When the boogeyman is real
This blog post is timely, but also timeless. It’s a challenge I face with every client from time-to-time, but particularly those with anxiety. It’s when I am trying to encourage interruption of established patterns or introducing the concept of cognitive distortions and the universe validates their worldview. (Crap.) So how do we address anxiety when the boogeyman is real?
The individual afraid of cars… gets hit in a crosswalk.
The teen with social anxiety goes to that party… where the other kids bully them.
The middle-aged gentleman with paranoid beliefs about the government gets a bogus speeding ticket.
The young man with OCD becomes plagued by news of a worldwide pandemic and all of Oregon shuts down in response.
It really does happen all the time, though. But here’s the thing- if you’re trying not to see red cars, you will only see red cars. So let’s…
Adjust your view
What is your current exposure to news, social media, and negative influences? You don’t have to be logged into Facebook at all times. Music in the car is an option, versus NPR. Turn off the news. Set boundaries with the people in your life with more panicky, paranoid, or hysterical mindsets.
If your mind is entirely on COVID-19, you’re going to miss out on a lot of beautiful things happening around your. If you find you brain going to worst possible scenario situations- ground yourself in the moment with the five senses.
What are 5 things you can see right now? 4 things you can touch? 3 things you can hear? 2 things you can smell? 1 thing you can taste? The more you bring your attention to the present the less your brain will be in the future.
Along with mindfulness and staying present is keeping things objective. Stick to facts from credible sources. Fear and anxiety grow with misinformation and speculation. It’s a lot easier to tackle a current situation than a future unknown. If you are wondering if your perspective is accurate, ask a trusted person. A good way of dealing with anxiety when the boogeyman is real is to remove the mask and look at what’s underneath.
Remember your resources
This isn’t talking about toilet paper. This is about remembering your strengths, the people you have to support you, and things you already do to keep yourself well. (Like therapy- ask your provider about telehealth!) This is a way of reminding yourself that there are things within your power and control.
Create a self-care toolkit. Keep a routine. Come together with people who are in the same or similar boat as you. Get creative in your approaches to these challenges.
Use extra days off as an excuse for dog snuggles and staying in your jammies all day. Do things with your kids that you don’t normally have time for. Have sex. Get outside.
Joy is there. You may have to create it. Don’t let the boogeyman zap it from your life.
Help someone else
Speaking of remembering things that are within your control, helping others is an excellent distraction for anxiety. Rather than stockpiling your own home, ask yourself what the vulnerable people around you may need. Check in with people who are dealing with financial strain. It’s always good to take a meal to new parents or the elderly.
At times of heightened anxiety there’s also certain professions that get the brunt of everyone’s bad day. Cashiers in grocery stores, medical professionals, and the poor souls answering the phone after you’ve been on hold for 45 minutes could use some kindness. Be a breath of fresh air. Be kind. Say “thank you”.
Wash your hands