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Fear has been one of the most common responses towards the outbreak of COVID-19. Whether its panic buying (hyperlink to previous article), uncertainty over the Circuit Breaker, or the impending economic recession, fear and anxiety are the two emotions most felt right now.

As a student, perhaps you fear the uncertainty of when lessons would resume and how the ‘O’ level or ‘A’ Level exams are going to be different. Perhaps you have started counting down the days to your first paper, or maybe you feel unproductive at home.

As a fresh university graduate, perhaps you feel robbed of the opportunity to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime graduation trip, or you might fear the limited job opportunities because of the recession.

Perhaps as a working adult, you have been taking unpaid leave during this Circuit Breaker, or you have lost your job and you envy those working from home. While the Singapore government has provided some support for individuals impacted by the pandemic, it is inevitable that fear somehow creeps in.

As a working adult, working from home might mean longer working hours. Potential layoffs in your company might mean an increased workload for you. As a business owner, Circuit Breaker measures might have taken a toll on revenue and you wonder if your business can survive the Circuit Breaker period.

Regardless of what you are going through, your feelings are valid. Perhaps, it’s time for us to realise that Circuit Breaker has taken a toll on many of us. In a recent online poll on 577 participants conducted by Silver Ribbon, a quarter of the participants indicated that they experienced “more than usual” anxiety and feelings of low moods (Tai, 2020).

It is important for us to realize that we are not alone in our worries regarding the uncertainty of the future. Here are some ways we can try to shift our perspective of anxiety.

1. Anxiety has evolutionary advantages

Indeed, anxiety is an unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling. For some of us, it feels terrifying – like you’re trapped in a vicious cycle. Life in the age of a pandemic brings uncertainty, thus breeding fear and anxiety.

Anxiety feels unpleasant and uncomfortable. For some of us, it’s terrifying. You might feel like you’re at the mercy of this big, monstrous thing. You also might feel ashamed about your anxiety.

Instead of viewing anxiety as an enemy, seeing it from an evolutionary point of view can allow us to understand the function that anxiety plays in our lives. Over time, anxiety has evolved to help people quickly organise our cognitive functions when necessary (Meek, 2019). For example, in the context of COVID-19, when we hear of how rapid the virus could spread i.e through respiratory droplets, by direct contact with infected persons or contaminated surfaces, we become fearful. The experience of fear sharpens our senses, quickens our thinking – allowing us to be more vigilant and careful even when we leave our homes for a quick grocery run.

Therefore, there is an evolutionary advantage of anxiety: worrying about danger leads to people acting in a way that takes fewer risks in their approach to safety. For example, the risk of being exposed to the virus has led to people staying home and practicing social distancing.

2. We have options of changing the story of anxiety

Imagine you are on the couch of your house, and one of the pillows on your couch is anxiety. What do you want to do it with and where would you place it? Would you throw it across to the opposite end of the room far away from you? Do you want to place it on your lap where its right beside you – or even hug it? (Tartakovsky, 2018)

It is okay if you want to throw the pillow across the room, or if you choose to place it right beside you. At the end of the day, we do have many options as to what we can do with these feelings, and how we choose to respond to them. However, it is easier said than done.

Here’s an exercise you can try to change the story of anxiety. Instead of focusing on “I shouldn’t feel anxious” or “something is wrong with me”, focus on relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and/or acknowledging that anxiety is part of being human.

3. Anxiety is not an enemy, but rather a messenger

Perhaps you clicked on this article wondering why anxiety isn’t the enemy. We are often preoccupied on how anxiety makes us feel that we hardly see any actual value in having anxiety. Perhaps rather than perceiving anxiety as our enemy, we can see it as a messenger (Tartakovsky, 2018).

Your anxiety might be trying to tell you something… anxiety is a messenger trying to deliver you a message about what’s important to you
– Miller (Tartakovsky, 2018)
 

Perhaps anxiety over the job hunting process is a sign that you’re not just worried about being able to find a job – but you realise that you don’t know what you want to do for sure. Perhaps anxiety about school could be something that’s trying to tell you that it’s not just the productivity of home-based learning that you are worried about, but the fear that you might not perform well academically. Perhaps anxiety regarding your current job might reveal that your boss has been increasing your workload and lengthening your working hours and you’re unsure how long this would last.

And maybe there is truth to these concerns; there might be wisdom in your doubt and anxiety is bringing your attention to it.
— Miller (Tartakovsky, 2018)

However, it is also important to recognise the message that anxiety is sending you. While uncertainty continues to loom during this Circuit Breaker, it might be hard not to see anxiety as the opponent you want to eliminate.

It might be helpful to remind yourself that while we can’t always change the beginning of the story (i.e., the first signs of anxiety), you can revise the next sentence
(Tartakovsky, 2018).

I you know any friends and loved ones who might be struggling during this period, extending social support to other – even online – can help individuals who are feeling lonely or anxious.

New technology allows us to transcend time and space and engage each other just enough to get us through this.
(Hollenstein, 2020)

In this difficult time, we all struggle with anxiety and fear at some point in time.

Statistics show that Singaporeans with pre-existing conditions and socially isolated seniors are especially vulnerable to mental health issues. However, this does not rule out those without pre-existing mental illnesses: life in a time of COVID-19 can take a toll on anybody.

If you or your loved ones find anxiety affecting your ability to function or concentrate, there are many resources and places to seek help:

Put operating hours

  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24-hour)
  • National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
  • Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2000 (24-hour)
  • Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg
  • Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385-3714
  • Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

References

Hollenstein, T. (2020, March 18). Accepting anxiety as COVID-19 looms: Faculty of Arts and Science. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://www.queensu.ca/artsci/node/1223
Meek, W. (2019, November 18). The Theory of Evolution and Anxiety. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/evolution-anxiety-1392983
Tai, J. (2020, May 9). Mental health fallout: How Covid-19 has affected those in Singapore. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from http://www.straitstimes.com.remotexs.ntu.edu.sg/singapore/health/mental-health-fallout?close=true
Tartakovsky, M. (2018, July 08). How to Stop Viewing Your Anxiety as an Enemy. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-stop-viewing-your-anxiety-as-an-enemy/

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