Anxiety and COVID-19

Anxiety Disorder

Full transparency – I have a mild anxiety disorder and have battled depression since college. I have had both minor and major panic attacks on and off since then. I don’t think you can fully understand this kind of anxiety unless you experience it for yourself, and I wish it on NO ONE. The first time I heard about this new coronavirus (COVID-19), in the kitchen of our rental house in Belize. I was on an amazing girls’ trip and one of my friends said that there was a new coronavirus in China. A man at an open market apparently ate a raw bat and the virus it had jumped from animal to human.

Fast forward to March 2020 and the entire world is now literally in their homes, hiding from an invisible killer virus – COVID-19. At first, we were told that it was mostly affecting the elderly but now I’m hearing stories about a 12yo that died and a healthy 25yo is on a vent. It’s just all so overwhelming and scary! About a week ago, I started waking up at 3 am with a panic attack. The first one I woke up my husband and made him sit on the couch with me because I was sure I was about to die. He is wonderful and came to help me get through the moment. After some time my heart rate went back to normal and I could go back to sleep. I rolled over around 3 am-4 am and needed to go to the bathroom. Sometimes I’m in a REM dream state, I wake up with my heart pounding out of my chest.

Since I have an anxiety disorder when I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s pitch black, my heart is racing, and so I panic. When I panic, I am telling myself that I’m about to die because there is no other reason that my heart would race at 3 am. Then, I spin out of control and extra cortisol and adrenaline releases because of the stress and my heart beats even faster than before! I sweat, my vision blurs, my stomach aches and my mind races with confusion. It’s horrible!!

After over 20 years of battling these episodes, I know how to stop them when they start. It just takes a few days to remember that. Ha! I’m human and imperfect and wonderfully made, just like each of you. It’s not as easy for me to function “normally” so I have to work at it – every single day. Some days are better than others. I haven’t had an attack in over a week now. I started taking a Benadryl before bed and it helps me to sleep through the 3 am time frame. If I wake up and my heart is beating fast, then I tell myself that it is only happening because of my stage of sleep and it will calm down with some deep breaths.

Choose Your Thoughts

After doing that for a few nights, now I can recognize it and ignore the anxiety creeping in and let it pass! Currently, I am listening to a book called: Loving What Is by Bryon Katie. Basically, she explains how it is your own thoughts that are making you miserable. I highly recommend it! I have known about doing daily positive affirmations and goal setting from Bob Samara and using words that are positive instead of negative. Instead of thinking, “I’m stuck at home because of COVID-19”, say, “I am safe at home during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Our mind is ours to control. Lots of times we get in the habit of doing the same things over and over so many times that our brains go kind of on autopilot. If we are not intentional about our daily, repetitive actions, then we may get stuck in a rut that is not serving our needs the best.

Right now we are all under a tremendous amount of stress. There is so much unknown with the virus, and our economy and many livelihoods are being negatively affected. Stress triggers a combination of signals from both hormones and nerves. These signals cause your adrenal glands to release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Then there is an increase in heart rate and energy as part of the fight-or-flight response. It’s your body’s way of preparing itself for potentially dangerous or harmful situations. 

Cortisol – Stress Hormone

Cortisol also helps to limit any functions that aren’t essential in a fight-or-flight situation. Once the threat passes, your hormones return to their usual levels. This whole process is designed to save our lives. But when you’re under constant stress, this response doesn’t always turn off. Sadly, long-term exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can wreak havoc on almost all of your body’s processes, increasing your risk of many health issues, from heart disease and obesity to anxiety and depression.

The good news is that we can control our thoughts! You are in charge of how you handle the stress of each event in your life. After years and years of studying personal development by reading and listening to books (Brene Brown, Rachel Hollis, Jen Sincero, Mel Robbins are all great authors), I work diligently to stop and think before I react to negativity. It is all a choice. Sometimes we are not paying attention to our reactions and when we are not intentional, then we act on autopilot. Choose to be intentional. It has taken years of training my brain, and with the help of medication, therapy and the support of my family and friends, I can say that I process change and adapt more easily than ever before. It takes lots of practice and intention, but anyone can become friends with their mind and always remember you are in charge of your thoughts! 

I was texting some friends a week ago, and I told them, “the good news is that we won’t go hungry. There are enough friends to figure out how to feed each other! Worst case, we all file bankruptcy (Crawley Law Firm, PA)  and move on with our lives! We will be ok!! I woke up today and was like – I’m done being scared. It only hurts me, and it doesn’t help things change. I read once that worry is like praying for the worst to happen. When I put all my energy into the negative what-ifs. What if I can’t pay my rent? What if this virus kills me, my husband, kids, my mom or my in-laws? What if, what if, what if? That’s a terrible way to live! I want to thrive. I want to be positive! I want to look for the good and look for the helpers. I want to be a helper. I can’t control any of it! Today I refuse to let my fear and anxiety take control of my reality and cripple me into a pile of sadness and self-pity! I choose love! I choose hope! I choose JOY!”