If you’re sober and semi-agoraphobic like me, staying home is the norm. Anxiety is lowest inside my apartment. I call it “a womb with a view.”
Fuchsia buds outside my window are about to burst open. My entertainment center is Buster, an 11-pound puppy. I’m self-employed. On breaks, I chop vegetables or nap. I venture out for AA meetings, Big Booty Bakery gatherings, Broadway plays, and museums. But when that prickly feeling of social-anxiety creeps up my neck, I bounce. Recovery freed me from feeling guilty.
The hardest is living without human touch. Everyone I know hugs hello, embraces goodbye, and even clients give warm greetings.
The COVID-19 quarantine changed everything, even for homebodies.
No more managing moods with friends by meditating together. Nor Netflix marathons. The hardest is living without human touch. Everyone I know hugs hello, embraces goodbye, and even clients give warm greetings.
Yesterday, I caught myself staring at a black screen. An hour went by. I’d never turned on the Mac. Is that shock? Detachment? Dissociation? Maybe we’re inside Stephen King’s brain.
Many know suggestions for fending off a relapse: eat right, sleep, meditate, exercise, therapy. In this sci-fi world of coronavirus, some of us need more. Here are a few tips to help handle anxiety while we all practice social distancing.
1. Have a Good Cry
Eddie Sarfaty, comedian and author of Mental: Funny in the Head, said, “I make jokes. It sounds weird, but I also reread book passages that make me cry. I always feel better afterward.”
Yup, understood. When stress has my shoulders scrunched up to my ears, or I can’t find my keys because I put them in the fridge, tears are an appropriate and healthy response. And it’s fun texting my nieces afterward to tell them what their Aunt Dorri did this time.
2. Listen to Favorite Songs
Lisa Smith, Recovery Rocks podcast co-host, lawyer, and author of Girl Walks out of a Bar, said, “I have a playlist of favorite songs. That transports me out of the moment. Nothing works as well as screaming along with Mick Jagger to “Gimme Shelter.” She quickly added, “Where no one can hear me!”
I laughed. For years, I’ve belted out songs in the shower. The Isley Brothers “Fight the Power” and “The Message” by Grand Master Flash are faves.
3. Savor What You Love
Court Stroud, media executive, Forbes magazine columnist, and NYU adjunct faculty member said, “My childhood was in South Texas, so Mexican food is my go-to for comfort. I pan fry quesadillas using corn tortillas and tofu cheese. The heavenly aroma relaxes me, and it’s been a huge help whenever I need a boost to remain calm.”
Stroud’s solution dates back to 9/11, when his friend’s mom said, “There’s no problem so bad that a little Mexican food can’t help. We sat outside, despite the floating ashes in the air from the destroyed World Trade Center. Whenever I feel anxious, tacos or enchiladas can also do the trick, he explained. “Crispy or soft, corn or flour, beef or chicken — at first bite, I remember there are good things in life.”
4. Help Someone Else
Erin Khar, author of addiction memoir, Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies that Nearly Killed Me, confided, “Having my book come out during a pandemic is less than ideal. As I saw my book tour fall apart, and all the great press was swallowed up by the world news, I felt despondent, she explained. “Years of writing, hard work, and excitement landed suddenly flat, leaving me deflated. Then I remembered why I wrote the book—to destigmatize the topic of addiction, give people hope, and make others feel less alone.”
No pandemic, she says, is going to change that.
Helping someone else is powerful and can take the weight of your own problems off your shoulders for a moment.
“I know how hard things are now, and many of us are struggling with addiction, anxiety, depression. I realized this is how I can help. I can be there for people—online, on social media, in tweets, on Instagram, and DMs. So, my best advice to help quiet anxiety is to be of service to someone else. It’s working for me.”
When you turn your attention to helping someone else, you have the opportunity to lose yourself in a small act of service. Helping someone else is powerful and can take the weight of your own problems off your shoulders for a moment.
5. Turn to Nature
Melody Lea Lamb, an artist who creates tiny paintings and three-dimensional pieces of woodland animals shared, “I get out into the woods and hike with my dogs every single day, without fail.”
Where Lamb lives, she’s alone for miles. Social distancing is moot.
“It’s my therapy and sets my head straight every morning. The combination of being outdoors, getting exercise, and delighting in my dogs as they run through the woods with abandon, de-stresses me every time!”
FYI: If you’re not sick, it’s okay to go outside for fresh air and exercise. The CDC recommends you remain six feet apart from other peeps and wash your hands when you get back. Good news: as of now, there is no evidence that pets can be infected or transmit COVID-19 to humans or animals. Phew!
6. Get Out of Bed
Sometimes, it’s as simple as making the next move. If you’ve opened your eyes, the next move is sitting up and getting out of bed.
Mickey Revenaugh, an accomplished essayist and co-founder of Connections Education, said, “Deep down, I believe I can lick anxiety by outworking it, outsmarting it, believing this effectively makes it so. When I’m stressed, I set my alarm for a ridiculously early hour; four o’clock is about right. Then I make a large cup of coffee and knock off a chunk of work that must have visible contours and enough heft to count.
It doesn’t matter if I scribble onto a piece of paper or type a web page. As I watch the sun come up, there’s an unshakeable sense of calm. That lasts at least until rush hour.”
7. Start a Project
Michele W. Miller, attorney, and author of thrillers, Widows-in-Law, and The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery, said, “I’m staying sane and reasonably happy. But if I’m squirrely, I get right on the phone and go to Zoom meetings.”
Miller’s 17-year old twin sons have tested positive for the coronavirus and have been battling the illness since, yet she’s holding steady.
“I’m serving on a committee. We’re planning a 1000-person St. Marks reunion [Zoom] meeting for this Saturday. It’s filling most of my time and makes me personally happy.”
Despite her sick boys, Miller is working hard at taking things one day, or one moment, at a time.
“I’m making more meetings now,” she said with a smile. More than I have in decades!”
I leave you with this. There was a day-long before COVID-19. I called my musician friend Wendy Wall.
Crying, I told her, “I can’t breathe. Please come and get me. I need to go to the hospital. I’m having a heart attack.” I was about to die on a cold sidewalk all alone but she said, “What are your symptoms?”
I described thundering in my chest, shaky, I couldn’t feel my arms or legs and was about to faint. She told me to sit down and breathe deeply. I was still alive when she arrived.
She put her arms around me and said, “You’re having an anxiety attack. I get them all the time.”
Recently, I thought of that moment and sent her a text. I asked her what she was doing to feel calm.
“Last night, I was trying to sleep but started spinning out on the collapse of civilization. Remembering to breathe, I stretched out crossways on the bed and played air guitar with my kitty Bubba. I don’t know if he knew it was air guitar, but he played along like a badass,” she said.
That sounded like a shining example of finding serenity through this coronapocalypse.
And remember, you are not alone.