How I manage my anxiety during the C-19 uncertainty

We are in unprecedented times, and honestly, the unpredictability is nerve-wracking especially if you are already prone to anxiety and other mental health issues.

When routine, predictability and access to our community had been our safety net all these times, it is then unsurprising that we are left feeling helpless over its sudden and indefinite loss. Pair that with the general fear, paranoia and collective frustration that Malaysia is facing, well, it’s just a terrible combo to be in.

As Malaysians, we kinda expected that the Restricted Movement Order (RMO) was going to be extended, yet it seems like most of us, myself included, were still holding on to the evergreen ‘expect the worst, but hope for the best’ mindset.

Knowing that the RMO is extended till April 14 has added an extra layer of gravity to this situation – made more prominent yesterday when there were patrolling vehicles around my neighborhood, routinely blaring rather scary warnings to residents to stay indoors or risk being charged for disobeying the RMO.

I started out the RMO relatively positive and encouraged by the extra time I now had from not commuting, but one week later, I am more overcome with dread and loss over what the entire globe is facing. I am anxious for what this means for us, and the world at large when and if this all subsides.

Personally, I am also transitioning out of my current professional role at the moment, so I am even more anxious for my ongoing job search – I feel like I am in an added time crunch to officially secure my next job before my potential employer realizes that they might not be able to hire anymore due to a potential recession.

When I discuss and sense-check with my friends nowadays, I have come to notice something – we tend to make light or make small our fear and concerns, when in fact they are quite valid.

“Other people have it much worse, I feel bad for feeling this way”.

Perhaps it is the stories and imagery we consume every day: of people dying, getting infected, losing their jobs, scrounging for money in the middle of a pandemic, not to mention, the healthcare workers being burnt out and over-worked.

It reminds me of that Kourtney Kardashian meme, that unsurprisingly has made a comeback. If you don’t know, it’s the one where Kim lost her diamond earrings after jumping into the ocean, then later cried about it. Kourtney replied,

My apologies if I am remembering this reference wrong

It’s true, the sacrifice and experience of our front liners is something I would not dare compare my cozy RMO experience too.

But I don’t think we should discount our anxiety and fear that easily either.

Yes, I do have it much much easier, being cooped up in my home compared to a healthcare worker who has been, is still and will be working non-stop till this over. I have so much respect for the community organizers and essential workers who are still out there, supporting the rest of us at risk of C-19 everyday. And yes, it is true, I still get to continue doing my job, virtually and be assured of my shelter and paycheck.

It doesn’t make my anxiety any less though. I am still scared and frustrated over this continued mess that is Covid-19.

And so I came to a conclusion: My respect for all our essential workers and the grief I feel for humanity does not take away my feelings of anxiety. It’s valid for me to experience these feelings, given the current circumstance. Recognizing my anxiety properly is important, as it will be the first step towards managing it!

Admittedly, I am someone with a history of experiencing anxiety and I have worked with three psychologists in the past to help me manage it. Now, more than ever, I am thankful for it because therapy has equipped me with helpful tools and strategies, which I hope would be useful for you too!

Here is what I have been doing to manage my anxiety during the coronavirus uncertainty:

Working with what is within my control

I feel helpless sometimes when I see the infection toll increase or when a doctor expresses their frustration on social media. I feel like such a pleb just loitering around my house.

But honestly, that is the only thing within our control, and it is a necessary commitment that we are all making to the collective health of Malaysians. Even if RMO is frustrating, it does not make me powerless though.

There are so many community initiatives right now that require donations, resources or manpower – so I do what I can in my capacity. I, unfortunately, don’t have excess money to donate, so I focus on signal-boosting important causes or suggesting these opportunities to my peers who are capable of doing more.

Reframing from ‘I have to’ to ‘I get to’

I saw this on someone’s instastory and it was super helpful! This suggestion was given in reaction to the mass of people who were complaining about how frustrated or bored they were at home. This tip basically suggests that instead of focusing on the loss/burden you now have, you can reframe your perspective instead to what you have gained.

Eg. Instead of ‘I have to spend time with my family now’, reframe it to ‘I get to spend time with my family now’.

I feel like I have been doing this unconsciously since Day 1 of RMO, with my self-talk primarily being, ‘I get to spend more time with my cat, Ram’ or ‘I get to spend time for all the projects I used to be too tired for’ (in fact, this website is a result of the RMO). It helped me cope so much.

Note: This tip would not apply to all situations though. For example, if someone had lost their job because of C-19, it would be very out-of-touch to suggest they reframe from ‘I have to find a job’ to ‘I get to find a new opportunity’.

Being grateful

This sounds like the most cliche thing, but this is research-proven in every way, and I admit shamelessly that this is what helps me balance the perceived guilt I have for my current comfortable circumstance.

I already had an existing Gratitude Journal which is part of my morning routine, but I have become more intentional with my entries since RMO started.

I make it a point to note how grateful I am every day that I get to wake up in my home, which is safe and comfortable, alongside my partner and my cat. I am grateful that I still have work to focus on, good wifi that allows me to connect with my community and sufficient money to help me through for the time being. Not to mention, to all frontliners out there who are working tirelessly for all of us.

Adapting my plans

This is a continuation of the first point of working within your locus of control. Though my routine has been disrupted by the RMO, I can still control the things that are my priority – my work and my community.

I am very intentional now to list out my daily tasks, once in the morning for my professional work and then in the evening for my at-home tasks, such as journalling, writing for my blog, cleaning up after my cat, etc.

Also, from being someone who just goes with the flow for friendly catch-ups, I now realize that is a luxury I cannot afford. I have reached out personally to others and vice versa, to ensure that there is a schedule of virtual hang-out sesh that I can look forward too in my calander! My Zoom has a recurring meeting slot every lunch hour until April 14.

Thank you for reading this very long post! I hope that you are doing well over there, or at least, as okay as you can be, given the circumstances.

Here are some extra resources if you would like to continue reading up on the matter:

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