Choosing What to Worry About: A Strategy for Reducing Corona Anxiety

How the mindset shift I’ve made about trivial worries has helped me through this pandemic.

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TippaPatt / Shutterstock
TippaPatt / Shutterstock

As the vivid and vibrant colors of spring begin to encircle us, we sadly find ourselves emotionally out of synch with the beauty and warm sunshine. We are in worry mode. There seems to be no end to the endless news that can trigger our panic button.  

Was that magazine my postal carrier just slid through my mail slot handled by someone who is infected with the coronavirus? Does he have it? Did my husband contract the virus while he was still working in New York City before the lockdown?

Was that package of cheddar cheese I just brought home from the supermarket put on the shelf by someone who was found to have the virus a few hours later?

My busy brain, as many of yours, I imagine, can come up with countless scenarios that will raise my anxiety level. I know in my gut that the antidote is distractions. One strategy I’ve come up with is to think of worrisome things that only the vain part of my brain can agonize over.  

Like the gray roots that are beginning to peak out from my otherwise nicely colored brown hair with reddish-blond highlights. With hair salons now closed, how will I erase this sign of age? I don’t dare do it myself. Consequently, I get to worry about how much older I will look to other people. But, wait. I won’t be seeing other people; we have to practice social distancing, so no problem.

What about my wrinkles? If I run out of my favorite moisturizers and they are sold out online, won’t I begin to look older? Here, again, no problem, because I won’t be seeing other people.

But there is a glitch, of course. What about my spouse? He is seeing me—more than usual. Will he be disappointed each time he comes face to face with an older-looking version of me?

And then there’s the anxiety about weight gain. Are we all eating too many chips and other fattening comfort foods? No worries, because social distancing will probably go on long enough so that we have time to gain weight and lose it again. We can always go on a crash diet when it seems the social distancing mandate is about to lift.

Shifting away from physical concerns, I worry about those sneaky subconscious revelations that either surface in my dreams or while I’m awake. As I spend more time alone, will my subconscious mind spew forth unwanted facts about me that I have successfully suppressed during more frenetic and social days?  But I remember what my holistic health guru once told me: your subconscious will only send up messages to your conscious mind when you are ready to handle them.

Given the serious worries that can flood our psyches, I find that the more superficial ones offer me some comic relief. After all, it is so easy to slide into fixation on the more painful potential impacts of the corona crisis, and I don’t want to give the impression that I always succeed in distracting myself from more scary thoughts. For example, I wonder, “Which people in my orbit that I love “higher than the sky” will I never see again?”

What do I do with that thought?  I remind myself that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently reported that new data is showing a mortality rate from COVID-19 of considerably less than one percent. The odds are in favor of life for over 99 percent of us.

But then I find my mind asking, “Will I die before I ever see my grandchildren on the west coast another time?” That’s when I tell myself patiently once again that the mortality rate is expected to be under one percent. Yes, I am older. But my odds are quite good.

In any case, I know it’s going to be a while until I can physically be with my family in Seattle or Montana. So, when that Facetime request comes, I click “accept,” settle into this precious time with my daughters, their husbands, and their toddlers, and enjoy what is available. Just like I enjoy the phone calls with friends—friends that I used to sit across the table from in fun New York restaurants or suburban diners, friends I would see off-Broadway shows with on a regular basis.

But, of course, that was before “social distancing.” I keep thinking about what an odd phrase that is. It sounds so stilted and ominous. I picture a stiff-postured policeman saying sternly,  “Hey lady, keep your distance from the rest of us!” I know the bearer of the directives wants us to take seriously the guidelines to stay six feet from others. And I have been a model citizen in implementing the guidelines. But, I ask, “Isn’t there a warmer phrase the powers that be could have chosen?” Say, maybe, “protective pacing?”

Recently I read that an epidemiologist from the World Health Organization has suggested we start using the term, “physical distancing,” instead, since we don’t want to encourage people to become more isolated. We want them to engage with one another through social media, to see each other through zoom and the other technological tools we have.

I have to say, though, that the phrase “physical distancing” doesn’t float my boat either. It makes me think of those bullies in elementary school that would pick on kids by saying, “Stay away from him; he has cooties.”

Whatever we call this new normal, I strain to find the silver linings, to focus on things that haven’t been taken away from me. As an active volunteer for Hadassah, I receive almost daily WhatsApp messages and emails from the Hadassah Office in Israel, reminding me that social distancing need not mean severed connections. 

I smile when I think about the Hadassah Medical Center’s internal medicine specialist Dr. Monen Abbasi, a cartoonist by avocation, who, as his first corona-related cartoon, drew a medical knight fighting the epidemic as a “hat-tip” to the medical teams in Hubei, China.  You can read more about Dr. Abbasi here

Also, in the silver lining category, I have rediscovered the living room in my house. I often would tell myself as I would pass it by on the way to my kitchen that I should really spend more time in that room because it’s so pretty, and we don’t really use it unless we have company. But then I would forget.

Now I do yoga every morning in my living room via zoom with my regular teachers, placing my mat down on my plush pastel Indian area rug. The downside is that as I lower myself into downward dog position, at eye level are the faded legs of my deep blue velvet sofa. “When did they get so faded and dirty?” I wonder.

Living Room Yoga with Lonye

But, hey, for each moment we fixate on the more trivial worries of our lives, that’s one moment we avoid high anxiety over the real perils of the coronavirus pandemic.

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