Since the official shelter in place due to the COVID-19 virus, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the backyard pulling weeds. It dawned on me 4 buckets in that I was avoiding how I felt toward the pandemic.
Yesterday is when the panic hit as I felt it surge through my body. My legs weakened and almost buckled under my weight while a conveyor belt of catastrophic thoughts pushed their way into my mind. My first impulse was to run to my partner (who’s also working from home) and dump my stressful thoughts on him. “That’s what a partner is for, right?” said the scared part of myself. But my adult self empathetically realized how stressful the catastrophe dump would be for him (not to mention the boundary intrusion). Instead I kept weeding, avoiding, stressing and obsessing when I remembered a quote I learned in early recovery: panic doesn’t change the outcome.
I chose to sit down, give my legs a rest and repeated the quote over and over while taking deep breaths. Panic doesn’t change the outcome. Then I was able to tell myself that everything will be okay. Another deep breath. Panic doesn’t change the outcome. No need to run in the house freaking out. No need to torture myself with big scary stories of living in a tent. Just breathe and know that everything is okay right now.
This isn’t to say I always catch myself when I feel anxious but the calm is more accessible the more I practice redirecting those unhelpful thoughts and cutting off the feedback loop between the thought and feeling.
Fear is a normal response to what’s happening in the world and a degree of it is helpful. It motivates us to respect social distancing and connects us through a shared experience. Panic on the other hand just gets in the way. It’s the culprit behind toilet paper hoarding and long lines at gun shops. It increases cortisol, which weakens the immune system. Panic isn’t helpful but you can choose to cope with it by using your mind to redirect your thoughts. Following are a few more of my favorite redirections if you find yourself in a panic state.