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Three Approaches for Coping: Anxiety-reduction, Healthy Catharsis, and Finding Novelty

Three Approaches for Coping: Anxiety-reduction, Healthy Catharsis, and Finding Novelty

September 21, 2020

Isolation, uncertainty, and a lack of control have made this time challenging. I won’t tell you that everything will be okay because I honestly don’t know if it will. What I can share are three difficulties that I’ve experienced and some approaches for dealing with them.

A technique for dealing with anxiety-inducing information My experience has been that our scope of control in life is always limited and never guaranteed. At any moment, we may lose our material possessions, opportunities, family, friends, physical health, or even our sanity. We become accustomed to our expectations of how things will be in the future. Right now, it seems that many people, including myself, have had to change their future expectations because of losses they have experienced.

In these circumstances, I’ve found it helpful to focus my attention as much as possible only on what I have immediate control over. When confronted with a new anxiety-inducing piece of information, I try to remember to ask myself the following series of questions:

(1) Could I do something about this, even indirectly, if I really tried? My answer is usually yes. (2) Do I have free time and energy to devote to this? For me, the answer is usually no. (3) Is doing something about this more important than what I am doing already? I consider mycurrent obligations and priorities. Again, my answer is often no. (4) If my answer to (2) or (3) is yes, then I ask what am I going to about it and how am I going to do it? At this point, I break my response into goals and tasks, and I plan how to do them. Otherwise, if my answer to (2) and (3) is no, I accept that whatever the information that I am responding to is beyond the scope of my control, and I direct my attention elsewhere.

Creating and maintaining flexible stability Even though the technique that I shared above can help with diffusing the anxiety of unsettling information, I’ve found that it is also important to stay aware of current events to some extent. They give important context for our individual lives. For me, this awareness has been associated with dread, grief, frustration, hoplessness and tiredness. There have been positive emotions too, but my overall reaction has been negative.

In this experience, I’ve been challenged by the need to take care of myself by maintaining a healthy routine while also feeling a need for catharsis. If unchecked, catharsis often turns into a downward spiral of disregulated and unhealthy behavior (e.g. sleeping at odd hours, eating unhealthy foods, not exercising, etc). I am trying to figure out how to regulate these cathartic experiences, so that they fit into my routine and my routine is flexible enough to accommodate them.

Thus far, I have had some success with scheduling regular time to go for walks, talking to friends and family, listen to music, and take twenty-minute naps. While I don’t know exactly what might work for you, if you feel that you struggle with a similar tension and haven’t found a solution, perhaps scheduling some time to do an activity you find cathartic on a regular basis may be helpful.

Ways to experience the pleasure of novelty while living in The Truman Show
It feels like covid has made my life a version of The Truman Show, where the dome that I live in can become a sensory-deprivation chamber. Much of life has literally become two-dimensional. My encounters with new and random people have become far less frequent. The variations between different times of the day have diminished. My world is smaller. I don’t eat as many new foods.

Prior to covid, I took these experiences of novelty for granted to some extent. I didn’t realize how important they are for forging new connections, learning new things, and keeping life lively. To counteract the grey dreariness that can set in from a lack of novelty, I’ve found that, now more than before, it’s important for me to seek out new experiences. This might be food from a restaurant, a new scenic hike or drive, or a photography book. However, even though I look for new things, most of life is more or less the same.

The most powerful source of novelty that I’ve found in these times is to look at the familiar more carefully or in a new way. I frequently take walks along the same route in my neighborhood, but I never get bored with the scenery because it is always slightly different or there is something I haven’t noticed before. Cooking new foods, finding new ways to decorate your space, or thinking carefully about how elements of your environment were constructed can also provide this kind of novelty. Whatever helps you see the world anew, I hope that you will turn to it when dreariness threatens.

While I have ups and downs, and remote life is different than in-person life, by employing these approaches I have mitigated some of the anxiety that I would have otherwise experienced. I have also found more joy in the routine. I am hopeful that I may be able to find stable wellness in the current circumstances.

Isaac Bevers, Class of 2021