Open hearts. Honest conversations.

Episode 3: Coping with Anxiety during a Pandemic

Valerie, our regular host, is incredibly passionate about the topic of Anxiety. For this reason, Val is the guest in this episode and interviewed by Julia Staub-French, clinical counsellor and Executive Director of Family Services of the North Shore. Together, the two explore the topic of Anxiety, specifically as it relates to the times we are living in now, with the pandemic.

They talk about how anxiety is impacting people’s lives now, people who may never have noticed anxiety before, and how it has escalated for those who were already dealing with Anxiety before the pandemic. They define anxiety; what it is, the good and the bad of it, and they distinguish the difference between anxiety and panic.

Finally, Val shares some tools and techniques that can be used wherever you are, to help ease your Anxiety.

Show Notes:

  • Anxiety is a normal and important part of the human experience.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of anxiety in many people. 
  • Even people who pre-pandemic were quite even keeled, have felt anxiety during this time.  Sometimes it comes out in ways that do not seem to have anything to do with the pandemic, but many of us are under more stress than before, and for some, more stress than ever before.
  • Anxiety can have positive aspects; a discomfort that gives the feeling of urgency- to study for a test or plan the details of a vacation or file your taxes on time.
  • The shadow side of this is when anxiety and worry start to take over our lives.
  • The purpose of anxiety is to keep us engaged and aware of our surroundings.
  • The brain is always scanning the environment for danger.  It can not tell the difference between the threat of a tiger hiding in the grasses and the uncertainty of the pandemic.
  • Over the past year, for some this ‘alarm system’ has been stuck on the ‘on’ position for long periods of time.
  • These worries can start to compound quickly.
  • One of the features of anxiety is that it is connected to the Stress Response (fight, flight, freeze). This Stress Response turns off the thinking part of the brain which makes it difficult to plan or think rationally about a situation.
  • Anxiety can feel like butterflies in the stomach, racing thoughts, stomach issues, sweating, heart racing, feeling like we can’t catch our breath.
  • The difference between panic and anxiety is that anxiety is like a slow-burn that grows over time. Panic is like going from zero to 100 in a millisecond.  It is a physiological response that can make people feel like they are dying (when they are not).  If someone is experiencing panic attacks they should see a doctor.
  • Anxiety has a lot to do with wanting to control the uncontrollable.
  • The human brain does not like uncertainty, and much of the pandemic has included changing ideas, uncertain public health orders, and many other adjustments to what we know.  It has changed most of our lives in significant ways.
  • This feels very uncomfortable and the racing thoughts, physical tension, and rumination that goes along with it is in some ways an attempt by the brain to control the uncontrollable.
  • One thing that can help is to “choose your guru.”  A leader who is trustworthy and helpful and whose expertise you can lean into.  In British Columbia, we have had  Dr. Bonnie Henry in that role for the pandemic period.
  • Not everyone has experienced the pandemic in the same way.
  • For people with a history of trauma (abuse, natural disaster, war) the similarities of the pandemic experience to their historical experience can feel overwhelming.  If this is happening for people they should consult with a mental health professional to untangle the present situation from the past situation.
  • For people who are worried about what might happen in the future, when things start to open back up again, consider that we are all in this together and if you express your worries and concerns with others you will find that you are not alone in these concerns.  This helps to build a stronger sense of being part of the collective and helps us feel less isolated in our experience.
  • Some things people can try to help their bodies calm from anxiety are to:  suck on an ice cube, do a butterfly hug (cross arms on their chest and lightly tap alternating shoulders, or cross hands on their knees and lightly tap alternately knees), counting colours (pick a colour in the room you are in or outside and count all the items in the room or close by and continue to choose a new colour until you feel more calm and in the present moment).
  • Remember what Mr. Rogers’ mother said:  when things are scary in the world and it looks like all the bad things are happening, look for the helpers, they are there.  And you can be a helper too.


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