Emma Warren, marketing lead at The Retreat, explains how self-isolation has made her appreciate feelings of anxiety for the first time.
“We’ve all been in lockdown for several weeks now. My husband, two children and I are self-isolating. This is because my husband is vulnerable, after having a heart transplant 11-years-ago.”
I consume every news bulletin constantly – watching, listening, wanting to hear the latest update. I can’t help it. It’s addictive. But every time I hear something new, I just want to cry.
The main cause of my new-found anxiety, however, is that I have become completely overwhelmed by the volume of electronic communication – the total invasion of every single moment of your day, your privacy and your rest-time, by the digital world.
I’ve never really understood what anxiety feels like before, but now I think I do. How am I meant to respond to all of these messages and invites, whilst working from home, home-schooling, preparing meals, and housekeeping?
Home is also school and each day I’m receiving what seems like hundreds of group messages, arranging social networking for our children. This in itself is abnormal. They are nine and five, so they’re not used to social platforms. Of course, they miss their friends. Of course, they miss their teachers. But I’m also receiving messages from people whose children they don’t even play with at school.
The messages just keep coming…..more messages asking why I haven’t responded….then messages asking why I’ve left the group. Even messages telling me MY children need social interaction.
With each ping of my phone I could feel my blood pressure raise and I started to feel ill.
On top of all this, there’s the family group chat, zoom parties, zoom quizzes, House Party group chats – all constantly asking you to join them. Again, I wouldn’t normally chat to these people on such a regular basis. Yes, I miss my family, yes, I miss my friends, but to be bombarded by these new digital ways is causing me feelings I’ve never felt before.
One situation actually made me fell ill. My daughters’ friends set up a group message chat, using my mobile number. When she didn’t’ respond immediately to messages, they just kept coming in. They weren’t messages, to be exact, just single emojis – 220 to be precise in the space of about 30 minutes! With each ping of my phone I could feel my blood pressure raise and I started to feel ill.
I’ve been completely overwhelmed by this new form of communication – the total invasion of every single moment of your day, your privacy and your rest time. I’m learning to manage it all – on the last occasion I ran a bath and turned off my phone, before tackling the situation and deleting a number of the group chats.
I’ve never really understood what anxiety feels like before, but now I think I do. This is just a glimpse of what people with constant feelings of anxiety must be feeling. For this it must amplify everything they are already feeling.
Is it not ok to just sit and watch Britain’s Got Talent with my family, or a Disney movie, like any other Saturday? I know, I’m lucky to have so many people messaging me. I have a great house, a lovely garden and my immediate family around me. But I’m still struggling.”
Reflections on Emma’s feelings, by Cat Adlam, psychotherapist at The Retreat
Emma writes movingly about what she is feeling amongst all the change that’s going on, and she is not alone – her experiences will resonate with many of us, myself included.
Her words made me think about connectivity, our ordinary emotional connections with others which are so important, and how these could suddenly feel jeopardised. We are worried about our and other’s health and safety, which can make it hard to relax and enjoy those connections. It is a painful and sad thing that at the time when we most need to look after ourselves and lean on our close and loving connections with others, we can find this most difficult to do. We are worried about our and other’s health and safety, which can make it hard to relax and enjoy those connections.
When we are experiencing anxiety, this often comes with increased self criticism, or guilt, just when we need self compassion. Emma’s words made me think that she doesn’t feel allowed the ordinary personal and family time she needs and enjoys, and instead the demands outside the family have invaded and taken precedence. Something is competing for her need of connection and of privacy. The world out there is a threatening and demanding place – and it has intruded, forced its way in, to her phone and home.
Her writing made me think about the sudden and frightening collapse of boundaries we’ve experienced, between private and public roles, personal and professional spaces. This can feel very confusing, like an invasion and a loss at the same time, and can undermine the ordinary safety and security of ‘home’ and ‘family’ at the very time when we need them most – because so much else is uncertain. It doesn’t feel easy to know how to reclaim and protect our personal safe spaces, something which could require a bit of healthy aggression, putting ourselves in the picture, shutting the world out at times.
Emma’s words also made me think about how anxiety is a signal-feeling, rather than an emotion in its own right, although it feels truly awful. Anxiety can often point to other conflicting feelings, which in themselves feel so painful or risky that we can’t be fully conscious of them. This can explain why anxiety comes along with intense pressures of self criticism and guilt, and makes us act in ways which are out of character and which don’t make sense to us – its an expression of something else, a symbol.
Ironically, at the same time anxiety can make us very busy – too busy to feel other things. Like other therapists I’m interested in what the signals point to, and I value the therapy relationship as a unique space for curiosity rather than judgement, curiosity about all parts of a person equally. Therapy can concentrate on the here and now and build tools to manage anxiety, and it can also ask – why these feelings, why now? Therapy doesn’t always feel safe, but if we can understand our feelings more we’ll feel more whole, as well as less anxious.
Of course, many people don’t want or need to begin therapy, they want support to manage life just now. I’ve come across a few helpful links to online resources which might help with this:
The below is a more detailed set of suggestions and exercises for managing worry:
Most of all, we need to remember that just now our most basic human needs are our priority – for health, safety and security (you may be familiar with the chart below). I would say that love and belonging are essential also – losing this threatens safety and security. We’re allowed to give ourselves a grace period for the other stuff – if we don’t achieve all that we’d like to (and our kids don’t either) – its OK, that other stuff will come.