When coping with our own difficulties it’s easy to lose sight of those around us. The intense self-focus of therapy and wellness strategies can lead to a self-absorption that can damage close relationships and separate us from the community in which we live.
In my book Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis I write of the need to supplement efforts to build your own strength with strong compassion for others. Here’s an excerpt:
It will be tough. Anxiety will trap you inside yourself and make you feel worthless or dangerously inconsistent. You’ll be afraid to reach out. You may fear being hurt even more than you fear confronting one more day with this irritable, trembling negative energy. But in a crisis almost everyone is fearing that. We can best cope in a crisis, we can best soothe our agitated minds, by making connections. There are people in your life and in your community. Help them. They need you. Ask for help. You need them.
With calm and grace we can take gentle steps to help each other cope with the uncertainty and anxiety of a larger crisis that alone seems too big to comprehend and too complicated to impact. Yet we can understand each other and positively impact a world in disarray one small act at a time.
Sartre wrote “Hell is other people.” The line is misquoted and misunderstood. The way people toss it around is wrong. After you’ve spent time focused inward identifying and handling your personal anxiety, realize that full recovery from anxiety continues with your interactions with other people. In other people we can find hell if anxiety causes us to distort our vision and our connection to community. Coping with anxiety is an inclusive practice. Hope is other people.
To maintain that hope you have to stay connected. If you live alone, this is crucial. Reach out to family, friends, co-workers or people you meet on-line. Even if you’re at home with a large family, remaining in touch with the life you had with friends, clubs and activities outside the house is important. However, this must be done with respect to stay at home orders and social distancing. Most of it is going to have to be done virtually.
Remember, though, that quantity time beats quality time always. Short, daily drop-ins with family and friends, even if you have little to say, are crucial to keep relationships strong. Not knowing what’s happening with others and feeling disconnected from people are significant sources of anxiety. You can correct that by just touching base. I’m in touch with my parents now more than I have been in years. We can’t see each other face-to-face, but we feel close and supportive of each other. Sometimes to just reach out with a text that asks, “how are you?’ can raise the spirits of both you and your contact enough.
Once you have found a place of peace, strengthening connections and building community even in disturbing times can help us handle the uncertainty that contributes to anxiety. This outward focus is a great complement to all the inner work we can ever do.
Certainty can be found in a future that seals your fate with those you care about, those you aspire to be with, and those you depend on. If you’re lost within yourself, turn to others. The world is in turmoil and we know nothing about how this will end and what will be left for us. Don’t give up. Part of handling anxiety is looking outside toward the future as part of a group willing to search together. We must be sure to bring along the least of us.
Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis is available now.
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