"What's Next?" - Anxiety About Life After COVID-19

In this short article, I'm going to be talking about what anxiety is, how it affects our brain, and how we can cope with it in regard to the present COVID-19 pandemic.

As we press on during the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the cystic fibrosis community has been hunkered down to the best of their ability for some time now. As states reopen at varying rates, I know I am not the only one wondering what is going to happen next. However, I know that because I live life with cystic fibrosis, those questions seem to be coming at a faster rate than normal.

A common theme I have noticed during conversations with friends, in particular friends who live with cystic fibrosis, too, is that there is an underlying sensation of anxiety regarding the unknown. Who? What? When? How? Those questions ripple through conversations like a river down a mountainside, gaining speed and momentum the further into the conversation we go. When those questions start occurring, I know that I sometimes begin to experience anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is not the same as fear; anxiety is the response to a perceived threat, but fear is a response to specific threatening stimulus.1 Anxiety is the "what if..." question that we have all been asking for months. When anxiety occurs, the executive function portion of our brain (the frontal lobe) kind of shuts down.

To put it another way, the brain has experienced a perceived threat and is now focusing on assessing the situation. The executive decisions that were once easy, such as planning, problem-solving, and emotional self-regulation, now seem insurmountable. Once our brain has experienced the perceived threat, its retort is the "fight or flight" response.

The fight or flight response?

The "fight or flight" response is one of our body's way of self-preservation - do we confront a situation (literally or figuratively) or to we run away from the situation (literally or figuratively). Along with the "fight or flight" response, our brain begins pumping out hormones that promote vigilance and give us a heightened sense of what is presently occurring.2

The responses that our bodies provide are stressful. However, it helps to be reminded that all these involuntary responses are in place to protect us. So if we are in a safe place and are with people with whom we are safe, how do cope with the hormonal influx and mental stress of the anxiety?

How do we cope with COVID-19 anxiety?

We cope by practicing coping mechanisms. There are many ways to cope with anxiety, some of which include having a medical provider involved, but if our medical provider is unavailable, there are some things we can do to help us cope. This is a partial list, but the full list can be found at the ADAA website listed below:3

  1. Eating well balanced meals
  2. Getting adequate sleep/rest
  3. Taking slow, deep breaths
  4. Count to ten slowly
  5. Talk to someone

You are not alone

As we press on, I hope you remember that you are not alone, even though I know so many of us feel alone right now. Additionally, I hope you remember that COVID-19 will pass and that these tips about anxiety can help you cope with the present-day until that future day comes. Because one day, that future day will be here. Hopefully, we can step into that day having learned a little bit more, especially about each other and ourselves

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