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Feel Anxious? Do These Two Things

The news is full of mid-crisis COVID-19 news. Some appear excited about closing things, while others seem excited about opening things. Open or closed, the big debate is about to rip us apart along tightly held ideological lines.

Confusion still abounds as our collective best efforts appear to have roots in wild guesses by our very brightest. A bit scary when you think about that.

Then I see the headline ‘Anxiety Medication Prescriptions up by 34%.’ I’m a bit shocked by such a low number. By my observation, nearly everyone I run into either has no smile on their face or a pinched one. An anxious smile- I think you know what I mean having seen them yourselves.

Yet, feelings of anxiety in the age of COVID-19 are entirely understandable. Remove the familiar and cast us into the abyss of uncertainty, and our collective blood pressure goes up. Some may even experience a faster heart rate. Others will furiously attempt to calm themselves down before they hyperventilate, and fingers begin to tingle. Those with a prescription to Lorazepam (or any of the other prescription anti-anxiety medications) quickly take one to find some equilibrium.

Millions of Americans suffer from feelings of anxiety even in our best days. Add the uncertainty of jobs, health insurance, grandma’s health, and the coming mortgage and car payments, is it any wonder that our sleep is less fitful, headaches more frequent, and our usual robust sense of humor has been replaced by cursing at the TV.

Then there is the anxiety caused by all the injustices we’re suddenly exposed to, like the people who break social distancing protocols. It seems to cause some to shake their heads in righteous disgust and others to hold press conferences to tell us to snap pictures of the violators and where to send them. Some take matters in their own hands like the doctor who became so incensed by a group of teenage girls busting distancing protocols, that he ended up fighting with them. I wonder what his blood pressure reading was?

A more productive response to our anxiety appears to be a growing interest in growing things. Gardens have become popular. Raising chickens for eggs and meat has chick provider inventories wiped clean. Food security, or the lack thereof, has convinced some to look forward to a time when they might have to be more self-sufficient. With lots of free time, they rediscover the handle of a shovel and the texture of soil and the smallness of seeds. Morning anxiety is replaced by anticipation as we approach our new garden for any signs of new shoots breaching the surface. New life, at least for the moment, allows us to escape our fears and share an authentic smile.

Perhaps, I should have titled my effort ‘Do These Three Things’ by including gardening as a useful way to battle anxiety. But not all of us have either the space for a garden nor a thumb sufficiently green. So, I’ll stick with two things that anyone can do.

Number one. Read. I do not include what you read online, or in newspapers, or on social media about COVID-19. I think it best to avoid reading much of that. I’m talking about reading books. More specifically, novels; long-form stories that require one to get completely immersed. A story, well told, will nearly always calm the soul and enrich the spirit (some horror books may not offer this effect).

I can hear some say, “I don’t read much anymore.” I understand. TV is also a source of entertainment. But today, it is consumed and dominated by COVID-19. Two numbers scroll by incessantly. The same is true of newspapers and websites and Facebook; number infected and the number dead. My blood pressure goes up just writing about it.

I’m encouraged by those I know who have rediscovered gardening. It makes me hopeful that some might also rediscover reading. In fact, gardening and reading together make for a great pairing, like fresh goat cheese with a Washington Sauvignon Blanc.

So, what are some excellent books to read? Since you’re reading this from some source online, you have everything you need to find out what is worth reading. If the reading list of billionaire Bill Gates appeals to you, search for it, and you’ll find it. The web has many other excellent sources of where a worthy read might be found.

If you asked me how to organize your emotions, I’d suggest singing with complete abandon while taking a shower, nibbling on some blue cheese, and sipping a full-bodied port. Just don’t forget to shampoo your hair. In other words, I have no idea how to organize emotions.

However, if you were to ask me how to organize your thinking, I’d suggest writing. It, too, is a wonderful antidote to anxiety. It will take your random thinking or vibrant imagination and place it in the form of a story. Who doesn’t like to read a good story?

“Excuse me, but I have nothing to write about.” I hardly think that is possible. A five-minute conversation with yourself would give you 27 things to write about. Try it. Remember the prank you pulled? A few things you wish you had told your mother? What you’d like your grandchildren to know about your father or how to live life? There is no end to writing ideas.

And if you don’t want anyone to read them, then throw what you wrote away. I throw much of what I write away. The benefits of writing to organize what you think will always stay with you. But you might be surprised at who will enjoy what you wrote.

Anxiety is a normal, natural response to COVID-19. Each of us will have to find a way to navigate the changes thrust upon us. If reading and writing and gardening prove unhelpful, then raise some chickens. Watching a clutch of chicken's scratch and peck and hearing their gentle clucking is best paired with a slightly off-dry Riesling.

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