‘The Anxiety of a Pandemic is Real and it’s Not Your Fault’ by Aziz Alumna Khadija Ahmed


‘The Anxiety of a Pandemic is Real and it’s Not Your Fault’ by Aziz Alumna Khadija Ahmed

Khadija Ahmed is a writer and poet, driven by the fear of being purposeless and the hope of being purposeful. Writes on self-growth, mental health, and culture. This article originally appeared in The Pen, The Aziz Foundation’s scholars blog.

The world has entered an unknown reality and has been forced into lockdown. 2020 is now a void left in our calendars which was once looked upon as a year full of planned adventure and ambition. Too much to our dismay, this feels more than just a few failed new year’s resolutions, this is life on hold, with no guarantee of what is to come. It’s a churning uncertainty felt in our stomachs as we rise to a ticking clock of an increasing death statistic. For the first time, the whole world is being forced to feel the very definition of anxiety, living in fear, living in the unknown.

Coronavirus (Covid-19), an invisible, deadly villain, has dramatically changed the way we live our lives. With not being able to see our family and friends, grieving the loss of loved ones to economic instability, emotional resilience has become futile.

A common quarantine stance seems to be feeling that there is more time to be productive, focus harder on our careers, pick up new skills and enjoy more quality time with our partners or those we live with. Quite frankly, this rose-tinted expectation of quarantine is massively oversimplified and that too, to a dangerous extent. The ghost of productivity lurks over our fatigued bodies every day, each day that passes by where we do not fulfill our far-fetched to-do lists, a feeling of self-failure brews in the back of our minds. This, coupled with the glamorisation of quarantine on social media platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok paints a picture of lockdown as a fun-filled exciting time for creation. Although this may be true, this by no means hides the fermenting anxiety that prowls beneath the surface. This guilt is real and it exists. Whether some choose to cover up that void by filling time collecting dopamine on social media with a post of an ascetically- pleasing-looking meal, in hope for some sort of temporary validation, the guilt always finds its way back when you realise that you still haven’t done the things you expected from yourself. We need to face the guilt and understand why we have this feeling in the first place. It is because the definition of productivity we knew before the pandemic is the same expectation we hold whilst in lockdown, but even more so given we have more time. However, this attitude is not only insensitive but also unfair to ones-self. Here are a few things we need to understand and come to terms with:

– The anxiety of a pandemic is real, and cannot be replaced by filling your day with exhaustive tasks or setting yourself very high goals and then crumbling when they are not met with.

– As much as this is a time where we want to be productive, it is an international crisis, where lives are being lost every day, when we feel like we haven’t done much in our day, by staying at home, you ARE saving lives.

– Learn to sit with the feelings, instead of looking for quick-fixes, (because they will always creep back if left undealt with).

– It’s ok to relax, you are not being lazy, rest is essential to gather your thoughts

Humans do not cope with uncertainty well, we naturally want to know what the future holds, we thrive off security and comfort. Anxiety sits at its peak amidst this crisis, fear of what is to come consumes us all. Some of those whose anxiety predates the virus may even feel a sense of familiarly or immunity to the feeling of fear, if imagining the worst is what usually happens with the anxious thoughts, I for one can say this was how I felt when it all started. But for some, uncertainty can be intolerable and as a result, our minds may conjure the worst possible scenarios putting us in an even darker place. It doesn’t come as a surprise that uncertainty and mental health are very closely linked. When we feel like we have lost control of our daily lives, we can’t help but feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. So here are some cognitive behavioral therapy tips to help ease off this feeling and gain back control.

– Take each day as it comes, we may not have control over many aspects of our lives at this given point, but what we do have control over is what we choose to do with every moment. Yes, there are limitations but if we shift the focus on what can be done, the burden of the unknown will find itself no place.

– Reframe your thinking, our minds are incredibly powerful, we can creatively reframe our reality. If we begin to reframe our experience in lockdown from being a threat to a challenge or from being a limitation to an opportunity, we will begin to see positive results in our energy.

– Boundaries are very important, whether it means trying to stay away from consuming too much negative news in a day or saying no to yourself if you’re feeling overworked.

– Gratitude can transform you in the darkest of times, there is always something to be grateful for. Being grateful has no scale, there is no complexity involved. Simply being able to wake up to the birds chirping harmoniously outside your bedroom window, or having a warm meal to eat at dinner time, these are the things we took for granted when our lives were ‘normal’ where each day was so fast-paced that we rarely got a moment to show gratitude.

Remember, stillness does not equate to laziness, the emotional realities of a pandemic exist not just in our minds, but are being felt around our pleading mother earth. Life is asking us for a togetherness from afar, a sense of belonging in abnormality, it is a paradoxical reality that we WILL get through. If anything good comes out of this, it will be a newfound togetherness and a rebirth of altruistic living in an increasing self-indulgent era.

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