The latest studies show that 30% of us are experiencing moderate to very severe anxiety right now. Wow – that’s a lot of people. It’s safe to say that some of us have never felt this way before.. and there are probably many others who have never felt it this intensely before. To you lovely, wonderful, gentle people, I offer my warmest virtual hug. You are not alone.
The entire process of arriving here, in an anxious state is, itself, a really difficult and complicated process – perhaps that is why it often feels so overwhelming. Luckily, overwhelming things become easy to understand when you break them down. So let’s start with some basic terminology, because it’s easier to talk about and understand your feelings when you have the words to explain what’s happening.
Technically, Anxiety is: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. It can also be associated with compulsive behavior and panic attacks.
In my personal and clinical experience, anxiety involves a multitude of different components that are all occurring simultaneously – physical, emotional, situational, historical, and so forth. Physical reasons for anxiety could include having pain. People with back pain may have anxiety because they worry about being able to take care of themselves or enjoying their leisure activities (in the present and the future). A person who suffers from migraines may have anxiety because allergies can trigger migraines, and the trees are blooming. An emotional example could be a person who is very concerned about the health and well-being of a friend or family member who is ill. A situational reason for anxiety could be a person who feels anxious because they cannot go outside and be as active as they typically are in daily life. Historical anxiety relates to your personal history. For instance, being out of work now could trigger anxious feelings and memories from other times when cash was tight or you were out of work.
Anxiety also has a component of living in the future. The things that make us anxious are not happening right now — but they could happen. This is the elusive element of uncertainty: What if this happens? What if that happens? There are suddenly some seriously negative possibilities on the horizon that we weren’t considering before, and it’s overwhelming.. even strangulating.
So as you can easily see, with so many different components to the anxiety experience – especially in the context of the current shock and trauma we are all collectively experiencing, as we will soon discuss, anxiety is having a massive impact on our lives right now.
Let’s dig into this “Shock” Concept. We have physical shock and emotional shock. Physical shock happens with sudden blood loss, a severe allergy response, or poisoning. Typically, you would see very low blood pressure and a weak heartbeat and possible loss of consciousness with these patients. Contrasting this, emotional shock is: when you experience a surge of strong emotions and a corresponding physical reaction, in response to a (typically unexpected) stressful event.
Emotional Shock can also be called “Acute Stress Disorder” if it lasts for 3 days or more – hello, sheltering in place and C19. Emotional Shock typically occurs when unexpected things happen at a rate that is faster than your brain can process the information. A sudden car accident, loss of a family member, global pandemic, and/or loss of a job and financial security can all cause Emotional Shock. The common feelings we have with shock often begin with intense fear and anxiety (“Oh my! This is so terrible! How could this happen?! What am I going to do now?!”) followed by depression and hopelessness.(Everything is ruined, this is a disaster. How will I ever fix this? Nothing will ever be right again.) Mentally, you may also be having brain fog and difficulty thinking and focusing. You may also be feeling oscillating emotions ranging from worry to anger to fear to anxiety to even moments of calmness.. right back into worry again – basically feeling emotionally all over the place. Physically, you may even experience headaches, muscle tension, digestive upset, and fatigue. You can definitely say – shock leaves you totally shook. It can even completely knock you over – and that is 100% normal.
Technically, Emotional Trauma is: the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people.
Everyone is processing these events differently because we are all facing different, unique challenges and circumstances. Some of us lost our jobs, some of us are still working. Some of us are at high risk of exposure, some of us are going stir-crazy at home. There is so much going on today. It’s also possible that your symptoms are going beyond anxiety. Some of us are also experiencing symptoms of trauma. If you are having a variety of the symptoms below, this experience may be a little traumatic for your right now. And that’s ok! We’re here to support you through this! ❤
Emotional & psychological symptoms:
Symptoms of trauma are NOT symptoms of weakness.
Your responses are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events.
I am personally, intimately familiar with both anxiety and trauma. I myself was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2011, and I have had many very uncomfortable days/weeks/months running, hiding, and finally learning to sit with anxious feelings, having panic attacks, waking with panic attacks in the middle of the night, having nightmares most days of the week, and having constant, intrusive negative thoughts. The sensation that there is an emptiness in the universe that demands to swallow you entirely and delete everything good in your life. A feeling that every step forward was a practice in futility and self loathing. However, I have also had more wonderful, blissful amazing feelings since those days than I can count. So I know that the scary wave will pass – as it always does, and it will get easier.
But sometimes, you need to be reminded. That you’re human. That everything you have is a blessing. Remind yourself that you are so blessed. So Loved. So Cherished. And all you have today is not guaranteed tomorrow. So love hard, soak in all those good moments, and keep count of all the good things in your life. Because there is still so much good. And that good is the cure for when you’re anxious about the future.
I hope that helps for now. My thoughts about what to do to manage anxiety will be posted soon.