I turned 50 years old last year. Leading up to the milestone birthday, I found myself getting angrier and angrier by the day. Just about everything made me mad. To rescue me from divorce, I agreed with my spouse to see a therapist. Turns out I was anxious. Very anxious.
The therapy proved helpful and I learned a great deal about anxiety. I’m reminded about what the therapist and I discussed as I hunker down and prepare to ride out the COVID-19 crisis, along with the rest of my friends, colleagues and co-workers, who make up the meeting industry—a vital aspect our work, our community and our economy.
One of my biggest challenges was learning to breathe. Breathing is a blessing. I know, we’re all breathing all the time, but to focus on it takes skill. At least for me. It also helps. Tremendously. It gives me time to think, reflect and contemplate how threatening my situation is. Just how dangerous is it standing in the checkout line at Harris Teeter? How threatening is turning 50 years old?
Breathing lets me focus and look for positive elements, things to be grateful for. It’s also healthier. It helps slow my pulse, reduce my blood pressure and gain a different perspective. Once or twice, I have erupted in laughter when I realized how irrational my anger had been.
I’m not an emotional or medical specialist, but in a nutshell, anxiety is a life-saving predisposition that’s part of our ingrained fight-or-flight instinct. Without it, we humans might not have survived long enough to reach today.
In the wild, a zebra munching on grass in the African plain, is calm and anxiety-free. Until he senses the nearby lion, crouched and ready to pounce. Then the zebra’s anxiety level spikes and off he darts, his flight response robotically engaging. When he evades the threat, when the lion gives up the chase, the zebra goes back to his vegetarian meal and his anxiety level returns to zero, his tail unconsciously swatting at harmless flies.
Unlike wild animals, human anxiety levels don’t always work that fittingly. Sometimes when we perceive a threat, be it legit or not, our anxiousness grows. The complexity of our lives—work, family, bills, health, traffic congestion—can trigger responses that make mundane or routine things feel threatening and propel our angst soaring.
Act as if you’re already infected
With the novel coronavirus, it certainly feels like we’re being threatened, right? You might expect some anxiety. Co-mingle that with a rush on toilet paper, Purell and frozen foods and you might feel like a zebra being hunted by a lion. However, experts say don’t panic, stay calm, act as if you’re already infected.
We still have some control. Following COVID-19 protocols is important. By doing so, we actually reduce the threat. Less threat equals less anxiety. Cut back on media. Leaving CNN on while reading The Washington Post while trolling Facebook hurts in at least two ways: reduces focus and increases anxiety. Stick with limited resources. I recommend the CDC for coronavirus news/updates and one or two local media outlets, to keep abreast of updates in your community. If you need industry-related updates, check out MPI’s page dedicated to novel coronavirus news and resources.
Help fight off the feeling of isolation by staying in touch with friends and family, be it via Facetime, Google Hangout or a simple phone call. I rang my cousin, Ian, who lives in a Boston suburb, and felt relief just knowing someone else shares some of the same worries, even if he is more than 900 miles away. But seeing someone else’s face can make an immense difference. And not just for you.
Don’t forget to move. We’re prone to sit, especially at home or at a desk. Get the blood flowing and increase those endorphins. Try not to think of this as isolation, but as “me” time or a chance to look for new opportunities or tackle chores. This coronavirus might be with us for a bit, so keep the creative juices flowing.
You have a large community to lean on and we’re all experiencing some frustration, challenges and tribulations, but in an arena with lots of patience, inspiration and knowledge. Don’t let it go to waste. Anxiety can be unhealthy, so don’t let it control you. We’ll get through this.
In the meantime, remember to breathe.