Conquering anxiety during a pandemic

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GRAPHIC BY ETHAN BROWN / THE FLAT HAT

As someone who has dealt with anxiety throughout their life, I’ve definitely had some tough moments as a student at a high-achieving institution like the College of William and Mary. The recent COVID-19 outbreak has taken many of the anxieties students at the College face daily and amplified them immensely.

Because of this, I wanted to take the time and write about some tips that help me curb my anxieties. They say that every action has its equal and opposite reaction, and I’ve found that with fears as huge as the ones COVID-19 causes, my strategies have been both doubly effective and necessary.

My first coping strategy is to focus on what I can palpably do to help. With my daily anxiety, I find it extremely easy to put the entire weight of the world on my shoulders. As a student at the College, there’s a valid pressure to make a positive impact in your community at large, yet with so many causes worth addressing it can feel like no amount of work will be enough. With COVID-19, these issues are even more prevalent; every day brings updated statistics of infection, devastating personal stories and new petitions in response to impending fallout.

While knowledge about the current state of things is important, I’ve found that going down a rabbit hole of information leaves me feeling helpless rather than empowered. To counter this, I avoid stressing about details I can’t fix and instead focus on what I can do. Realistically, as a college student majoring in English, I am not finding a cure for this novel virus any time soon. What I can do is wash my hands, stay home and be there to support my loved ones.

My second strategy has been taking pride in my little victories. Because of my anxiety, I frequently compare my success to that of others. Whether through internships, research opportunities or their own artistic motivations, students from the College do some really special things. The resiliency our community has shown throughout this crisis has only proven this further, and it seems that so many people have taken this opportunity to reconnect with friends, pick up hobbies and make meaningful change. Surrounded by such an incredible group of people, I find it easy to occasionally demonize myself for not achieving as much with my time.

I try to remind myself that this mindset is a fallacy. Even the most ardent worker needs time to decompress. I once wrote an article about how spring break should be used to rest, not catch up on work. Well, not only are the next couple of weeks a ‘break’ from traditional campus life, but they’re a ‘break’ during one of the most anxiety-inducing occurrences of our lifetimes. One day, I might manage to complete all my readings for the week. Another, I might not feel energized enough to do more than sit in bed and unsuccessfully fish for a shark in “Animal Crossing.” Either way, in these times and always, that’s plenty.

The College is a wonderfully socially aware community, and most of its students are rightfully conscious of their privilege in attending such an institution. With this awareness of how lucky I am, I sometimes struggle to validate my own anxieties.

Finally, I try to give myself the space to feel how I feel. The College is a wonderfully socially aware community, and most of its students are rightfully conscious of their privilege in attending such an institution. With this awareness of how lucky I am, I sometimes struggle to validate my own anxieties.

This practice is extremely unhealthy, now more than ever. Even if I contract COVID-19, I am likely not in mortal danger: I am young, I am healthy and I have a family that can take care of me. This does not change the fact that my anxieties about my future, my friends and my family remain legitimate. To deny my feelings now would only serve to waste the opportunities I do have, which is far worse than having them in the first place.

It may seem paltry to compare everyday struggles on the College’s campus to the massive upheaval of life currently being caused by COVID-19. I do so only to emphasize that, ultimately, all of the anxieties one can have about this virus are just that: anxieties. COVID-19 is going to cause some radical shifts in our lives. That doesn’t change the fact that we all must, can and will cope with such change. I cannot wait to see this community come back stronger than ever, and I wish for everyone’s continued well-being and safety through these times.