Coronavirus anxieties

It seems that people who are normally sensible may react very badly to the pandemic, while others seem to be far less troubled.

One reason for an over-reaction can be that worries from the past are triggered by events that happen now. Covid-19 is a threat, but the anxieties it triggers may not be simply a reaction to real concerns. Real problems cause real trouble; but part of the trouble they cause is that they evoke ‘memories in feeling’. The feelings evoked by the real catastrophe of covid-19 remind some people of a time when they were small and had similar anxieties. They then feel just as they did when they were small: helpless, terrified, powerless, like a rabbit caught in the headlights and unable to think or function.


These can lead to huge anxieties, which are clearly out of proportion to the actual threat, but which close down the capacity to think clearly.


I have found that helping people to locate the time in their lives when their anxieties (which now seem out of proportion) would have been more realistic, can help.


Many children are faced, at some time in their life, with a real threat to their lives. A parent or sibling may be seriously ill; someone they love may threaten to leave, or may die; they may have to move house and neighbourhood, losing all the places and people they know. As a child they may not have put their feelings about these things into words; the adults around them may not even have been aware that they were feeling insecure. But those feelings may have simply gone into abeyance, to be triggered by the current threat.


If this applies to you, you might find it helpful to take some time (in a specific ‘worry time’, perhaps) to try to locate a time in your life when your feelings, your fears and anxieties would have been more appropriate. You may feel you won’t have enough money or food, when in fact, now you have both: was there a time when you didn’t? or when you might have believed you didn’t? You might feel totally unsupported, when in fact you have a good partner now; was there a time in your childhood when you really were unsupported? What seems to help is ‘putting these feelings where they belong’; realising you are not going mad, being neurotic, being out of control; but that your childhood feelings are being evoked and are feeling as if they apply now. A two year old whose mother is preoccupied with a sick father may well feel abandoned, terrified, needing to be ‘good’, more grown up themselves than they could possibly be, not knowing what is coming next.

You are not mad.  It is reasonable that a world preoccupied with sickness and death can evoke such terrors.  Putting them back where they belong, in your past, may help you regain your capacity to think sensibly now.


About thetroublewithillness

I've been a counsellor for people with physical illnesses for a long time now, and learnt a lot about what it's like living with your own or someone else's illness. I want to pass some of this on.
This entry was posted in counselling, diagnosis, emotions related to illness, flirting with death, health, illness, professional health workers, relationships, talking about feelings. Bookmark the permalink.

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