“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” -Fred Rogers
COVID-19 has certainly been at the root of collective anxiety since the beginning of this year, and for many, the side effects of managing this pandemic have been exhausting. With our country, and countries all over the world, experiencing these unprecedented times, you might find that when you look inward, things aren’t as orderly, clear and understandable as they once were. You might notice that your thoughts are running wild in a state of survival, or maybe you find yourself completely withdrawn and on autopilot. I want you to know that both of these reactions are normal.
What you might also notice is that the people around you seem to be experiencing similar issues. You may be experiencing more intense, frequent reactions from loved ones, coworkers and even strangers. Again, this is all to be expected – we are experiencing something known as a collective anxiety, or group anxiety. In other words, we are all experiencing this together. We are connected in the emotional experience, the fear, the stress, and because we are all raw and more vulnerable, we are feeling each other’s reactions more intensely to this shared source of stress.
After all, the occurrence of an unforeseen and uncontrollable event can certainly lead to feelings of uncertainty, anger, depression, anxiety and fear. And, if allowed, that fear can become the driving force behind all your behaviors from that moment on. Anxiety, in large part, is rooted in fear, generally leading to avoidance of the crippling trigger – fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of disappointment, fear of losing control…you name it. These fears can be brought to light during shared experiences such as wars, pandemics, economic crashes, or individual experiences such as loss, grief, etc. When they’re brought to light, they can trick our brains into thinking our fears are bound to become reality.
So, how can we tell when we’re being confronted by our own anxiety?
How do we know when we are experiencing the the collective anxiety of those around us?
First, it is important to know the most common symptoms of anxiety:
- Heightened sensitivity
- Tunnel vision
- Having trouble focusing
- Decreased energy
- Repetitive movements (i.e. foot tapping, swaying, rubbing fingers together)
These are all common representations of the stress response, which we discussed in Part 1 of the series (check that out here). If you take a moment to pause and reflect on your own, instinctual reaction to stress you might notice that it shows up for you in some or all of these ways. And if you’ve experienced any of these yourself, it’s likely that people you know have experienced them too. So in conversation with friends, coworkers and family you might notice these reactions are happening more frequently and intensely.
But by understanding these patterns of stress and becoming more aware of your own experiencecan foster empathy for yourself and for others. These reactions are generally lessened when met with empathy and compassion as opposed to criticism and judgment.
How do we find the balance and take care of ourselves during experiences of collective anxiety and stress?
In times of collective anxiety, I offer you these 3 helpful tips:
- You might find yourself being on the receiving end of someone’s stress or anxiety. It’s important to remember that it’s not personal.
- Establish your boundaries. While being there for someone else during their times of anxiety is noble, it’s just as important to be there for yourself. In times of collective anxiety, take the time to consider what kind of boundaries you need to set when it comes to your emotional and physical health as well as your time and environment.
- Once you’ve cared for yourself, consider how you might be best equipped to help someone else. (Hint. Empathy, compassion and normalization generally work! Nobody wants to feel like they’re alone).
There are instances when worry and fear serve a purpose for survival. Then there are instances when worry and fear can hold people back from achieving amazing and wonderful things. The trick is finding the balance. How can we take experiences of learned fear and keep them from generalizing into other aspects of life?
This week, I challenge you to make note of the creativity, compassion and empathy that you’ve seen arise from historical periods of collective anxiety and stress, and uncertainty in your life. Maybe it’s a historical event you’ve lived through such as 9/11, a war that you fought in, or the economic crash. Or maybe it’s a more individual experience such as the loss of a job, the loss of a family member or some other event that has contributed to feelings of anxiety, fear and doubt.
- How did you come out of those events on the other end?
- What exists within you that allows you to cope, persevere and keep moving forward?
Perhaps you’re finding yourself going through one of those events currently and haven’t been able to identify what exists within you. Not to worry – that’s ok. If that’s your truth, then consider what external factors have helped you, such as a support system or a calming practice. I recognize this isn’t easy, but with practice and time, it’s possible to find alternative viewpoints. Every experience is an opportunity for a widened perspective, growth and enhanced empathy.
Shared, anxiety-provoking, experiences can be the root of many instances of lasting anxiety and stress. And, while they can be immensely impactful in all ways, there is a time that comes when we can look to the growth that can come out of such experiences. It happens at different times for everyone, but it CAN happen! Challenge yourself this week to consider these ideas and see how you feel and think as a result.
Free Resources for you:
Love the idea of a made-for-you workbook to help you with this process? Grab a free copy of the Stress Relief Workbook HERE!
And finally, if you want to explore this further in a community of like-minded women, come join us over in the Be Your Best Self Facebook Group – we would love to hear from you!
**This is a guest post! Kate is a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, a Certified Health Coach and a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern who works as a therapist in private practice. She enjoys exploring local hot spots and is a huge foodie. Her clinical experience ranges from trauma and grief to individuals struggling to manage life transitions and maintaining work-life balance. Kate also loves working with couples striving to make their relationships healthier. Learn more about her HERE.