By Andy Cohen, a Psychoanalytic Candidate, Community Art Counsellor, artist and mother of 2. She is also the author and illustrator of Wish You Were Here, a children’s book which explores loss and parenting with a light-hearted touch.
Sunday morning (overwhelmed by Coronavirus pings) I felt the pressing need to stock up at the supermarket. But my 3-year-old had a much better idea: First, she needed to get dressed…all by herself! My stomach dropped as I dreaded the scenario that lay ahead: Little limbs would inevitably pretzel out of place, fingers and toes would bumble beneath fabric, and as the clock ticked slowly along, there was a high propensity for an apocalyptic melt down.
Waiting it out as my toddler tackled the lengthy task, was absolute torture. But as I helplessly watched I suddenly noticed that (while she was totally calm and persistent) my own thoughts were another story: I was overcome with frustration and anxiety focussed squarely on wanting her to get it right, hurry up or let me help.
This got me thinking about the Coronavirus pandemic and how (like my toddler’s willpower) so much is out of our control right now. But as I witnessed her take on the daunting task of dressing herself, I actually learned a thing or two about how to handle my own anxiety around COVID-19.
How to handle MY anxiety around Coronavirus
1. It’s important to think clearly
My daughter began by laying out her jeans. She then put one hand in each leg hole, reminding herself where important things go. This reminded me how a plan puts a restless mind at ease. Isn’t that familiar in the face of this pandemic, seen in our multiple WhatsApp chats which are exploding with news , tips and ideas on how to manage the unmanageable.
2. We have to endure the wait
Watching a toddler navigate a sweater is a painful game of hurry-up-and-wait. Similarly, when it comes to the Coronavirus, the waiting itself is the hardest. As world leaders and institutions fumble about making plans, we all have to sit in the torturous unknown. With nothing to do, but endure it.
3. We are frightened by all things unknown, including Coronavirus
My daughter had absolutely no problem choosing a shirt she hadn’t worn before. But in my mind I now had no idea how long this would take, which totally freaked me out. Now when it comes to the virus we do know some things: Like following infection, the likelihood for full recovery is high. The unknowns however are way scarier: The “what-if’s” for business, work, travel, school and the shifts in predictable routines makes for an uncomfortable soup.
4. We can’t always be the boss
Both my daughter and I are guilty here. She wants to be in charge of dressing and I just want her to get it over with. That’s how we all feel about coronavirus too. All we want is to manage the invisible and be the boss of the impossible.
5. FOMO is powerful
My kid wants to do it because her friend “Jess” already dresses herself. Isn’t that familiar? “Canada” has put a lock-down on public gatherings already- we should too? FOMO breeds in pandemics and it becomes hard to think for ourselves. So it’s important to unplug, pause and think.
6. These things take time
Just as my toddler takes a quarter-of-an-hour to put on a pair of pants; Coronavirus plans, protocols, cures, infections, and recoveries will also take time to unfold. We’ve just got to wait this one out.
7. Sometimes we need a little help
There was a brief moment when my daughter looked up for guidance on which shoe to place where. During a global health crisis, we simply don’t know what to do. So we have to look to the adults in charge. This triggers old worries about parental support and knowing your feeling about that keeps things in perspective.
8. It’s okay to get angry
There was a moment when I had the audacity to explain to my kid where the armhole was. She just fobbed me off, making me incredibly angry! Coronavirus makes us angry too; like at the people who buy all the toilet paper and others who don’t show up to address the Nation on time. Feeling threatened can make us feel really angry, but rage is only a useful outlet when you understand it. Otherwise it gets misplaced and slows progress.
9. Things may need to be ‘backwards’ for a while
While she did manage to get dressed, my daughter’s T-shirt was on backwards. At the end of the day (all things corona-considered), things are going to feel backwards for a while too. And like my daughter, we all need to be ok with that.
10. Coronavirus fear – not as bad as is seems
My anticipatory anxiety that morning far outweighed the experience itself. Eventually she got dressed and off we went. In fact my whole internal dilemma was a completely unnecessary part of the scenario. Fear is way more infectious than the Coronavirus so it’s important to stay calm, informed and resist the urge to fill our own heads with stories.
The bottom line on how to manage Coronavirus anxiety
At the end of the day, what happens inside our own minds can be a whole lot worse than what’s happening out there. When scary things happen, our oldest and deepest fears about being safe in the world come out to play. So during these uncertain times, we need to keep our own toddler-selves in check and resist the urge to have a melt-down. Rather striving to be that toddler that bravely tackles new skills. Most importantly, in the same way that my daughter and I sat in the room together as she braved the task at hand; we also need to turn to each other for emotional support, as we endure the strange and unknown.
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