It is when we learn to accept anxiety for what it is that we can live our lives to the fullest.
Quarantine is an interesting beast. On paper, it sounds easy, undemanding, almost vacation-like. The first few months can even be therapeutic; spending some time away from work, school, and the mere chaos of everyday life. Nights spent looking out the window into cities transformed into ghost towns is charming in its own right, even poetic.
And so, hours turn to days. Days then turn to weeks. Weeks then turn to months. What was seemingly an escape from the disarray and spontaneity of the working life can, for some, suddenly transform into feeling trapped with their own thoughts, with only themselves to turn to. To make matters worse, our potential for travel, one of our most exciting and primal abilities, has been invalidated, for the most part.
This pandemic has created mental tension of great magnitude for people around the world. According to WebMD, “A new government report found that about 41% of adults surveyed in late June “reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition.” This data shows that the number of people in America with anxiety disorders had tripled by late June, compared to the same time last year, and the number of those with depression had soared as well. Added to the fear of contracting the famed virus are drastic changes to our daily lives, such as unemployment and being far away from our homes and families, particularly international students. According to research, depression and anxiety are spiking during these miserable times, primarily due to financial uneasiness and job security. Depressing news headlines day after day also become exhausting to read, and can be demotivating to our daily lives. Expecting a light at the end of this confounded tunnel of a year can be disappointing.
Furthermore, life is made exponentially more difficult for those who cannot travel to see their loved ones. The use of FaceTime and social media is definitely a blessing and something we cannot take for granted. And yet, it doesn’t even come close to the feeling of being physically near our families. For those who are struggling with anxiety and depression, it can create a sensation of feeling trapped in their own minds.
For the past year, I have been dealing with hypochondria, which is an intense fear of having an undiagnosed medical condition. When the very first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States, I confined myself to my studio apartment, constantly checking my temperature and pulse, terrified of the packed New York City streets. Come Spring Break, when the first case actually hit New York, I had a flight for Vancouver scheduled. I had debated actually staying, as in my head, LaGuardia Airport was infected with COVID. I ultimately decided to go, and was extremely grateful that I did. Being in the presence of my closest friends was just the antidote I needed for my anxieties. As the days went by, I kept expecting my anxiety to worsen. And yet, as I learned to simply accept things as they are, life became much easier. I still had bad days, of course, and still continue to as well, but through embracing my struggles, truly understanding them and confiding in the people I love – I achieved peace I thought was impossible.
It was also the ability to travel that really helped me escape my anxieties. Traveling, for both necessity and pleasure, grants us an escape for our body and mind. Of course, during a pandemic, it’s exponentially more difficult to explore the world, or even go back home and see our loved ones. It is absolutely crucial that, especially during these times, we take care of ourselves not only physically, but mentally as well. Our emotional and physical wellbeing often come hand in hand, and managing both is vital. If you begin to feel emotionally trapped, reach out to your loved ones, a specialist, or anyone you feel comfortable with. You need to know that you are absolutely not alone.
As human beings, we want as much control of our lives as possible. We are biologically programmed to think negatively, because when we think do so, we can problem solve. Anxiety as a sensation has kept us alive for all these generations. It’s a natural emotion that we perceive as irregular, which can be a burden to many. It is when we learn to accept anxiety for what it is that we can live our lives to the fullest. It is much easier said than done, of course, but it starts with making the initial effort; acknowledgement and communication are essential.