My Anxiety Relapse During the Covid Pandemic; and Navigating out of the Mental Mess

My Anxiety Relapse During the Covid Pandemic; and Navigating out of the Mental Mess

Something interesting happened during all this pandemic lock down and “new normal” we’ve been going through these past months. My new full time job went to part time. Two weeks later came the lay-offs and our area went into “Stay at Home” orders, effectively closing my part time job as well. My partner on the other hand ended up working extra hours as an essential worker. I found myself isolated at home. Cut off from interaction with people and spending lots of time with my new BFF, Netflix. Anxiety began to creep back into my “new normal” as well.

The Gift of Not “People-ing”

The first few weeks it was a blur of news, binging shows, trying to look forward to when we “opened” back up. Staying safe at home, keeping away from the virus, and pulling farther back from society. After the initial panic of this worldwide pandemic settled in, it felt like we could breathe a little easier. We understood more about the risks and how to protect ourselves, and the days dragged on into weeks and months. This year is half over, spent in social distance.

I thought I was doing just fine. I enjoyed my “me time”. It had been a relief to not feel like I had to “people” all the time. Events have been cancelled, businesses closed. Family and friends opted to not hang out in person even if everyone was healthy at that moment. So it became normal to not see people, not interact, no more hugs or smiles except underneath our mandatory masks. At first for me, I welcomed the quiet. Gone was the pressure to hang out or make small talk when bumping into someone at the store.

I Thought I was Okay, Until I Realized I Wasn’t

Then we started to open up slowly. Instead of only take out we could sit in a restaurant. Parks took the caution tape down, nail salons opened up for socially distant pedicures. We could go out to bars even, for a short time before they closed down again. So I went to meet my cousin for some karaoke, one of my favorite things to do. 

I thought I was doing just fine. Then, I tried to get ready to leave my house. Tried to go “people” again for the first time in literally months. It took me 2 hours to get up the nerve to leave the house. Wanting to cancel, wishing for a migraine or something else to keep me at home and alone. I love seeing my friends and family, and I wasn’t scared of the virus. I was simply, irrationally, scared of going out to be around random people again. Months of welcome isolation and forced social distancing had taken it’s toll. I had fallen back into the non-healthy side of my anxiety I hadn’t visited in a decade.

Isolation Takes It’s Toll

Being isolated, whether by choice or due to mandated social distancing, emphasizes our inner monologue. We’ve all heard the saying, “You are the 5 people you spend the most time with”. But what about when you are the ONLY person you are spending time with? Our own self doubts and negative self talk are reverberated over and over. Part of me felt worthless during this time. I was forcibly stuck at home unable to make an income while my partner is working overtime. He was exhausted all the time, while I slept in and had nothing to do. I had all these ideas of all the amazing things I would get done with my new found time. I was motivated in my head to do it all. What actually happened day by day was different than what I had hoped to do.  

Non-Stop Stress and Introspection

I got lost in video after video about the virus, news, medical briefings, people commenting and giving their opinions. Seeing more and more unrest and anger, I felt more and more internal stress and unease. The unhealthy coping mechanisms of comfort food and mindless entertainment became a solace in this unknown world. It became apparent going back to “normal” was never going to happen. 

Instead we were forced to slow down, examine our surroundings and state of being. This higher level of scrutiny revealed chinks in our armor. Too much had come to the surface for so many of us during this time. We could choose to deal with it or ignore it. For me, it was realizing my anxiety and depression had never “gone away”. Instead I had just been busy enough in going through the motions in life. I was able to ignore or avoid those dark and twisty parts of my mind. Nothing else to do, no schedule to follow, no feeling of “purpose” to my day. It became harder to not fall into a depressive state. Instead of becoming healthier, it was easier to get fast food and do the Netflix and hibernate routine. Showers became less important, comfy pillows and cuddles with my dog became the daily norm. 

There are benefits to this lull we are experiencing as well. Like these beautifully highlighted by Trista here in Enjoying the Slower Pace of Life.

Remembering Anxiety Days Past

When it came time to go back out in the world after Covid lockdown, I had regressed. I was at a point in my anxiety that resembled the me of 15 years ago. Back when I was living in an austere environment, on high alert 24 hours a day. My “room” had become a cave of solace, and in that situation it had almost had to be. There as no where else to go, no one to talk to outside of our unit. Isolation became part of survival. Then I came back home to the US. Back to a world that was safe to go for a walk outside or to talk to a stranger at the store. Internally however, I had become too comfortable in the false security of isolation.

After over a year, I was still spending my time inside of my home talking to only those I had been overseas with. I avoided social interaction, grocery shopped late at night. We were all in similar unhealthy situations. Not really dealing with the mental mess, and not dealing with life outside. My migraines were getting worse, multiple times a month which made it hard to even look for a job. I went to the VA for help, and it was the best thing I had ever done for myself. Instead of giving me more meds, they referred me to mental health.

Seeking Help, We Don’t Heal Alone

Walking into that counselors office, being able to just say what my thoughts were without being judged. It was a huge weight to lift off of my shoulders. I realized my concerns and fears were valid, but they didn’t need to define me. I was diagnosed for the first time with anxiety and depression, along with PTSD and insomnia. Before all this, all I had been seen for was medical issues – migraines, broken bones, etc.  – things that I HAD to seek treatment for to be able to do my job. I hadn’t really thought about my mental health.

Fast forward to a decade of therapy and healthy coping techniques. I had a much better quality of life and outlook on the world. So blessed to have a support system. I had both my inner circle and veteran community. I learned to manage my weaknesses and elevate my strengths. Covid didn’t cause my anxiety or depression, it just reminded me that taking care of my mental health was a life long journey, not a miracle pill. I had become complacent in my own self care and self awareness. This hugely stressful and uncertain time, as hard as it has been on our home and so many others, shined a light on something I needed to do better at managing within myself. 

Navigating and Overcoming the Mental Mess

I’m still working on me, and always will be. Our journey to our best selves is a moving goalpost, as we increase in our ability and understanding we level up and continue to strive for the next challenge. Specifically dealing with the fallout of Covid, things may have changed in some ways, but how we deal with our own anxieties and unease remains the same. Fear is the main factor of anxiety, we fear others judgement, we fear the “what ifs”, we fear the unknown. 

Today, I use some simple therapy techniques from my VA counselor to combat and control my anxiety.  The depression is a bit harder to handle on my own.  At times I have needed to get more in depth help, diving into past abuse and traumas is hard no matter how strong you are. I encourage you to seek help when you need it, and even when you don’t think you NEED it.  We can all use a little support and gentle direction to better see ourselves and give ourselves the grace to heal.

Dealing with Anxiety thru Analysis

Anxiety is nice enough to give me some warning signs if I am tuned into myself enough to notice. My chest feels tight, I get flushed across my face and shoulders, and I feel like I just want to lay down. When I start to get those feelings, many times I am simply walking through the store or getting ready to give my order to the cashier – nothing super stressful or even threatening. It doesn’t happen all the time, or even half the time. It is very random, sometimes driving in the car alone and it starts to well up. 

Rather than take a pill of some sort, of which I was prescribed many before the VA started to accept alternative methods like CBT and frequency therapy, I have found that breathing techniques really help. Especially when I know I’m in a situation where my fear is all in my head and not an actual threat. 

Like doing a root cause analysis on a business issue, I try to find what is actually causing my episode and what I can do to alleviate that stressor.  Breathing calmly, focusing on the inhale and exhale – in a way gives your brain a moment to stop and almost re-set. Look at the situation from outside of your immediate fear, breathe and deconstruct you feelings one by one. 

Taking the Steps, Knowing Our Worth

This helps me navigate through my thoughts in a way that I can see them for what they are, not what they make me feel. Many times I am unprepared, rushed because I procrastinated or took on too much. Other times I am just really feeling like I am insignificant, and that someone will confirm my lack of worth if I go out and try to interact. If it is something I can control, like time management I try to improve that area. If it is fear of being around people, I force myself to go out and interact, because I know I am worth it, even if I don’t always feel I am.

5 Simple Tips to Help Manage Social Anxiety After Leaving Lockdown from Healthline.com

The above practices have helped me the last month or so that I have really been trying to improve my Covid-relapse, but here are some other suggestions from Healthline’s article:

1. Ease back into it: Start by connecting with those in your closest inner circle.

2. Visualize situations in your head: Prepare for upcoming social events by role-playing specific worries or concerns with someone you trust, on paper or in your head.

3. Allow yourself to be scared: Share your feelings of panic and fear over social plans with those who are closest to you.

4. Practice Self-Care: Prioritizing your physical health, learning breathing exercises, developing self-reflective practices like therapy and journaling, and talking to friends and family about your worries are all practical parts of anxiety management.

5. Get Professional Help: If you’ve tried all you can to assimilate back into some form of socializing but anxiety and panic are interfering with your ability to do so, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional.

Search the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for a licensed mental health professional who specializes in anxiety and related disorders.

Find the method that works for you, and crush anxiety!

Jeanne Hutchinson

Jeanne moved to Loveland in 5th grade from Michigan and graduated from Loveland High before joining the ARMY as a medic. Colorado has always been “home”, so she was excited to return in 2016 after almost 20 years as a nomad. After the military she was blessed with a job that allowed her to travel the world - seeing 26 countries in just a few years. Having that world perspective really solidified for her how blessed we are and to always strive to see the positive aspects not just of life, but also in the hearts of everyone around us. Equipped with not only the gritty real life experiences of the military, she is has a degree in Psychology and is a Certified Financial Educator who has worked in corporate as well as entrepreneurial roles. We are all connected and deserving of love and success. Jeanne has made it part of her mission in life to spread joy, help others navigate the challenges of life, and edify other women to believe in themselves and create the life they dream of.

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