The Anxiety Pandemic
While we all know we’re experiencing a viral pandemic, we’re also experiencing an anxiety pandemic. You’re not alone.
There’s an elephant in the room and we need to talk about it.
In order to do that, we must face our deepest fears, and emotionally process what could really happen to the ones we love if they’re exposed to the virus.
We’re hearing about how quickly the disease is spreading to families and the physicians taking care of them across the globe, but what we’re not hearing about is the anxiety pandemic that it’s causing.
Let’s get the conversation started with my own truth: I’m worried about my family and their personal safety. What I’m not worried about is the financial markets, they will rebound, just like they always have.
Some of you know that my wife is a physician, she’s a pediatric pulmonologist and now backup in the PICU. On the front lines just like many of you amazing physicians across the country.
She’s a Type 1 diabetic. Clearly I’m not a physician but I wonder if that puts her at a higher risk. Or worse, what if something happens and she has to be quarantined in the hospital?
I’m aware of how fears take on a whole new reality when it’s someone you love. It’s such a helpless out of control feeling.
Then there are my friends and clients who are also physicians and spouses of physicians facing the same anxiety pandemic.
Now more than ever we need to reach out for the support of our community.
Because I know I’m not the only one who feels this way!
The last few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster.
We’re facing the unknown (How long will it last?) and the known (an aggressive virus amid a shortage of personal protective equipment that threatens the lives of brave yet very vulnerable physicians).
The first step in any diagnosis is recognizing that there’s a problem.
In this case, the emotions that stir the anxiety pandemic need to be addressed so that we can move to the next step. Ignoring your feelings won’t make the situation go away, in fact, it can exacerbate other existing problems.
There’s a measure of relief when we recognize something that’s staring us in the face, something that we haven’t named.
Together let’s deal with the feelings that an anxiety pandemic causes.
To the physicians on the frontlines, we owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
I know that deep down these dedicated individuals are probably just as terrified about what’s happening, especially with the lack of leadership from both sides.
I feel like all physician spouses have very similar concerns and are affected by the pandemic.
Before we approach our spouse, it’s important to take a look at our own feelings. First, we need to be emotionally supportive of ourselves. That means talking over your concerns with a friend. It will help put them in context. Acknowledging and discussing how you feel takes away some of the tension surrounding the situation and the intensity of your emotions.
Once you do that, you’ll be calmer when you ask how your spouse is handling the pressure. By handling your emotions before approaching your spouse you can be more supportive in their time of need.
You’ll be privy to their concerns, which gives them an outlet and brings you closer together in trying times.
Let’s explore a couple of thoughts that I’ve had.
The Feminine EQ
I believe females are just inherently EQ smarter.
Women are usually able to process emotions through emotion. You’re also generally not afraid to show emotion. Contrast that to the majority of men, who attempt to downplay their emotions (myself included).
The question is how can someone like me, a male who is married to a physician or a male physician process our emotions and cope with them?
And what about the physicians on the frontlines? They’re so busy and the pressure they face so great. How can they express their thoughts and feelings?
The answer to these questions can be summed up in a quote: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
This can apply to the journey of self-expression. It takes acknowledging the way we feel because our emotions happen to be a valuable resource.
Right now, more people (male and female) are expressing themselves over the anxiety pandemic that is ensuing. It’s the perfect time to start that conversation.
The Monster Under The Bed
The monster (our anxiety pandemic) continues to grow when we don’t deal with it.
We’re seeing a lot of alarming things right now (lack of PPE, ventilator deficiency, the spread of the disease, death, economic trouble).
The epidemic seems to be opening up the expression of our emotions and conversation pathways.
It also helps to have a network to lean into when you need it. I have a network of people that I can talk with. However, that might not be true for everyone else. (If you need someone to talk to, I’m here to help!)
Asking your spouse about their day gives them a chance to express what they’ve witnessed and how they feel about it.
They’re able to verbalize their impressions, and that can be therapeutic.
When we are examining things that worry us, there seem to be three types of people in this world. The first group is people who don’t want to talk about the issues at all.
The second group is the individuals who raise the alarm. They take the subject to a higher level than it needs to be.
The third group has the skill set needed by physicians and physician spouses. They are people who actually take the time to listen and understand. They have the gift of empathy.
Among my friends who are financial planners, I’m the odd one out. I’m married to a physician and I work with them on their financial goals, but I’m also a registered life-planner who is able to empathize and connect with other people.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve talked to some other financial planners to check in and see how they are doing but also to discuss some of the crazy volatility in the stock market. Few of them have had so many meetings with clients that are worried about the markets, their investments and their safety that it was taking a toll on the advisor. They didn’t have an outlet and it was really hard for them to be the rock for their clients but have no one else to really bounce their thoughts off of. It’s important that we all have someone to talk to. You are not alone.
So, if you’re wondering how a physician can help a coworker or friend who is in an absolute panic about the market? How do you bring them back to an even-keeled reality?
Let’s look at how each of us can help our loved ones navigate this anxiety pandemic we are in.
First, help them calm down. If they’re at a heightened emotional level everything you say will go over their head. The next step is to address the dominant emotion they are feeling. Are they in a panic? High anxiety? Overwhelmed? Scared?
We’ve got to address the emotion they’re feeling before we can find a solution. Sometimes, there isn’t a solution to be found but being able to provide comfort will leave them better than they were before.
When having someone you can connect to, who truly understands, it can help mitigate all of those low emotions.
Acknowledging Grief During The Anxiety Pandemic
In the past few weeks, our relatively carefree way of life has come to a grinding halt.
Family lives have been totally disrupted, and there is sudden concern over contracting the virus. Add to that the fear of infecting our elderly parents and other family members with the disease.
Then you step into a high-pressure work environment for an unspecified length of time with too many unknowns, and not enough protective equipment.
As if those things aren’t enough, you have institutions shutting down or reducing services and tons of non-stop negative media.
It sometimes seems as if the world has gone crazy.
Most of the population is uneasy and overwhelmed. We are all dealing with so many unknown situations, especially the physicians on the front lines and their spouses.
And this wasn’t something that happened gradually. It’s only been a few weeks. So yes, there is a lot to grieve. It’s okay to acknowledge that this is a tough time.
It’s okay to take it one day at a time or even one hour at a time. It’s okay to ask for and receive support. If you’re a physician and you need support–reach out. Support by example, because other physicians may need to reach out and you’ll be the one listening.
This is truly a time to uplift each other’s mental well being.