A man wears a face mask as he waits outside a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Sunday, September 27, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world.  (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes photo)

Column: Overcoming worry by focusing on the now

Opening Our Eyes by Nan Dickie

Back in mid-March of this year, we suddenly had cause to worry.

Our minds began to dwell on troublesome thoughts about COVID-19. We became concerned about where it may lead us, perhaps in a very bad direction.

Worrying is a way for our brains to handle problems in order to keep us safe.

Worry refers to the negative thoughts, emotions and actions that occur in a repetitive, uncontrollable manner. By worrying, we are trying to avoid or solve anticipated potential threats and potential consequences.

As we discovered what the word “pandemic” implied a short time later, for many of us that worry morphed into stress. Stress activates our brains and bodies to deal with a threat, and COVID-19 is threatening – for many people it is life-threatening.

The causes of stress are external. We usually know what we are stressed about – right now, the pandemic. Symptoms of stress usually subside once the threat is over. The pandemic is far from over, so we continue to experience stress.

Stress due to the pandemic has become chronic for many people – deeply and constantly experienced.

As the months passed, for many people that stress turned into anxiety, which is our reaction to stress. It is usually characterized by a persistent feeling of apprehension or dread in situations that may or may not be actually threatening.

COVID-19 threatens each of us. Unlike stress, anxiety persists even after a concern has passed. The pandemic won’t be over soon. In severe cases, anxiety can escalate into an anxiety disorder, a serious mental health issue.

Read more: Column: Distancing, not isolating, and handling our fears

Read more: Column: Making wise decisions in uncertain times

Given the tenacity of the virus, what can we do about the anxiety we may now experience?

Overcoming feelings of anxiety takes conscious effort.

We need to stay connected with those who are important to us, as difficult as that is now. Connecting with others, and giving mutual support and care, are of paramount importance now.

When we are anxious, we may find ourselves ruminating on our uncertain future. If we do, it is important to bring ourselves back to the present moment, to what we now need to focus on. This helps calm both the body and the mind.

We need to work with what is here with us now, as unpleasant as it is. If we choose to channel our nervous energy into productive thoughts and activities, we will find satisfaction in the midst of this difficult time. We find we have control over some elements of our lives.

If we can view the pandemic as a challenge, if we replace “What if?” with “What now?” we are actively caring for ourselves and others.

All of these strategies are well-worth pursuing, and may lessen the heavy stress and anxiety we live with at this time.

Nan Dickie is a Salmon Arm writer and speaker who facilitated a depression support group in that community for seven years.

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