ANXIETY

In times like these...

Greg Eder

We are living in unusual times, times marked by the unknown, the ambiguous, the uncertain. These times reflect a myriad of feelings and emotions – anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, and many more. COVID-19 has a lot to answer for.

In times like these, we respond to what’s going on in so many different ways. Sometimes, our responses reflect old habitual patterns. Sometimes, we surprise ourselves by reacting in ways that we never have before, and never thought we would. Sometimes, we point the finger at others when things don’t go the way we want them to. Sometimes, when we feel powerless to make any difference. Sooner or later, we start to look for ways to get that power back.

But who is this ‘we’? If I’m really honest with myself, what I really mean when I say ‘we’, is ‘me’. Already, I’m projecting my feelings onto others. I should own these reactions as mine, and not include those who I’ve never spoken to. How can I talk for you, when I’ve never talked to you?!

So… in times like these, one of the ways I deal with my feelings of frustration is to project them onto another situation or more typically onto another person or persons. I might, for instance, blame those who made the decisions I now have to live by; I might blame those who didn’t make the decision I think they should have made; I might blame those who aren’t following the decisions that have been made. In fact, I’ll probably do all of these things!

One of the other things I do in times like these is try to get back control. For me, this can often start with a good dose of cleaning! It doesn’t really matter what I clean, but I like to clean something – usually where I work or where I live. Unfortunately, while it’d be nice if my cleaning actually did something (beyond leaving me with a clean office or apartment), the reality is it doesn’t usually do anything other than clean my working or living space.

One thing I have learned that helps is to focus on what I can control. Focusing on what I can control means ensuring my actions are directly linked to what I am worried about. If I am attempting to control my COVID-19 situation, cleaning my office or apartment won’t directly help my COVID-19 situation. Following the State’s recommended COVIDSafe guidelines do, however, recognise the ways I can directly control the likelihood of my contracting the virus.

Relatedly, I’ve also learned that once I’ve done all I can to focus on what I can control, the next best thing is to focus on what I can influence. Focussing on what I can influence requires an indirect link to the thing I am trying to control. An indirect link is a link that is connected to a direct link. My cleaning efforts, therefore, could be something that influences my COVID-19 situation. Keeping my living and working environments clean reduces the likelihood that the virus could survive should it somehow find its way there. Spending time worrying or complaining about things I have no control over, or I cannot influence, stops me from taking the action I need to take that will actually make a difference. That leaves me with two options:

  1. find a way to turn what I’m worrying or complaining about into action(s) that either indirectly influences or directly controls whatever it is I’m concerned about,

    or

  2. stop complaining.

    Otherwise, I’m just draining my energy and the energy of those who have to listen to me complaining.

If the above resonates with you, here are a few thoughts on how I try to shift my thinking:

  • Be proactive. Proactive people focus on what they can influence or control, and they know the difference between the things they can and cannot control or influence. In other words, I make sure I know what is and is not in my sphere of control and sphere of influence, and I don’t spend time trying to change things that aren’t in either sphere (at least I try not to).
  • Listen to my self-talk. I try to keep a track of the things I worry about. I do this by asking myself “have I done everything I can that will have either a direct or an indirect impact?”. Once I can answer this question with a “yes”, I actively stop myself dwelling on or ruminating about things by reminding myself “I’ve done, or I’m doing, all I can to help this situation. Stop rehashing it!”. I then consciously turn my thoughts to something else. Sometimes this known as ‘thought stopping’.
  • Listen to others. Make sure I have all the relevant information. If I’ve only got half the story or I’ve missed some important facts, I could easily waste my efforts by needlessly attempting to control or influence the wrong things in a situation.
  • Practice empathy. Trying to see a situation from everyone else’s perspective helps me ensure I get a full and complete understanding. It also means there’s a been a better chance that my actions are the right actions for anyone else involved, and what I do is more likely to keep everyone happy – we reach a win-win solution.
  • Accept responsibility. Taking ownership of my actions – good and bad – keeps me honest and proactive. Accepting credit for success is reassuring and encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing. Accepting my share of the blame when things go wrong, helps me reflect on what I should have done. More importantly, it increases the likelihood I’ll change the way I do things in the future.

Addressing my worries by engaging directly with the above tactics has had clear payoffs, but there have been some great indirect benefits as well. I am, for instance, a generally calm and even-tempered person. These times have, unfortunately, hampered my ability to consistently present the tempered calm demeanour I usually do. Engaging in the above tactics, especially ‘thought stopping’, helped me rise above my frustrations, keep my eye on the prize, and rediscover my more usual calm tempered demeanour.

Finally, a parting thought from American poet, Maya Angelou, who’s words capture the essence of coping in these times far more elegantly than I ever could:

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude”.

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