By Pam Dewey • anxiety, anxiety in the pandemic, pandemic anxiety, anxiety disorders, coping with anxiety, dealing with pandemic anxiety, managing anxiety • November 18, 2021
The pandemic has been hard on nearly everyone’s mental health. Many people who didn’t have mental health issues before the pandemic are now struggling with depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation. The Child Mind Institute states, “About 70% of both children and adults reported some degree of mental discomfort, resulting in loneliness, irritability or fidgetiness” during the pandemic.
But what about people who had mental health issues before? In this blog, we meet two women, Katie and Amanda, who have anxiety disorders. According to the Mayo Clinic, “people with anxiety disorders have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.”
Below, Katie and Amanda answer questions about how they’ve dealt with their anxiety during the pandemic.
When were you diagnosed with anxiety?
Katie is 21 years old. During her sophomore year of high school, she started receiving therapy for her anxiety at Fraser. She was being bullied at school and felt depressed and anxious.
“I wanted to get support and talk to someone,” says Katie. “Therapy was a great place to talk to someone about the stress I was facing.”
Amanda is 40 years old. She was diagnosed with anxiety when she was 22 years old, after a visit to Mall of America ended badly.
“I was fine on the first level, fine on the second level fine, but by the third level, I started to feel like, ‘I couldn’t breathe.’ On the fourth level, I ran to the bathroom, felt like I couldn’t breathe, and was sweating so badly. I thought I was having a heart attack,” Amanda remembers.
When Amanda described this to her doctor, the doctor said it sounded like a panic attack. Amanda was diagnosed with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder where you fear certain situations because you worry you won’t be able to escape.
Amanda’s anxiety is often triggered by attending events with many people, like fairs, concerts and sporting events. However, even simple tasks like getting her kids up, feeding them breakfast and getting them dressed can trigger her anxiety.
A year ago, she started seeing a Fraser therapist for her anxiety. Her son, who is autistic, developmentally delayed and has ADHD, also attends Fraser therapy.
What has been hard for your anxiety during the pandemic?
Katie said she struggled at the beginning of the pandemic because she lost her first job, one she really liked.
However, a few weeks ago, Katie went back to work. She says that was tough, too.
“I felt a lot of fear because I hadn’t been in that setting for a while,” says Katie. “I felt like my body was rejecting certain situations.”
For Amanda, the constantly changing rules of pandemic precautions have been particularly difficult for her anxiety. She also struggles with not knowing if her kids will be coming home from school due to a COVID-19 exposure or high positivity rates.
Two of her kids have disabilities. “Kids with disabilities don’t always understand what is going with the pandemic,” says Amanda. “So I’ve explained it to my kids over and over again, and then all that negativity gets in my brain, too. It’s hard to be reminded all the time.”
What has helped you cope with your anxiety?
Katie says music has played a big role in coping with her anxiety. She likes to play and listen to music and loves to dance. She used to play the piano and now plays the drums.
During the pandemic, she has also coped by coming up with more ways to be creative.
“I live at home with my parents. I started creating a theme for each week, and then we would each do a presentation on the theme,” says Katie. “We did an art appreciation week. We also honored Black History Month. I did my presentation on Carter G. Woodson, who helped create Black History Month. My mom did her presentation on Billy Holiday, who is one of her favorite singers.”
Amanda says talking to her therapist and family and friends have helped her cope with her anxiety. She also journals, as a way to cope with her feelings.
“My mom has this motto: ‘Remember, this too shall pass.’ She reminds me of that all the time, and it helps,” says Amanda.
How has therapy helped you?
Katie says therapy has made her a stronger person. She says her therapist has helped her recognize it’s okay to express herself in a different way. When she decided to come out to her parents, she needed help expressing her feelings. Her therapist helped her figure out what to say.
“I’m bisexual, and after I came out to my parents, I felt stronger and more confident,” Katie says. “Fraser has made me the person I am right now. I am getting the support I need, not just through Fraser, but (from) my parents as well.”
In addition to talking through her feelings, Amanda says her therapist also suggested she try grounding exercises. Grounding exercises have you stop what you’re doing and notice things, like looking for 5 things that move or 5 things you can smell.
“I’m a hands-on, sensory person, so my therapist suggested using lotions with different scents. I’m supposed to stop, realize what I’m doing, smell the lotion and think about what I’m doing in that moment,” says Amanda. “I’ve been coping much better.”
What advice would you give to someone with anxiety?
Katie says her advice to a person who feels anxious is to talk to a friend, parent or teacher.
“And if you’re ever feeling afraid of expressing yourself to someone, you can do it through music or another way,” she suggests.
Amanda adds, “I’d tell them: you’re not alone. There are many of us out there. Reach out for help, if you need it. Don’t be ashamed of your anxiety.”
Fraser offers mental health services for adults, including individual, family and group therapy. Many of these services are available through telehealth.