During a family Zoom meeting last week, my son asked us a question his boss had posed in another Zoom meeting. The question was, “What new thing have you learned during the pandemic?” My son, who is clever as well as handsome, answered, “I built a table from scratch.” Another person said, “I learned to crack an egg with one hand.” Others took up baking, knitting, writing in a journal, etc. These are all activities that indicate good mental health – no anxiety, depression, or drug/alcohol misuse indicators during the pandemic.
But we are facing challenges in 2020. And no one in Jonathan’s company is going to admit to drinking in the morning, staring into the void, or waking at 3 am with a panic attack. We know that anxiety disorders, depression, suicide, relapse, loneliness, drug and alcohol dependence, and mental health disorders are on the rise. So, chances are, a few of those colleagues are struggling.
…studies investigating COVID-19 patients found a high level of post-traumatic stress symptoms (96.2%) and significantly higher level of depressive symptoms… Patients with preexisting psychiatric disorders reported worsening of psychiatric symptoms. Studies investigating health care workers found increased depression/depressive symptoms, anxiety, psychological distress and poor sleep quality. Studies of the general public revealed lower psychological well-being and higher scores of anxiety and depression compared to before COVID-19…
Anxiety 2020 – What have we learned during the pandemic?
What have we learned in 2020? And what are we learning as we ride a wave of uncertainty and physical distance? I’ve been thinking about how I would answer my son’s question. And I would say, “I learned that if I am ever incarcerated, lost on a mountain, trapped in a mine cave-in, or kidnapped (some scenarios more likely than others), I’d be a survivor. In fact, I feel solid in my sobriety and my solitude.
There have been a few instances where I’ve over reacted. I was going to mail a birthday package last week on Grand Rapid’s 28th Street. A 15-minute car ride that now feels like a “road trip” requiring snacks, sanitation supplies, and hydration. Some guy was riding my bumper and I theatrically screeched to the side of the highway and gestured for him to pass as if serving the road to him with both hands. A wave of fury. And then, uncharacteristically, I wanted to cry. It felt like mailing a package was just too hard. I thought, I want to go home. I may have even said it aloud.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Hold up. Maybe I spoke too soon. I am solid in my recovery and solitude. But I do think the months of captivity and barrage of bad news has impacted my otherwise stoic disposition. Occasional anxiety is normal, but anxiety disorders impact relationships, jobs, and everyday life. So, what are the signs my occasional road rage has become a problem?
The Signs of a Budding Problem
According to the NIH, the signs of a generalized anxiety disorder are:
- Restlessness or feeling on-edge or “wound up”
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
- Irritability (like when one barrels onto the shoulder in a rage and gestures ironically to fellow drivers)
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of worry that won’t go away
- Trouble sleeping
According to the NIH, the signs of panic attacks are:
- Heart palpitations and pounding, accelerated heartbeat
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath, and the feeling of smothering, or choking
- Feelings of impending doom
- Feelings of being out of control
What Should I Do?
Phobia disorders, also included in the anxiety lineup, are fear of, or aversion to, specific objects or situations. During a pandemic, I think we can all say we have an aversion to and fear of COVID-19 and its accouterments. Again, the occasional feelings of fear, doom or even an excessive bout of anger or tearfulness is normal during this time. But if you are using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate a continuous problem, if anxiety is negatively impacting your life, if COVID-19 is foremost in your mind, or if you experience the symptoms listed above long-term, it is time to speak to a professional about the problem
Since the arrival of COVID-19, telehealth claims have increased by 8,000% over last year. With the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies, you can speak to a medical doctor, psychologist, or therapist without leaving home. You can enroll in a host of helping organizations with online communities. .And you can get the treatment you need for drug or alcohol misuse right now, with virtual addiction treatment programs. You are not alone, trapped or incarcerated. Help is as close as your phone or laptop computer. Join this brave new world.