I Had My Anxiety Under Control, and then Coronavirus Came

I've learned new ways to handle fears about the pandemic

by Laya Yagersys

One day last year, during my sophomore year, I was locked in an elevator at school with about 12 people. It was like being in a cage where I did not know if we were going to get out, and I was worried that we might run out of air. Claustrophobia had always made it difficult for me to breathe.

We were trapped in the elevator for about 30 minutes. But no one else seemed to be bothered by it—everyone was laughing, teasing and joking—while I was in a corner, scared, and breathing heavily. Remembering that moment still makes my heart race.

The elevator finally started again and we landed on the first floor. Walking out, I was shaking, and from that day on, I climbed six flights of stairs to my classes every day. I decided I needed to seek help from the school psychologist.

Welcome and Unwelcome Distractions

I told her about the fear that I had developed about elevators and other enclosed spaces. I could not even enter a subway train anymore. She gave me advice like trying to find a distraction on the train, whether it be reading a book or listening to music.

After a few weeks, this distraction technique helped me. She also taught me how to control my breathing, which became an important basis for calming me down and reducing my anxiety levels. This eventually helped me reduce my fear of elevators.

This year, my anxiety started to feel more under control. In general I was calmer, going up an elevator was easier, and the breathing exercises were a great help while riding the subway.

I became less carried away by fear. For the first time since moving here from Venezuela two years ago, I was able to sleep better, was more determined, and became more confident in learning and speaking English. I was no longer living day to day surrounded by constant worries.

But then, the pandemic weakened my grasp on controlling my anxiety.

Coronavirus Fears

When I first heard news of the coronavirus, I tried to stay calm. I knew that worrying too much could worsen my anxiety.

But over time, with more countries reporting more cases, my fear increased. When the virus came here, the train became a torture chamber again. I knew it could be a great source of contamination due to the amount of people who ride it daily.

With the number of infections rapidly rising in March, classes were suspended. The last day we had school, March 13, was also the last day that I went outside for over a month. Not seeing sunlight was not good for my mental health. I thought that the best thing to do was just wait for things to improve, but that didn’t help.

Not knowing the future became chilling, and being at home locked up with fear caused insomnia, which I had struggled with before. I hardly ate, I had headaches, and my anxiety levels became high again.

I didn’t watch a lot of news because it only made me sad and afraid to see what was happening in the world. I often thought about how a simple phrase like, “I will see you on Monday,” in a matter of days became, “maybe I’ll see you in June.”

A Meditative Mindset

During this time, talking to my psychologist every Monday on Google Meet has become the best remedy. The first weeks of homeschooling were difficult, but I began practicing meditation, which has also helped calm my anxiety. Usually, I do the meditation and breathing exercises in the morning, to get a good start to the day. Some fear still exists, but keeping my mind calm and clear is important to my progress.

Even before the pandemic, living with anxiety made it difficult to go through a day without any negative thoughts. Days were full of senseless sadness that I never shared with anyone. But I’ve learned that many young people go through anxiety, and I would now like to express to them that not everything is dark.

With help, we can make ourselves feel better, although it can be difficult. I achieved this with the help of my psychologist and my family, who keep me engaged by watching movies or playing board games with me and give me little encouragements throughout the day.

I would like other kids to know that going through anxious moments can be difficult, but looking for help is a good thing and is not a sign of weakness. Seek support in your family, don’t be afraid to talk to them or engage in activities with them to keep your mind busy. Don’t stop doing the things you like, be it painting, writing, or exercising. I’ve found that any activity and routine helps my mind stay calm and not become overwhelmed with distracting thoughts.

In particular, writing poetry and stories have been a great help to me. During this time I wrote a phrase that keeps me inspired: “There is no greater loneliness than the one we impose on ourselves.” Sometimes we are not alone, support from important people is there if we seek it, but we often make ourselves believe that we are alone. That’s when anxieties and fear can grow.

My psychologist also motivates me by saying, “This won’t be forever,” and it helps to keep that in mind. This is a very uncertain time for the world, but I have confidence this pandemic will pass. We have to use this experience and our good conscience to fix what we have done wrong, in relation to healthcare, treatment of the poor, and other overlooked people. Many have also realized how important it is to be with their loved ones, to enjoy nature, and to have peace of mind. We shouldn’t take these aspects of life for granted.

If you are struggling with mental health issues, NYC Well offers free confidential sessions with a counselor via phone, text, or chat and access to other mental health and substance use services, in more than 200 languages, 24/7. They also offer free apps that are content specific for dealing with COVID-19.

Not knowing the future became chilling, and being at home locked up with fear caused insomnia, which I had struggled with before.
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