Anxiety is a Gift:: Learning This in the Midst of a Pandemic

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Anxiety as a gift

The week of March 15th was rough for me.  I had been following the news of the coronavirus spread around China, South Korea, Washington, and then like a bad movie; it came to my town.  This week was the same week my very level-headed husband called and told me he was also following the news, and it was time to go stock up on some pantry staples. It was about a week before the rest of the world would come to the same conclusion. While at Costco, I got enough supplies that I had to assertively turn down an executive membership (and no, I didn’t buy a whole cart of toilet paper). I was afraid of people thinking I was crazy and anxious for nothing.  I was more fearful of this unknown virus spreading across the world and wanted to protect my family. There was so much anxiety, and it was overwhelming.

Shame also set in.

When I am anxious, I feel like I shouldn’t be listened to (it feels very invalidating).  Anxiety feels like a big flaw. In the months since then, I have done some work- learning to be kind to myself and picking apart the swirling thoughts. And in the months since then, I have started to see the ways my anxiety is a gift, and if this is you, mama—it is a gift for you too. Yes, it’s disruptive. Yes, it has value. More importantly, you have value as you are.

Anxiety

My anxiety helps me prepare.

One gift is that my anxiety has prepared me for action in this situation. While the rest of the world was in utter shock and discovering new dangers daily, I was not. It turns out thinking through the worst-case scenario, doing everything you can to avoid it, and letting the rest go has its perks!

It’s easy for me to envision routes of germ transmission. I also already have thought through whether or not germs can live through a washing machine or which surfaces are most likely to harbor germs.  I regularly already have my kids wash hands when they get home from school and know which cleaners kill stomach bugs versus the flu or the cold.

So, while the rest of the world was trying to figure out if they need to clean off their groceries and how I had already made peace with what it takes to lower our risk during seasons of high illness circulation, so I wasn’t as shocked by the mere presence of danger. I had already imagined it, made peace with it and moved forward hundreds of times in the past. While that didn’t make this any easier, I did have a level of readiness and gratitude for it.

My anxiety helps me be compassionate.

Another gift is my ability to be compassionate to others who struggle. During this time, I had a business call with a new coworker. As we were making introductory small talk, she casually mentioned that her husband is an ER doctor in a small town. He was already working on COVID patients.  Despite initially being very non-functioning due to my anxiety, I wanted to reach out to her and comfort her in that conversation.  I was able to show her compassion and ask nuanced questions about how they are managing. In this conversation, she shared that the day before, they had updated their will in preparation for the worst.  We connected on a very human level that day. My ability to imagine the worst helped me meet her (a stranger) in one of her worst moments—with dignity.  I wasn’t looking down on her and her “poor problems” but truly empathized.

Throughout the recent months, I have seen this play out numerous times.  Many who are not usually carrying much weight of anxiety are.  They want someone who can express to them that its OK and that they are seen and understood.  Because of my history of anxiety, I am uniquely qualified for that.

So to my anxious mamas, in our fight to not let anxiety upend our entire lives, let’s remember its gifts. And don’t be afraid to offer that gift to others.

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