At first, trying to manage my bipolar symptoms, my anxiety, and widespread uncertainty felt overwhelming. My stress levels spiraled up and down; but, eventually, I learned how to cope. Now I can get through the days more peacefully by following my strategies to do something constructive.
Instability & Personal Instability
When world events encroach on your everyday routines, it is unsettling, to say the least. The scariest part, for me, has been the daily uncertainty we all must live with—without being swept away by panic.
Initially, my biggest struggle was sorting out how to obtain my medication while safely following my state’s stay-at-home orders. My local pharmacy is not permitted to dispense my medication without checking my blood counts, so it was essential for me to leave my home. Even though I was terrified, I had to find a way to get to that lab. I was not sure if I was being obsessive or overexaggerating the dangers of sliding into the phlebotomist’s chair and allowing her to extract just one sample of my blood into a plastic vial.
The anxiety involved with uncertainty can feel downright debilitating. And there is no way of knowing where the line is drawn: How do I know if I am just being cautious about my health, or if I am allowing my anxiety to call all the shots?
Rules the Day
Before long, everything was
bringing on full-force anxiety attacks, and I did not know how to cope with
them. For a while, I could not even watch television without running out of the
room in a panic—frantic, breathless, and entirely frightened about this very
terrible thing that was happening to our entire world.
I started asking myself, How long will I have to live in this alternate universe?
For three months, my anxiety has surged upward and crashed downward. And even though life is barely approaching some version of normal, I have found better ways of coping with it now. The facts are what they are: I can only do my very best to follow the recommended guidelines (physical distancing, washing my hands, etc.). I’m scared, but not as anxious.(Most days, though, I’m not sure if there is a difference between the two.)
As I’m writing this, I went
to the outpatient lab today for my second blood test since our governor instituted
a stay-at-home order. When I checked in with the receptionist, I felt a catch
in my throat and my mouth went dry. Instead of sitting in the lobby, I found a
quiet and vacant space to wait for the phlebotomist to call my name. I have to
say that today, my anxiety level, while still there, was not as overwhelming as
it was a couple of months ago.
With Bipolar, Managing Stress Is a Daily Task
I work every day to improve my coping skills. I know that if I do not take care of myself—my mental and physical health—I might be an “emotional” casualty to our public health crisis. And, as time passes, I am finding healthier ways to coexist with my anxiety. I know that it will never completely go away, and I will still experience those initial feelings of dread and panic. But I have learned to allow them to pass and then do something constructive to get through the moment.
Throughout this whole ordeal, I have developed a handful of strategies to cope with major events that are outside of our control. After all, one of the positive aspects of getting through this turbulent time is that we can spend more time focusing on ourselves and how we address difficulties—and life in general.
Tips for Facing Anxiety
about Events We Cannot Control
#1 Do Something Fun Each Day
I enjoy working with crafts, so I’ve made an effort to inject some positivity and creativity into my days. Making collages is fun, and it distracts me from everything that is going on. I also like coloring pictures while listening to music and really trying to get in the moment. Several times a day, I take my dog out for a longish walk, now that the weather is getting so much warmer. Also, working on a hobby—or starting a new one—is a good way to distract and soothe yourself, too.
#2 Avoid the News
At first, I was sucked into the news vortex, whether it was on TV or online. The more information I tried to come by, the more anxious I became because it seemed like even the experts couldn’t agree on anything. There were terrifying projections about all the damage to the general public. Staying plugged in to the ever-evolving and often-contradictory news updates was a major trigger for me. In time, I realized that one of the best things I could do for myself—and for my sanity—was to limit my intake of the news.
#3 Read a
Next to my bed, I have a stack of books I want to read. With everything that’s going on, I value this downtime to learn about something new or just get absorbed in a good story. Magazines are also good if you want to indulge in something a bit lighter or that doesn’t require as much of a time investment.
a Show or Cue Up a Movie
I could spend hours on Netflix and Hulu. I have a soft spot for nostalgia and like to watch old sitcoms. Comedies work really well for this, but an absorbing drama can also distract me from focusing too much attention on what’s happening in the world around me. I’ve also considered watching a show I’ve always heard of but never had a chance to enjoy.
#5 Take the
Focus Off of Yourself
Of course, it’s very important to stay in touch with our support system and not lose touch with friends and family. Current conditions can feel isolating—we all know that. Send a friend or relative an e-mail, or call/text them, to see how they are doing. It’s often helpful to rely on our social networks, too. Just make sure your feed isn’t inundated with negative news or anything that causes you undue stress.
Teletherapy and Telehealth Services
Many insurance companies are reimbursing for telehealth services now. Check to see if your existing healthcare team provides remote telemedicine. If not, try to find someone who can provide you immediate access to care that is covered by your insurance. Telehealth services can be offered by phone or video-chat with a psychiatrist or therapist. I’ve found that a therapist can be an invaluable resource for coping with the stress and anxiety that, unless it’s managed, can define our days. Medications for bipolar and anxiety can be helpful, too, of course; but the value of connecting with a real person, a licensed professional—who will be able to help you develop the optimal ways for you, personally, to cope with your own anxiety and how it manifests—cannot be understated.
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