Before our family left to camp a few months ago, and again last week before yeshivah began, I had to go for a COVID-19 test. It’s not exactly the most pleasant experience, but “you gotta do what you gotta do.”
I told my parents that both tests confirmed what they told me years ago: I’m negative!
It’s been a rough and tough few months for all of us. When I see pictures or videos from pre-coronavirus, I look longingly at people interacting normally – shaking hands, laughing, and generally being social. We’ve all had it with social distancing and the other restrictions, and yet have no idea what the future holds.
Dr. David Pelcovitz noted that this pandemic may very well have been the first time for many millennials that their parents couldn’t bail them out. Everyone was in the same boat and there was no escaping it, no matter how wealthy or prestigious anyone is.
We also still don’t know the scope of the emotional damage caused by the lockdown. It’s clear that there has been a major spike in anxiety and depression, but the full extent of the damage is yet to be realized.
One thing that the pandemic has forced us to do is to live for today. Throughout the last few months, everything has been in tremendous flux, with things constantly changing. Even now when there has been a partial reopening, no one has any idea what the immediate future holds. The one thing that we know (or should know) is how little we know. We have learned to expect the unexpected.
It’s all a perfect recipe for a surge of anxiety. Unlike fear, which is brought about by things that are definitive and predictable, anxiety is all about the unknown. Our minds conjure up all sorts of unnerving ideas and situations, causing us tremendous angst and worry. We want guarantees of security and comfort, but even in normal times there are no guarantees, all the more so during a global pandemic.
So how do we deal with anxiety? How can we contend with the thoughts that keep us up at night and disturb us during the day?
Aside from learning how to deal with anxious thoughts by reframing them, one of the most important components for dealing with anxiety is to learn to recognize it and accept it. The problem is that the more we fight it, the more it will fight back, consuming us with even more debilitating and worrying thoughts. It’s not easy, but a person can learn to recognize his anxious thoughts for what they are – anxious thoughts – and then to proceed with his day despite it.
Here are a couple of analogies that help put this idea in perspective:
If a person has a splitting headache and an emergency occurs, the person deals with the emergency and forgets about the headache. It’s not because the headache went away. Rather, because the person was so focused on the emergency, he was disengaged from the headache and was able to not pay attention to it.
Anxiety can’t be pushed away, but the more a person allows himself to engage in another matter, the more disengaged he will become from the anxiety and the more it will recede into the background.
A person can also imagine anxiety as a huge wave that builds up intensity to a crescendo before it begins to recede. The best thing to do when feeling anxious is often the hardest: to do nothing – to see the wave and to allow it to pass.
Anxiety, like all emotions we acutely feel, is very real. But we don’t want to allow it to dominate us. With techniques and practice, we can learn to acknowledge it and get past it.
A critical component is to live in the present and not become overwhelmed by the unknowns of the future, for which we anyway have no control.
Many of us feel flooded and paralyzed by anxious thoughts, especially during these challenging weeks and months. We need to remind ourselves that “this too shall pass” and that G-d is running the world with precision. Add to the mix some faith and prayer, and we can anticipate mental health and contentment, not to mention our hope for a sweet new year full of health and blessing.