Hearing the word “normal” these days feels very overused. While I understand people are saying there are a lot of things that feel like they did in a Pre-Pandemic world, I personally feel like our world has changed, and a lot over the last 15 months. Every therapist I know is booking several weeks to months out, I’m getting multiple calls each week for people looking for therapy services and help. Many people are struggling with the impact of the Pandemic whether it be the loss of a loved one, job loss, financial stress, or relationship stress or loss. The only thing that I see is going back to normal, is that we can be around strangers for the first time in over a year. But most people do not and will not have the life they had, Pre-Pandemic.
Many professionals-doctors, nurses and other therapists have confirmed what I’m seeing in my own practice: anxiety is on the rise. While I don’t have the exact numbers of how many more people are suffering from anxiety, many people are struggling in our post-Pandemic world. Research on previous natural disasters showed that about 10% of people developed severe psychological problems such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders or posttraumatic stress disorders(PTSD), after a disaster (Galatzer-Levy, Huang & Bonanno, 2018). I think it’s safe to say that you or someone you know will suffer from anxiety on some level in our post-Pandemic world. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, one in every 3 US Citizens will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives (2016).
Anxiety is so tricky because for many people who struggle with it, often feel like they are a little bit anxious about a lot of things, then there are these “spikes” of anxiety that turn into full blown panic. Often people describe these panic attacks or severe anxiety as, “coming out of nowhere.” Which usually makes anxiety worse because they feel like they have “no reason to feel anxious,” so they start feeling anxious about being anxious.
When any kind of mental health issue is happening, I think it’s important to start with tracking symptoms. This does not have to be more in depth than making a note on your phone each day, but it should be enough information that you can see how long your symptoms are lasting, how often it’s happening and the intensity of the symptoms. Tracking your symptoms for 1-7 days may help you gain some perspective on what’s happening. It might surprise you to learn your symptoms are much more intense than you’ve realized, or maybe not happening as often as you thought. Either way, the information will be helpful to you and your therapist if you decide to go that route.
One of the things that makes anxiety even trickier is that it can be difficult to know when to seek help. While there is not an exact way to pinpoint when someone should get help, I think it’s safe to say that getting help sooner rather than later will be beneficial for you or someone you love. There are several reasons for this recommendation.
Deep pathway vs. shallow pathway
I’ve said this many times, the brain is like water, it goes the path of least resistance. Say for example, something bad happened in childhood, and you replay the memory of this event, even occasionally, the pathway for that memory is going to be deeper because it has had years to “erode” that pathway in your brain. Say for example, something bad happened yesterday. While you have a pathway for that memory as well, it has only had a few hours to “erode” that pathway in your brain. In the end, you have a pathway for both, one has had longer amount of time to create a “deeper” pathway in your brain and one had just a few hours to create a “shallower” pathway. The longer you let your anxiety go, the longer it has to erode deep pathways in your brain, thus the harder it becomes to create a new, healthier pathway in your brain.
Giving in to anxiety makes it worse
They symptoms of anxiety, rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, overthinking, energized but also fried, difficulty focusing, wanting to avoid certain situations and many more, are all signs of anxiety. When people try to make their anxiety feel better, they will usually “give in” to what is anxiety is telling it to do. For example, if someone is nervous about going into public, their anxiety might tell them to not go because it’s too scary, and if they decide not to go, they have just given anxiety exactly what it wanted. Thus, reinforcing the idea that, “that place is scary” and “I kept you safe.” It’s better if you go to the public, scary place, because it teaches your brain that it was wrong, and everything is fine. Many times, people need help in figuring out exactly when to give in to anxiety and when to face it head on.
Everyday worry vs. excessive worry
While it’s tricky to discern what is an everyday worry versus excessive worry, it’s important to figure out the difference because it is helpful in determining the level of intervention needed. Most people have worries everyday about making sure they’re not missing important meetings or appointments, how they’re going to handle themselves at a social event and whether they are equipped to manage a big decision. This worry usually tends to go away on its own, either right at the beginning or at some point during the event. Excessive worry is persistent and typically does not go away on its own. It’s more of a constant fear, that interrupts daily living, and causes people to feel very uncomfortable or embarrassed. Some of the fear could be irrational and unexplained when there is not actual threat. If you or someone you love is experiencing this type of fear, then it’s time to seek help for sure!
I hope this helps you figure out next steps for seeing help with a professional, or if you would be okay to work through anxiety on your own with a workbook or other book that could be helpful. I therapy is a gift you give yourself or some you love!
I’m starting a Anxiety Management Group for Adults August 9-October 11 (No Group on Labor Day, September 6). We will be covering topics to help you be the boss of your anxiety! Check out our website and social media for more information.
I love working with highly sensitive people. If you think you might need counseling or coaching, and especially If you’re highly sensitive, please feel free to contact me at 317.496.0456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to hear what is happening and help you find the right fit for counseling or life coaching. If you are looking for help with burn out, depression, anxiety, trauma or behavioral concerns, you can read more about how I can help at my website peacefamilycounseling.
Galatzer-Levy I., Huang S.H., Bonanno G.A. Trajectories of resilience and dysfunction following potential trauma: A review and statistical evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review. 2018;63:41–55. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]