Last week I read that 30 – 37% of the US population experienced COVID-based anxiety throughout 2020. Although that number did fluctuate, it never got below 30% during the entire year. 

Don’t worry, I did the math so that you don’t have to! That means 99,740,559 to 123,013,356 of us acknowledged that COVID was stressing us out. 

So, if you had 10 people in a room, (You can do that now…safely!) at least three of them would confess that the virus had them feeling some kind of way.

I think that number is conservative. If you were to ask me (Which no one did, clearly.) I’d say that the number was closer to 40-45%. 

I think that part of the reason why the number, although pretty significant, feels low to me is that not everyone who was experiencing anxiety symptoms would call them that. 

Anxiety symptoms go well beyond the traditional issues that we are all versed in. These symptoms are like a beast with 100 heads and it affects everything from your brain (Your thoughts) your body (Physical symptoms) and your behavior (The way that you react).

So in addition to the things that we typically associate with anxiety like a racing heart, shortness of breath, and belly issues, we can also experience things like foggy thinking, fatigue, increased irritability, hyper-vigilance, lack of sleep, poor eating/drinking habits, dizziness and outbursts of anger.

Raise your hand if you didn’t experience any of the above last year.

For the sake of continuity, I’ll go with the numbers that were given. 30-37% of the country experienced an increase in anxiety symptoms due to COVID which is not surprising. The number never got below 30% for the entire year, which is mindblowing. 

Anxiety in and of itself is necessary. It is your body’s alarm system, and it’s very good at what it does. It would have to be, or else we wouldn’t have survived past the dinosaurs.

Our brains are perfectly designed to protect us, but they can get wonky from time to time, especially when faced with a threat that they have never encountered before. 

Think about a home alarm that goes off for a valid reason, someone tried to break in. The threat may no longer be there, but the alarm stays on for a year for some reason. Could you imagine?? 

That’s what is going on in the minds, bodies, and with the behavior of nearly 100 million people every single day. 

This is why it feels like everyone is on edge because 3 out of every ten of us is!

When you think of the number and you then consider the symptoms, a lot of what we all have been dealing with in 2020 seems to make sense.

If we go back to the security alarm system analogy, that alarm is going off steadily, day after day. Sooner or later, that obnoxious noise fades into the background, but it’s always there. Constantly reminding us of an invisible, unknowable threat. 

On a good day, we may try to go to our keypad and calmly punch in our code to see if we can turn it off that way. Other days, we may want to take a baseball bat to the keypad. Still others we want to call customer service and scream at someone. We may even do all three.

One day, one of those options may work! The alarm turns off and we can return to our lives. 

Or we try them, and the alarm still rings in the background. 

How short would your personal fuse be?

The great thing about understanding anxiety is that the more you learn about it, the more you can coexist with it instead of trying to fight it, which, if this year has taught us anything, is a losing battle. 

You can’t fix 100 million people, but you can change the way that you view the world through the lens of your own symptoms.

First and foremost, acknowledge that your anxiety symptoms are getting the better of you.

This is not a contest. There is absolutely no need to compare your personal challenges with those of your neighbors and friends, or God forbid, people on social media. If you are struggling with something, anything, and it is getting in the way of your day-to-day life, it matters.

Feelings are valid. They cannot be argued or shamed away, but your fear of those things can cause you to try to repress your stress which may make that alarm seem a bit quieter, but it’s still there, blaring away. 

Naming your stressors helps you find ways to counter those thoughts instead of trying to MAKE THEM GO AWAY, which is impossible, by the way, and simply adds another threat onto the already burning pile that you are dealing with. 

You could be someone who is getting through this pandemic unscathed physically while struggling with all of the other aspects of your life being upended. 

One of the first steps in Katy and Laura’s Know Your Arc® system is listing any and all stressors in your life. Everything from a looming job change, financial issues, the potential for a life-threatening illness to the fact that your partner doesn’t put their dirty silverware in the dishwasher is game. Because, yes, the big things are super stressful, but the little things, the day-to-day stressors can add up.

It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, not the anvil.

Think about the stressor of your partner and their aversion to placing things in the dishwasher. Maybe this was a once or twice a week occurrence, but now you both have been stuck together at home every single day for a year. You’ve been dealing with work stress, CDC regulations, lack of socialization, sick relatives, COVID NUMBERS, hunting down a vaccine, loss of healthy outlets for your stress, and remembering to bring your mask with you everywhere.

You plod through your days with that alarm steadily blaring in your mind when you see another peanut butter-covered knife on your counter, and you lose your mind. 

If it’s not the knife, it’s someone not using their blinker, or maybe not recognizing social distancing. Or maybe it’s the racist creep on Twitter. One day, you don’t know when, that alarm is going to need to be quieted once and for all. It’s up to you to find the best way to do it. 

If there are nearly 100 million of us who are dealing with everything from the loss of a loved one to a peanut butter-covered knife (I once had a college roommate who was guilty of this. Can you tell I’m still affected?) then it becomes easier to understand why we feel like the world is such a hostile place. What we are seeing is that the world is a very stressful place and the hostility comes from that. 

Katy and Laura always say that anxiety is not one size fit all. Again, we each come with our own personal security systems in different operational modes. But you are not alone. Remember that there are at any given moment some 99 million other souls who admit that they are struggling with all that COVID has brought to them. 

We are getting closer to that light at the end of the tunnel, but getting our world and our lives back to some semblance of what it was before is going to take time. We all need to be as vigilant about taking care of our mental health as we are about our physical wellbeing. If you’ve tried everything you know to turn off your alarm and it’s not working, reach out for help. Utilize resources and be honest about everything that is weighing on you because it all matters.

Even dirty dishes.

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