze
When we were first evolving as a species, we were dealing with a different set of stressors. Yes, there were diseases and natural disasters too, but back then, the likelihood of a saber-tooth tiger attack was far greater than the likelihood of messing up a Power Point presentation. This is why our deepest instincts in the face of stress are to fight, flee, or freeze. And just like our tailbones, these responses are still a part of our fabric long after they stopped being useful.
If you’ve ever noticed that your throat gets dry and your heart starts beating when you’re talking to a crush, you can thank our caveman ancestors. Basically, whenever the body senses danger, it puts all its resources into pumping blood to the muscles that help us run. This isn’t a time to digest breakfast, which is why your mouth gets dry. This isn’t a time to grow hair, or ovulate, or do anything long-term. All that matters is getting energy to our legs. We literally have blinders on, as our pupils dilate to help us focus on the path straight ahead.
The same way medical facilities are pausing elective surgeries, general check-ups, and all other routine visits to prioritize the needs of Covid-19 patients, our brains and bodies pause the higher-level functions in favor of survival.
Of course, this system does not always serve us in the modern world, where the stressors are much different. Right now, for example, we need to process complex information about managing risk, maintaining our careers, checking on vulnerable family members, and keeping our pantries stocked. And given that our basic sense of well-being and security is being threatened, we are juggling all of this from a low-grade state of arousal. Essentially, we are going about our “normal” lives from our “Five-Minutes-Before-Public-Speaking” selves.
Fighting Fight or Flight
Have you ever tried explaining very rationally to a 6-year-old that there are no monsters under the bed? How did that go? 😛
Most parents intuitively know to meet their kids where they are, even in the fear, and create some sort of “Monster Spray” to help them address the anxiety at its source.
Similarly, in meeting our caveman stress where it is, logic won’t always cut it. Our physical body and our nervous system, not just our brains, are responding to stress. This means that any relaxation technique that incorporates the body and our senses will be helpful here.
So meditate. Go on a walk. Take a bath. Listen to music. Knead some bread dough. These are the new “survival skills” appropriate for the threats of today.
Tend and Befriend
You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response. But there’s another instinctual way that many of us respond to stress, and this one actually does serve us in the modern world, Power Points and all!
Researchers have spoken about the primal urge to “tend and befriend” in the face of a threat. So if you notice yourself reaching out to friends you haven’t seen in years or donating to organizations who need masks, you might be benefiting from this survival skill without even realizing it. The idea is that, even in the grimmest of times, there is safety in numbers. Because of this, we have evolved to feel rewarded when we care for the community around us.
Of course, “tend and befriend” looks a lot different in a world where a passerby won’t touch you with a six-foot pole! I’ve even noticed in my friendly state of Texas that people aren’t even making eye contact as much anymore. If you’ve been feeling isolated because of the social distancing recommendations, a Facetime call with an old college roommate or even cuddling with a pet can work wonders to reduce stress levels.
You Are Not Alone, Even with Social Distancing
Look, the bottom line is that this is not business as usual. There are things that we can do to manage our anxiety, but there’s no hack for dancing through a pandemic unaffected. We all feel scattered. We all feel uncertain. We all make mistakes. It’s ok. This is the ultimate time to be kinder to ourselves!
Make your own Monster Spray for anxiety, apathy, career uncertainty, or whatever challenges you’ve been facing. Many of the businesses and services around us have been tending and befriending by offering webinars, meditations, and other resources at no cost, so this would be a great time to learn a language, take belly-dancing, or find your zen. I know you’ve already seen so many of these lists, but I can’t overlook an opportunity to offer some potentially helpful resources.
And of course, this might be a great time to seek counseling! Most therapists are offering therapy sessions through video now, so it’s actually easier than ever to “see” a therapist.
GENERAL SELF CARE RESOURCES
- Covid 19: Managing Anxiety and Stress offered by the CDC
- FREE Self Care Resources offered by the Calm App
- Disaster Distress Hotline offered by SAMSHA
- FREE online guided meditation offered by the Meditation Museum
- FREE online mental health resources offered by Psych Central
- Insight Timer free mindfulness app
EATING DISORDER RECOVERY RESOURCES
- FREE Virtual Women’s Support Group offered by Live Well Way (if you use code freeduringcovid)
- PAY WHAT YOU CAN Weekly Online HAES Support Group for anyone struggling with issues related to food and/or body offered by Wise Heart Nutrition
- FREE Live Eating Disorder Meal Support from a variety of ED professionals. Follow @covid19eatingsupport on Instagram for more
- FREE weekly Intuitive Eating & Anti-Diet online video support groups offered by Daring Fat
- FREE Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook offered by Balance Eating Disorder Treatment Center
FAT POSITIVE FITNESS AND JOYFUL MOVEMENT RESOURCES
- FREE online Yoga Videos offered by Do Yoga with Me
- TWO WEEKS FREE Body Positive Clubhouse offered by Body Positive Yoga
- FREE Gentle Yoga for Bigger Bodies YouTube Video
- Online Yoga Classes offered by Radical Body Love
- FREE Pre Recorded Yoga Videos (if you enter the promocode ONLINE) offered by YogaWorks
- FREE Yoga, Pilates, and Meditation Classes through May 30 offered by Joyn
- FREE On demand fitness videos offered by YMCA360
- PAY WHAT YOU CAN Online Live Streaming Dance Classes offered by Dance Life
- PAY WHAT YOU CAN Online Live Streaming Zumba Classes offered by FitZone Plus
- PAY WHAT YOU CAN Online dance aerobics classes offered by Fat Kid Dance Party
- PAY WHAT YOU CAN online dance classes offered by Joe’s Movement Emporium
If you’re struggling with COVID 19 anxiety, I’m here to help! I OFFER VIRTUAL/VIDEO COUNSELING FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE!! If you’re looking for counseling in Plano, Texas contact me at 469-850-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 15-minute phone consultation. My name is Danesa, and we can see if we’re a good fit! I’m also happy to connect you to another great therapist in the area.
My specialties include eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating; overeating or compulsive eating, body image issues, anxiety and depression. My office is in Plano, Texas, and conveniently located near Frisco, Allen, and McKinney.