Wellbeing Matters: anxiety in a pandemic

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In our weekly spot where we chat about things to do with mental health and general wellbeing, a few words about anxiety in these particularly taxing times.

Hello, and welcome to Wellbeing Matters, our Wednesday natter with all you lovely people out there.

I fell down a rabbit hole today. Not for the first time during the pandemic, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Food delivery was due, my docking station was ready to receive. And I felt like I was full of ants, scuttling under my skin, making me twitch and bitch. I was rather disagreeable.

It wasn’t until the food had docked and undergone quarantine procedures that I sat down with an enormous chunk of cake and realised just how badly anxiety had gotten under my skin.

When you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack everything is magnified, yet at the same time, your world view is microscopic. Now, as my household enters its fourth month of isolation thanks to our dodgy immune systems, cabin fever has set in. Same four walls, same yard, same old same old every day. No variation.

In turn, the everyday stresses and strains that are normally taken in my stride have also been magnified. Problems are far greater when I don’t have my normal coping mechanism available – walking. Even a socially distanced chat in my front yard got my anxiety heckles rising, when someone without a mask walked past the house and sneezed continuously for the full length of the block.

I can’t control the actions of other people. I can only control my own activities. So back indoors we go. But this incident magnifies in my mind, as potential for disaster. ‘Catastrophising’ is back on the menu!

The problem with anxiety is that it can creep up on you with stealth, so that when it pulls the rug from under you, the fall is unanticipated and leaves you with a great deal more than bruised knees. And it often gets turned on those we love the most, purely because of their proximity to us at the time.

I realised, as I ate my post-delivery cake, that I was letting mine run away with me. I hadn’t washed, hadn’t brushed my hair. The cake was breakfast, four hours after I got up. At this stage in lockdown, the bad habits have set in.

At the start, it’s scary but also novel. You pledge to do right by yourself, take a bit of self-care. I was doing Pilates four times a week, the house sparkled, and the yard had never seen so much care in 15 years. Now? Pilates is a once a week drag, I’ve a cake baby sprouted about my mid-section, the husband’s chocolate delivery has increased from two bags a fortnight to six, and I can’t sleep for those whispering chaotic thoughts that come out to play in the dark.

I’m making a tentative pact with myself today. There’s always a place for lemon cake in my life, but there’s room for more pilates. There are now sneaky outings to the most perfect deserted beach at 5.30am. The impact of this is immediate. Just to be out in a wide-open space is mood enhancing. I need to hide the biscuits and the scales, and concentrate on better eating all round. I need to brush my hair. And I really don’t need to read a book about forensic pathology in the middle of a pandemic.

The anxiety will still lurk, a malignant imp ready to claw its way onto the surface in a bloody, bruising exchange of chaotic thoughts. The night will still hold its darkness. But I have so many blessings that I forgot to count.

Are you all doing alright? Are the anxiety demons chasing you through sleep, are you struggling to exercise or take care of yourselves? Are you hiding from the relentless parade of people outwardly succeeding at pandemic living on social media and news outlets? Because the reality is, it’s messy and terrifying, and sometimes just plain boring to be stuck in the middle of it.

I hope you’re doing okay. Take the very greatest of care.

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