COVID19: Triggers and Isolation
Due to the current COVID19 health pandemic and having to self-isolate and implement social distancing, many of us are feeling triggered by past wounds or have out of control anxiety about “What If” and “What Now”. Social Media at its best is not helpful when we think about panic and anxiety and how all the worse case scenarios are constantly in our faces and on our minds.
If you have been in previously abusive relationships or are currently in one, isolation can be the death of you, metaphorically speaking or not. Do you feel like screaming and crying most days – like you are losing your mind? Like you have these huge waves of panic and your heart is going to jump out of your chest? Well you are not alone. For some of us our anxiety is through the roof, and if you don’t like to medicate yourself you will need to other ways to help release the anxiety.
For some people that is hard to do, especially if you are the one running the show: single mom, director of a program, doctor, lead advocate; the one in the family who keeps everyone else together, a teen who lives in an abusive household, or has an emotionally or physically abusive partner who only thinks of themselves.
For me, I’m the single mom of a teenager and a toddler and the peacekeeper for the family. I also have many health issues that keep me busy (as well as triggered). Such as, what if I catch the virus? Then what will I do with the kids, what will I do for work, will I survive due to my health issues; as well as what will happen to the kids, who will care for them and will they be safe. The “What Ifs” are starting to kick in!
Anxiety is a doorway for us to look inside and assess our whole-body health. It allows us to dig deep and address issues that we like to keep buried. Anxiety can be a gift to help you heal and grow! Yes, inner work can be hard work but rewarding at the same time. We rarely have the time to focus on trauma that we experience, let alone surviving the world. But we are in the perfect situation to spend some quality time with ourselves and breathe.
We take breathing for granted. I had to do a quiet moment of reflection yesterday morning with some coffee before I lost it. I addressed all my fears and things that were bothering me and put them down on the earth for a moment to assess how they were affecting me in the body (mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually). When I set them down, I could reflect on how much time I was spending dwelling on them and how important they were to my current situation. I also looked at how my body was reacting to each thing. I realized that I wasn’t breathing. I was holding my breath most of the day. After I put them down and let go for a moment and breathed, I felt so much better. We don’t need to do large complex things to feel better.
Not all the anxiety could be yours. In pandemic events we tend to pick up collective stressors like grief, sadness, and anxiety. It makes the stress seem much more manageable when you think of it in those terms. It could also be an inter-generational collective feeling. Many of our trauma memories stem from historical trauma that many of our Native Ancestors went through, i.e. smallpox.
Anxiety also carries social and cultural stigmas such as shame and guilt for having feelings outside the social or cultural norm. The ideas around what’s “normal” creates negative thoughts of “What’s wrong with me?” when you are working with your anxiety. Trying to squeeze yourself in to the box of what society views as acceptable behavior can limit your ability to explore your inner depths and heal.
How to look your Anxiety in the face:
- Talking a walk outdoors
- Drawing or painting what’s bothering you
- Making a list
- Praying and using tobacco
- Practicing yoga
- Setting your intentions for the day
- Practicing mindfulness
- Write down your dreams
- Limit your social media to one hour a day or take a thirty-day challenge
- Write a gratitude list
- Work on focused breathing
- Watch online therapy video on YouTube or talk to your therapist on the phone
- Talk to a good friend
- Allow yourself to feel what is happening in your body and cry if you need to
I am going to share an exercise with you all that can help to identify and work with your anxiety. I found a book on anxiety called The Wisdom of Anxiety by Cheryl Paul and it has all these wonderful activities that help you work with and identify your anxiety. I will share one each week with you during this shutdown that will help you center yourself.
Become Curious by Noticing and Naming (Cheryl Paul, The Wisdom of Anxiety)
Begin by taking about 15 mins to 20 mins to write down what anxiety feels like and how it manifests for you. Be curious! Remind yourself that anxiety is not your enemy but your messenger and begin to inquire what messages it wants to deliver.
The first step toward breaking free from anxiety is to notice when it appears, and then name how it shows up for you. To encourage the mindset of curiosity, ask yourself questions like: Where do I feel anxiety in my body? What thoughts or themes are connected to my anxiety now and in the past? What is my first memory of anxiety? How was my sensitivity and then my anxiety handled by my caregivers as a young person?
Every time an anxious thought or feeling arises name it out loud by saying, “Anxiety. That’s an intrusive thought.” If you can, make notes throughout the day when you notice your anxiety. The notes section of your phone works well to this end, but keeping a handwritten journal is even better.
**Remember while you are working through these exercises: if you are not in a safe space, writing things down might not be the safest and you may need another form of recording. Maybe safety plan with an advocate first.