COVID, anxiety, and floating

October 10th. World Mental Health Day. I leave the house and go to a local event. Have a great time. Make plans to see friends again soon. The sun is shining and I’m feeling good about getting back to “normality”.

One day later, October 11th. I go to my first face to face external meeting since March 2020. October 14th, the COVID app pings me – I was exposed to COVID that day. October 18th, the cough starts.

One work meeting. That’s all it took to make me ill. The test results were mixed. Over the next 3 weeks, I had 1 negative PCR, and 2 negative but 3 positive lateral flow tests. But the symptoms were pretty clearly mild COVID. The cough, breathlessness, brain fog. It just didn’t feel like a cold or flu. I was so, so grateful to be vaccinated and have got off lightly when so many have not.

Finally the symptoms started to clear, and it was time to re-enter the world. And I struggled. Really struggled. Burnout and anxiety had raised their unpleasant little heads again. I’d been procrastinating a lot since lockdown 1. I’d had to take time off work in the Spring, but had been just about managing since. Now suddenly I was having anxiety attacks for the first time in years. The world hadn’t felt safe for a long time, but now it seemed I’d had personal confirmation it wasn’t. I didn’t want to go back outside.

Line illustration of turtle with head and legs retracted into its shell

It was time to take a step back before things got any worse. So I’ve revisited the techniques that helped me years ago, when my anxiety was at its worst. The counsellor I had at the time introduced me to Dr Claire Weekes’ approach: Face, Accept, Float, Let time pass, lending me her book “Self-Help for Your Nerves”. Everyone is different, and everyone’s experience is unique, but this was what worked for me at that time, freeing me from the physical symptoms of anxiety for years. Until a worldwide pandemic pushed me back to the brink…

Here’s what the four stages mean to me, and how I’ve applied them this week:

FACE the anxiety. Don’t run away from it. If you can’t face up to it, you can’t heal.

I’ve finally acknowledged that the anxiety is back, and I need to stop procrastinating and deal with it.

ACCEPT it – stop fighting it. Accept that you are the only person who can cure it, and that the only way out is through.

I’ve accepted that the uncomfortable feelings are back and I’m just going to have to live with them for a little while as I face the outside world.

FLOAT through the sensations. The idea is that swimmers relax and float when they get into trouble, because fighting and tensing up just makes you drown.

I’ve been doing the things I need to do. Leaving the house, making calls, looking at plans for the future. Not fighting the feelings, just relaxing into them and getting on with things.

LET TIME PASS. Anxiety attacks always end eventually, but they end sooner if you don’t feed them by fighting them. And anxiety itself doesn’t go away overnight, but it will gradually improve if you keep practising.

Yes, all that has caused anxiety, but thinking about doing the things and procrastinating caused more. And once I’d finished the task, the anxiety went away for a little while.
I don’t know how long I’ll be feeling this way this time, but I know it will pass. Because it did before.

And so I’m just going to keep plodding on and try to stop getting in my own way until I feel calm again. I won’t get it right and succeed every time, but I’ll keep trying, and I will get there.

Stay safe everyone. And if you’re struggling with anxiety, too, I highly recommend the book.

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