Although there is light at the end of this tunnel we have traveled through for almost a full year, it is important that we take a moment and reflect on the impact that this experience has had on ourselves and our children. The truth is that this moment in time has ignited anxious tendencies in most of us, and for those who are already predisposed to anxiety, these symptoms have only strengthened in frequency and severity.
Prior to the pandemic, most of our anxious fears were centered on irrational thoughts and worries. We made assumptions about the future that held minimal validity. It was an easier process to talk ourselves out of the fear because when we refocused our energy on the reality of what was around us, we were able to identify that our concerns were unlikely, if not impossible. However, this past year has proven to us that the unthinkable can happen – that life can change in the blink of an eye; health can suddenly be compromised, social dynamics can shift and the normal routine of life can be altered without our permission or control.
As a result, our normal ways of coping with anxiety have altered, and what may have helped to minimize our anxious tendencies in the past, is no longer sufficient. So, many individuals who previously had relative control over their worries and fears, may now feel at a loss.
With minimal ability to control our surroundings, we focus our energy on that which we do have power over, in an attempt to minimize the presence of doubt and uncertainty.
What does that end up looking like?
For children and adults alike, this more severe anxious response can tend to mimic symptoms of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Behaviorally, we begin to become more rigid in how we structure our day, what we eat and how we organize our living space. We may begin to establish ritualistic tendencies – checking and doubling checking our surroundings before we leave the room, or engaging in a pattern of behaviors each night before bed. Cognitively, we may become consumed with specific fixations – intrusive thoughts about violence, death, self harm, sexuality. With an impaired ability to filter through the mind’s stream of consciousness, we become victim to these intensely overwhelming thoughts and images.
Although it can be easy to brush these occurrences aside, the reality is that their presence indicates internal distress. It is a signal that we are no longer able to adequately identify, process and defuse moments of dysregulation.
As an outsider looking in, it can be easy for us to expect that those suffering from these symptoms are able to simply stop. The reality however, is that it is much more detailed of a process. The presence of these thoughts and behaviors, although frustrating, are providing some semblance of structure and focus in an otherwise chaotic moment.
What Do We Do Now?
With the appropriate support, we begin to recognize that the strategies we have been utilizing are inadvertently working to increase, rather than control, our anxious tendencies.
The work begins in modifying the way we interpret situations and learning to reach alternative, more rational perspectives. We work to separate ourselves from our thoughts – gaining a greater understanding of their presence and our need to place value on them. Through this process, we become more aware of ourselves and our surroundings, gaining insight into our triggers and establishing more effective ways to process and manage these moments of instability.
The residual effects of what we endured over the past twelve months will not subside quickly. It is imperative that we begin to understand and appreciate the impact that it has had on our sense of security and stability as we work to heal and move forward.