That dreading feeling that so many people suffer from in silence, but that no one ever talks about.
I was never an anxious person, and I was confused when closed ones considered themselves “anxious”. I never really grasped what being anxious was, and it was difficult for me to understand the term, the feeling itself. Sure, I had experienced nervousness before a university exam, a job interview or a first date, but I knew it was just that – being nervous, not anxious.
At some point in life, I learned that I didn’t need to understand what anxiety was – I just needed to accept it and support whoever suffered from that lingering feeling, or state. Sometimes, that meant being more patient, not putting pressure on people or just not asking too many questions. I was navigating an unknown ocean which I never thought I would have to dive in.
But then, life happened and, with it, I experienced my first ever feelings of anxiety – or at least I thought they were. I wasn’t too worried, though – I told myself it was a normal reaction to every change that I was living in my life at the moment. I identified what was causing me this strange feeling of restlessness:
- Moving abroad (!!!)
- Moving abroad and having no house (!!!!!)
- Moving in with André for the first time (we had never lived together)
- Starting a new job
- The guilt of leaving my family behind (well, this is a whole nother topic)
This thought process was sufficient to make me chill a bit. “It’s positive anxiety, it’s for a good reason”, I told myself as I biked around Amsterdam, had picnics in Vondelpark and went on canal boat rides with my friends who were already visiting us. Yes, I was pretty entertained at the time, and soon enough we settled down and those strange feelings of anxiety disappeared.
Sure enough, a few months later COVID-19 hit and we went under lockdown. It was an unbelievably weird situation, that we thought was temporary. I still remember when my company sent everyone working from home, with the perspective of returning to the office in two weeks after everything settled.
Well, I don’t need to tell you what happened afterwards. Those innocent two weeks became long months, we were stuck at home, couldn’t travel, the economy crashed and I started seeing my friends losing jobs.
It is not secret that the pandemic affected us all, in some way or the other. The uncertainty, the loneliness, the tragic news were the perfect ingredients for an unstable mental health for many people. It also affected me, but, thankfully, I was able to have the resources to navigate these strange times and manage the anxiety that inevitably hit me.
The worst was the beginning. I’m a plan person, as in I like to have everything planned out, look forward to the future and hate when things get out of control. Suddenly, I saw all of the plans I was looking forward to just vanishing. The economy was unstable, the industry I work at was suffering like never before, and I didn’t know when I could ever see my family again. I felt like I lost control over my life, and was being taken by the currents instead of controlling those currents.
I remember speaking with a close person who has suffered from anxiety since she was a child, and I had to tell her: “I now understand how it feels, and I hadn’t even imagined how difficult it is”. I apologized for all the times when I wasn’t understanding enough – but it really is difficult to grasp if you haven’t felt it on your skin.
After the first month, I decided that I didn’t want to continue feeling like that, and that I needed to do something about it. It was not debilitating, but for sure it was annoying and desperating sometimes. I was barely sleeping – the late and early sun hours in the Netherlands were getting to my nerves and I just never felt tired. I was constantly thinking about endless possibilities and scenarios and I wanted to free myself from those thoughts and be able to enjoy the present moment and stay positive.
So, I started changing some things in my life. It’s an ongoing process – I’ve been testing out what works for me and what doesn’t. For example, I tried yoga at home but I hated it – it’s just too slow for me and I don’t like doing it by myself. But there are other things that have greatly helped me managing anxiety amidst the pandemic, and I wanted to share these with you since they might be helpful.
I’ve tried implementing meditation in my routine several times already, but I always ended up quitting. I guess I was giving up because I didn’t have a really strong motive for meditating. But now I have one: staying positive.
Thankfully, my company offers every employee a Headspace subscription, so I have been using the app to meditate. Something that they always say is that you need to have an intention for meditating – why are you dedicating some time of your day to meditate? And, if you’re able to include the people in your life in your meditation intention, it makes it even stronger.
My meditation journey is just beginning – to be completely fair, most of the time I get distracted or start falling asleep. It’s not always easy to keep that “blue sky” that is our mind safe from random thoughts, but the truth is that I’ve noticed meditation has helped me relativize things and simply stay more calm.
Talking to loved ones
I know this sounds pretty basic, but there’s nothing like talking to a friend when you’re feeling overwhelmed. For me particularly, I always felt better after spending some time talking with my friends or family, even if it was just on the phone.
During Spring, I would go on walks around the canals and speak with my loved ones on the phone. Keeping our problems to ourselves only makes them seem bigger than what they really are, and a loved one’s supportive or understanding words are the best medicine.
Being grateful is part of my positivity journey. I’ve noticed that being grateful can help uplift my mood and remind me I have a thousand reasons to be happy.
Every Sunday, I sit down and dedicate a few minutes to write down everything I’m grateful for that week. It’s usually the small things, but this work of self-reflection also reminds me of some things that might have happened during the week, and that were actually very good. After I finish writing those down, I usually feel more positive than I did before and I’m ready to embrace a new week.
Moving my body
Exercising regularly has been part of my life for 4 years now. When we were under lockdown, I got a bit lost – I had to come up with ideas for home workouts.
In the beginning of the lockdown, I was exercising for 20 minutes a day. I then decided to increase the duration of each workout, since I felt way better and had better sleep if I worked out longer. I also started combining my home workouts with walks outside, just to get some fresh air.
This is something that greatly helped me and that we often underestimate so much!
Cooking is therapeutic for me. During the lockdowns, I’ve dedicated a huge chunk of my spare time to learn new recipes, try new foods, experiment with new ingredients and just cook. This also gave me a purpose: every week, I would try a few new recipes. This process involved research, selection and execution, and everything about it was fun and enjoyable.
This is an example of how I turned something I already liked into a hobby that made me feel good. Maybe for other people it can be dancing, painting, knitting, playing an instrument, video gaming, and the list goes on. The trick here is finding something you actually enjoy doing, and doing more of it. Doing the things you love is also an act of self-love.
Being mindful about how I feel
Something that meditation has taught me is to be more mindful. Taking time to check-in with our body and our emotions can be very beneficial. It increases self-awareness and gives us the opportunity to change when something’s not right.
When I started doing this exercise, I would often realize that I was frowning, or my face expression was just pretty negative. This happened a lot when I was walking or biking outside, and the weather was bad. But it also happened at home, especially in the evenings when I was bored.
Realizing that my face expression was often negative allowed me to gradually start changing it. Every time I realize I’m doing it, I relax my face muscles and take a deep breath. When I’m feeling stronger, I also force myself to smile a bit – even if it’s just raising the corners of the mouth for 2 millimeters. The goal is to turn a negative-emotion face expression into a neutral or even positive one.
These are the 6 things that I have been working on lately, and that have greatly helped me manage the anxiety that has inevitably come with the pandemic. Of course it’s not a perfect journey – there are days when I don’t feel like meditating, cooking or even exercising and just want to stay on my couch watching Netflix – but that’s also part of the journey. I really believe that being gentle with ourselves and with others is the key during these hard times.
I hope this more personal post made you realize that you’re not alone if you’re feeling more anxious during this pandemic. I also hope that this helped you reflect on some things you can do to manage your emotions. If you would like to share any other things you’ve been doing to stay positive, make sure to write it in the comments!