May 17, 2020

By: 
Rachel Strella

The Hidden Anxiety of COVID-19

Hidden Anxiety

It was about 2:45 pm on Friday. While I was getting ready for a call, I took a look at my Trello board to see what else was left on the to-do list for the day. That was a decision I quickly regretted. I still had eight cards for the day – most of them were projects that would take at least an hour to complete. I felt my chest tighten. I looked outside. It was finally a nice day – 80 degrees and sunny. I longed to be out there – sitting on my deck, watching the green leaves wisp in the wind. I looked back at my computer and saw I had several emails from the past hour along with Trello notifications from client-owned boards. I felt a sudden, intense sense of dread. I swallowed hard and tried to focus on the mental preparation for my call. But, I couldn’t. What was dread a moment prior, turned to sadness. Then, pure anger. I felt rage, literally ‘want-to-punch-someone-in-the-face’ rage. My chest tightened again and I couldn’t breathe. The room was spinning. The cycle of dread, sadness, and anger consumed me. All I wanted to do was escape this moment. This day. This life.

Can You Relate?

If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you can relate to my story. It’s an overwhelming feeling that often comes quickly – so quick, you have little time to process what’s happening and respond appropriately. This was not my first panic attack and I’m sure it won’t be my last, but it was one that I didn’t see coming. By that, I mean that I usually can feel stress building up over a few days. If I don’t release it, it releases itself via a panic attack. While I did have a few stressful experiences during the week, I did not sense that a panic attack was on the horizon. I felt completely powerless.

As I came back to my senses, I tried to process the attack. What caused it? Is there an underlying source of stress that I’m not seeing? What could I have done differently? I spent the next 24 hours in mental exploration in search of answers to these questions.

The Impact of Stress.

As I write this post, it’s May 16, 2020 – nearly two months since I shared ten observations in the thick of COVID-19. Among those observations, I believe I underestimated the reality that this is a wake-up call. I have not been as financially or emotionally impacted by COVID-19 as others. I am very fortunate, all things considered. But, I’m still impacted. Today, my stepchildren are visiting for the first time in 10 weeks. My customers are fighting to keep their business afloat, which has changed their expectations of us as their social media partner. My husband and I struggle to find balance when this is no separation from work and home, which is especially challenging for us as super-driven-always-have-to-be-doing-something type-A personalities.

It would be difficult to find anyone who has not been impacted by the new normal, regardless of favorable circumstances. Therein lies the hidden anxiety of COVID-19. The impact can be subtle, but it’s still stressful. In fact, if you look up the definition of stress, it reads, “Stress is the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses.”

We are experiencing change. Change causes stress. Our body reacts… which, could very well have lead to my panic attack. You sneaky little devil, you!

So, What Now?

Do we run around allowing panic attacks to happen? Of course, not. The first step is always acknowledgment – awareness. This attack was a wake-up call. I realize that I have to allow myself the room to adapt to these ongoing changes. I cannot assume there is no effect simply because I am less impacted than others. And, neither should you. If you haven’t taken a moment for yourself lately, do so now! You’ll thank me later.

Despite my overzealous personality, I am reminded that I must take mental breaks. It’s the only way to achieve any clarity, or at a minimum, process what’s going on in the hour, in the day, in the week – in the backyard, in the community, and in the world.  This requires me to slow down, but that won’t kill me (stress will, though 😒).

Slowing down and becoming aware of the surroundings is just one small tactic among many that I plan to employ as a response to my attack. If it helps me, maybe it will help you, too?

A Final Word.

There’s another line in the definition of stress that reads, “Stress is a normal part of life.” As many are aware, things are far from normal. But, we adjust. We adapt. I said it two months ago, and I’ll say it again… There’s no way to prepare for every possible thing that could happen. Instead, we have to be ready to embrace and overcome the obstacles as they occur, no matter how unexpected. We will be OK, and we will come back from it.

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