Thursday, December 9

‘Virulent Microbes Everywhere’: How Can Anxious People Fight Back Panic? | Mental health

I I recently took my first flight since the pandemic began. When I got to the airport, I braced myself for a scene of absolute carnage: people everywhere, all insisting on breathing; Virulent microbes that delight in a field of unsuspecting targets.

As someone with a history of anxiety, I took a deep breath, thinking it would be my last chance to do it before landing, and entered the fray.

The masks were the only sign that the pandemic had occurred, as the crowds increased at check-in and security. I kept my distance and moved quickly, doing my best to silence the part of my brain that was yelling at me to throw myself out the nearest window. If no one else is concerned, you must be fine, I told myself, not believing it. And if this is the end, you’ve had a hot streak.

I was heading across the United States to see my parents and was terrified of the risk Covid posed to them, even though we were all fully vaccinated. He had chosen a window seat, having read online which was a little safer, and I vowed not to remove my mask. On board, that meant minimal food and water and maximum anxiety – a perfect recipe for the resulting migraine.

After a five-hour flight, the descent seemed endless as the nausea mounted. Finally we landed, I grabbed my bag and ran out, where my parents were arriving. I greeted them for the first time in 15 months by throwing up on the sidewalk.

Many lucky people can mentally equate reopening with a return to normalcy, but reopening, of course, does not mean that Covid is gone. Anxious people like me, who have had the privilege of working from home, are well aware of that fact and now we find ourselves in a bind.

Social pressure is mounting to venture out. Workplaces are starting to summon staff, friends are texting to hang out, families are planning reunions. But re-emerging can be fraught with danger, especially for people with significant anxiety. For more than a year, we have been conditioned to view our fellow man as vectors of disease. Even before the Delta variant took hold, the question arose: how can we return to the world without panicking?

The home visit brought these anxieties to a head, as my parents belong to a demographic group most at risk of contracting the disease. I went back to my early pandemic habits of cleaning surfaces and washing my hands raw; the happy birthday song will likely be on for the next decade.

I wanted to see my childhood friends, but first I had to gently inform them that I was neurotic and that I needed all of us to keep wearing masks and stay outside, even though they were all vaccinated. After such meetings, I felt polluted, as if my body was full of invisible invaders that required to be drenched in the shower. The trips to collect food were worse. When I was in a store, I imagined Covid particles swirling around my head and a clock ticking ominously: stay here for more than 10 minutes, I warned myself, and your family has breathed their last.

I knew this was all irrational. I really didn’t think any of my friends were sick or even at particular risk; They are not the type that they proclaim they are “safe” as they chorus on stationary bikes in windowless basements. He knew that surfaces were no longer considered a major source of danger. The case numbers in the area did not support my fears, and my own parents were far less concerned than I was.

The problem is, for people with brains like mine, the pandemic seems somewhat different from the case numbers. It feels like a fantasy novel: as if a nebulous evil has descended upon the earth and goes wherever it wants, laughing like a maniac. When the threat seems so abstract, it is hard to imagine that we are safe just because local statistics have improved.

Precautions against Covid, whether with masks or staying at home, have become rituals to protect yourself from the dark, offering a measure of comfort simply in your performance, with the fear that not observing the rules magically summons an infection, regardless whether there are actually pathogens nearby.

All of this comes down to a core problem for anxious people: uncertainty. Yes, intellectually we are all aware that vaccines have changed the landscape. But before coming out of hibernation, I want an expert to proclaim that the danger is zero, that the forces of good have completely defeated that spreading evil, which, of course, will never be the case. So it becomes a question of staying home forever or determining what level of risk we are willing to tolerate.

In that sense, the reopening will be a kind of global psychological exercise.

I was diagnosed with OCD as a child and have addressed it through cognitive behavioral therapy, using a process known as exposure and response prevention (ERP). In this procedure, a patient works with a therapist to create a “ladder” of anxiety-provoking behaviors, starting with the easiest, perhaps going an hour without washing their hands, and becoming more difficult, perhaps going a day without washing. hands, or deliberately. get your hands dirty. The goal is to gradually increase the patient’s tolerance for these activities and the associated uncertainty, without the futile effort of trying to show that there is no risk; maybe there is, the patient might think, but I can live with it.

The reopening will be, in a way, ERP on a giant scale. Anxious or not, we will all feel a little out of our element during our first interactions with the outside world. Our first exposures might be visits to one or two vaccinated friends, then perhaps to an uncrowded open-air restaurant. As time passes and cases go up and down, we will climb our individual stairs, as slow or fast as we feel safe..

The world right now reminds me of how I perceived the ocean as a child: handsome and beautiful but ruthless, with a hangover that could drag me away at any moment. I’m in no rush to share air with strangers.

My own ladder, if I had my way, would probably start with a gas mask and a bottle of Lysol in each hand. As it is, I started by removing my mask occasionally during walks in the fresh air. Testing unfiltered air for the first time in a year has been a revelation, perhaps even worth the brief sensation of impending doom when the sound of a cough echoes through a nearby home. I don’t see Coachella, not even TGI Friday’s, in my immediate future. But it’s getting easier and easier to meet friends in well-spaced outdoor hangouts, and I hope to be able to leave my judgment at home soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *