COVID 19 is a sustained stressor that can escalate anxiety. Anxiety is the most common type of mental illnesses in the US with over 40 million adults suffering with some form of this disorder. "It's hard to imagine we don't have a lot of our fellow Americans under incredible stress right now, either from getting sick or being afraid of being sick or losing their jobs," said Dr. Glen Stettin to Newsweek. Between mid-February and mid-March, use of anti-anxiety medications increased by 34.1 percent in the US according to a report released by Scripts Express. It found that use of anti-anxiety medications peaked on the week ending March 15, spiking by almost 18 percent.
Anxiety is rampted up creating more risk for those who experienced early trauma. Survivors from childhood learned to live with a jumpy underlying 'buzz' as part of eveyday life for a long time. This embedded sensation is intensified with COVID 19. So it's instructive to know that the brain on anxiety accelerates the amigdela forming a fight, fright or freeze response. That heightened anxiety can flood us, cause us to compulsively try to control things, or simply shut down. These responses are not always choices. Instead they become knee-jerk reactions as cortisol floods our system putting it on high alert making quick decisions to stay safe. It's a trigger effect tripped by a life of survival from trauma, even when there is no immediate danger. So it's important to know that in many cases, the anxiety that you feel is not your fault.
The impact of the cornonavirus struck home for me on March 11. KY's Governor Andy Beshear came on-line ordering social distancing and strongly suggesting to shelter in place. I had a work related meeting that day. A week later I received a call from the person with whom I met saying he had symptoms thinking it was allergies, but tested positive with COVID 19 the very next day. A week later I got a call from our health department. They were checking to see if I was OK. Gratefuly, I was. But my meeting was a wake up call to the camoflage and subtlety of this deadly disease.
Now, a month later, COVID 19 has us all in a stir in our state, country and world. This pandemic suddently threw us for a loop up-in-the-air, like a cosmic jig-saw-puzzel. Seeing parts and pieces floating, it's hard to grab-a-hold and get grounded again. We are disconnected. We feel dislocated. We long to land rightside up. So since I do research and struggle myself, it seemed good to suggest what science and experience states are best tips for such a time as this:
1. Maintain daily routine within a structure.
2. Go outside to gain a bigger sky perspective.
3. Begin a rhythm of sleep hygeine
4. Exercise everyday.
5. Maintain social support.
6. Refrain from substance abuse (including alcohol).
7. Begin or continue a spiritual practice.
8. Remain in contact with your counselor if you have one.
9. Ensure an adequate supply of medication; don't risk interruption.
10. Sit for 5-10 minutes of silence a day. Notice the rythm of your breath. Just breathe.
Summarily, COVID 19 is a sustained stressor that can escalate anxiety especially for those with long term trauma. That said, as the pandemic continues, more and more Americans are experiencing anxiety. This has led to an increased reliance on medications (GANNAMARTYSHEVA/GETTY). Helpful in the short term, this trend could turn around to bite us in the long run. Long term drug use can actually amp up anxiety in some circumstances. So since we are taking radical steps to safeguard our physical health, let us also purpose to do the same thing with our mental health.