In January of this year, I thought I could blog on something substantial and theological but half the state was burning. In February of this year, I thought I could blog on something substantial and theological and I sorta, kinda, almost managed it. In March of this year, I thought I could blog on something substantial and theological but Coronavirus has the world in a state of panic.
So: how are how doing? I know for a lot of people, looking after mental health can be the last thing on your mind. You might be thinking more about whether you can get toilet paper or potatoes. It didn’t really strike me that this was anything abnormal until I went grocery shopping first thing in the morning and the shelves were nearly empty and the car park was full. Usually, not a soul is around at that point in the morning.
Everywhere you look, there are empty cafes, cancelled gigs and events, and people panicking.
It’s pretty normal at a time like this, which seems a little like an apocalyptic film playing out in real life, to experience anxiety. So this is a friendly little reminder of a few home truths:
- Anxiety at times like this is normal. Don’t feel bad for feeling anxious. Acknowledge it. Don’t attempt to treat it with denial. I’ve spotted a fair bit of stuff on the internet where evangelical mega-ministries are saying things like “the virus can have no victory in the house of God.” They might be feeling like that is the word of God for them, but it’s okay if you follow your gut and your gut says stay home. It isn’t fear to stay home. It isn’t faith to turn up.
I read something a friend posted on her Facebook wall today. It was a quote that Martin Luther wrote in a letter to Rev. Dr. John Hess during the Black Death Plague. He said: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
It is a good idea to follow precautions. But get your information from reputable sources: ie. NOT social media.
- Practice self-compassion. Pandemic anxiety is okay. It is a normal reaction to an extremely abnormal situation. There are a number of ways to tell you might be suffering from a bit of anxiety. The Mayo Clinic groups them into Behavioural symptoms ( hypervigilance, irritability, or restlessness), Cognitive symptoms (lack of concentration, racing thoughts, or unwanted thoughts), Whole of body symptoms (fatigue, sweating, racing heart), and other common presentations (anxiety, excessive worry, fear, feeling of impending doom, insomnia, nausea, palpitations, or trembling).
In times like these, social connectedness is important, even if it has to be done via FaceTime, or Skype. Exercise is important, as it gives your body a way to release tension, modulate stress and release some endorphines happy hormones. Mindfulness is important. Put down the phone. Stop checking social media for the latest. Just let yourself fixate on that flower outside or the sound of rain falling on the roof. Tense and relax each of your muscles, one by one, working up from your left foot to your head and back down the right side (an exercise called progressive relaxation if you want to google it.)
I had a friend host a Facebook live meditation event, which was a beautiful way of connecting people and helping them focus on their breath even when we are all supposed to be socially isolating. Sometimes connection is easy, incidental and effortless. But sometimes we have to do it on purpose.
- Know who to call when it’s all getting a bit much. I’m somewhat of an anxiety pro. About a decade ago, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the time of diagnosis, it was unclear as to whether I’d had it for 8 or up to 15 years. Over the time that I’ve been living with this condition, becoming better and better at managing it, I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned what my anxiety tells are. I’ve learned not to feel shame if I have an episode or an anxious moment. I’ve learned that if I start to taste metal in my mouth, or if my heart rate feels like its sitting at a certain level, then I’m having an episode.But I’ve also learned who to put on my call list. My guy is one of them (even though we did have a giggle the other day because my PTSD episodes have become so uncommon that we both missed the tells and completely confused ourselves). My pseudo-mamma is another one. She makes a fabulous cup of tea, and has chickens outside that the kids love to play with. Hers is a safe place I can go and know she knows exactly how to handle a massive anxiety attack or PTS episode.
I also know the phone numbers of the help lines and medical services that can help. Now, I know that at this time, your local medical clinic or emergency room might be a bit of a loaded place to go. But there is Lifeline which you can find here, phone 13 11 14 in Australia or even text if if thats what you prefer. There is Beyond Blue which you can find online here or via phone on. 1300 22 4636. There is also Qlife, which is a dedicated helpline for LGBTQA+ people. You can find it online here (which also has a webchat) or phone 1800 184 527.
As always, if you find yourself feeling unsafe, 000 (or 911 if you live in the United States), or your countries emergency number is always there to call if you find yourself sick or at risk.
It’s a weird time. I remember 20 years ago (yeesh), we thought Y2K was going to be the end of the world. Then there was SARS, which turned out to be a lot less of an issue than first thought. Then there was the 9/11 terrorist attack and global measures to lock it all down. Then in 2012, there was a bit of mystic worry as the Mayan Calendar ran out on that date. People all over the place where speculating whether that meant anything beyond someone running out of parchment paper. 2012 also gifted us with all sorts of disaster movies.
Well. None of them saw 2020 coming. We will weather this. We will all be different for it. I hope we will be kinder. More compassionate. More able to reflect on the desperation of refugees and displaced people when we look back on how crazy we got over the prospect of having to get creative in the event of a toilet paper shortage.
So take some time to make sure you are okay today, and then try to find a way to make someone else’s day. A smile, a wave, a friendly word – it all makes a difference, not just to the recipient but also to the giver.