Generalized Anxiety in the Face of Uncertainty

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, aka GAD

My symptoms are range from mild to moderate, and have become more manageable with therapy. After spending more than half of my life in a state of stress and panic, you would think this time of global pandemic would be crippling. Strangely enough, I’m not spiraling into a state of nerves, as I have done in the past. Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about why I am handling this time of social, political, and economic upheaval so well. I’ve come up with a few theories.

  1. None of this feels real: Our minds comes up with interesting coping mechanisms when dealing with the unexpected, and the “this is all a dream” defense is a common one. In the course of 2 weeks I went from a professional employee going to the office each week and planning a late-spring vacation, to a work-from-home-hermit, hoarding groceries and watching society collapse. Maybe it’s the swiftness in which this all came about, but none of this feels real. Instead, it feels like nothing outside my little bubble with my cat and my home office actually exists.
  2. Survival Mode: What a lot of people don’t know about anxiety, is that your mind and body do not always react to stress in real time. For example, if you are in a car accident you might be completely calm during the crash, filing out the report, and even at the hospital, only to have a full-blown panic attack once you get home. Over prolonged periods of stress, like an abusive relationship, you may appear completely put-together, only to fall apart once you decide to leave the relationship. My therapist calls this “survival mode”. Basically, the mind and body decides to put the panic on the back-burner until it can safely process the stress and trauma. This is why PTSD and anxiety can pop up years, or even decades after the traumatic events. So, maybe in 10 years I’ll suddenly find myself having a breakdown over toilet paper and hand sanitizer at the grocery store. Who knows?
  3. I have something to focus my worry on: Another strange trait of anxiety is worrying over nothing, or creating far-fetched scenarios to stress about. “What if I lose my job today?”, “What If I suddenly got cancer?”, What if I lost my cat?” Will pop into my mind and latch itself to my psyche for days or even weeks. A general sense of unease is part of my daily life, and the need to place it becomes an obsession. Without a cause for the stress, finding a solution is impossible. How do I create a battle plan for an unknown enemy? Right now, I do know what is causing stress. It has a name, and there are things I can do to fight it. Knowing the cause of your discomfort is the first step in overcoming it.
  4. Therapy: That’s all that I should have to say, but for those who haven’t been to therapy I’ll elaborate. Therapy has helped me identify attacks early on (before they become full episodes) and to utilize the best coping mechanisms for me. Everyone experiences anxiety differently, and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. A good therapist will help you create a personalized treatment program to help you manage your life on your own terms.
  5. I was prepared for what I can control: Most people who suffer from anxiety, like myself, have an interesting side effect: we are always prepared for the worst. We tend to have backup plans, and backup-backup plans, and extra food and first aide supplies on hand “just in case”. I’ve never been a hoarder, but I’ve always liked having a little extra groceries, money, and an extra re-fill of basic hygiene supplies stored away for a rainy day. It turns out that this little habit has been a blessing. I can’t control the state of the union, but I can control what goes on in my own apartment.
  6. I’ve been through worse: As a kid I had no control over my own life. When we lost the house and Mom lost her job, we were as about poor as poor could get. The very little savings we had were stolen by my mother’s abusive husband, my mother and her 5 kids still at home were left to beg for charity from our church, the state,and family and friends nearby. Those times were stressful and scary. They are likely the cause of my GAD in the first place. However, they did teach me to prepare myself for those situations in the future. In a twisted way, those experiences have helped me better cope for similar situations later.
  7. Support: Of course I have to end my list on a positive note, and I can’t think of a better way to end it than with friends and family. Even though we are all social distancing at the moment, we are still supporting one another from a distance. We are all going through this together, so none of us are completely alone in this struggle. Around the world people are coming together (figuratively) to look for solutions for the virus, and all the economic problems that have come out of it. Even if you don’t have friends and family you can turn to, there are many communities online that can offer the support you need during this time.

Don’t get me wrong. I am still ruminating over things I cannot control (I do still have generalized anxiety disorder after all), but I am currently coping better than I thought I would. I have had meltdowns and breakdowns in the past, and it would be completely unrealistic and naive to believe that it won’t happen again in the future. However, with therapy, preparation, experience, and support, I’m able to copy with my generalized anxiety during this time of uncertainty.

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