I find that as we move further into the Covid 19 experience my anxiety levels increase on a daily basis. Not entirely sure why but, based on my conversations with others, I am not alone. Perhaps it can be likened to the financial situation many find themselves in. We get by as long as the paychecks arrive but when one gets missed it creates problems. Perhaps that is the way many of us are with our mental health. We get by but just barely. And then when something like Covid 19 happens with all its glory we tumble over the abyss.
I recently chatted with a client and asked him if anxiety was a person or thing how he would describe it. With little hesitation he answered “a squirrel”. I found that intriguing. As we delved into it further the concept really made sense to me. Imagine a squirrel. Very active. Quite noisy. Flits from place to place. Never runs in a straight line. Hops from tree to tree. Quite agile. Can be intrusive. Always on the lookout. Never a dull moment. I wonder, do they ever sleep?
Now compare that to anxiety. Many people I talk to describe how anxiety creates a myriad of thoughts running through their minds. And just as you deal with one thought another one comes rushing in. Scurrying about in your gray matter, jumping from one thought to another. Puts you on edge. We become spooked. Never knowing what lies around the next corner. It is intrusive and if it sleeps it is with one eye open.
I could go into some detail about the way our brain works. However the brain is complicated. Allow me to simplify it for you. Let me be bold enough to suggest we have two brains, the thinking brain and the feeling brain. (this has not been medically proven)
The thinking brain tends to be conscientious, accurate, impartial, and methodical. It has the ability to reason through options. The feeling brain, on the other hand, is somewhat of a drama queen. It is impulsive, inaccurate, and irrational. It represents our emotions and arrives at conclusions quickly. Sounds like a squirrel.
I am of the opinion that when I experience this added anxiety on a daily basis it is my feeling brain that is in control. As I have my morning coffee and read news headlines or look at social media the feeling brain takes over. It jumps to conclusions that are often inaccurate. As that happens my thoughts become irrational. And then it flits from crisis to crisis and convinces me that the world is doomed and that I will die.
After my usual hour or two in this state my thinking brain slowly begins to emerge. Perhaps it was sleeping in. As it comes to life, perhaps it’s the coffee, I begin to think of all the good things I am experiencing. It helps me focus on the work I need to do. It helps me be proactive about the activities I can partake in which will provide purpose for life. It will help me focus on the positives happening both globally and closer to home.
Based on my thoughts today I believe some of my biggest challenges come from things completely outside of our control. And no matter how hard I try, I can do nothing about it regardless of what my feeling brain is telling me. So I need to try hard to put those aside. If I manage to use my thinking brain I can put aside those uncontrollables and find my list of stressors becoming much shorter and easier to deal with.
Whether we are the praying type or not, the serenity prayer can be helpful. It talks about serenity, courage and wisdom. I particularly like the wisdom part. Having the wisdom to know what I can change and what I can’t is significantly important for our mental health. Takes practice, but it can be done. Make it a good one.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”