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How The COVID-19 Outbreak Is Making Some People Less Anxious


This pandemic is making a lot of people very anxious. But we have also been hearing stories about people with diagnosed anxiety disorders who say their anxiety has let up. How does that work? Sarah Menkedick wrote about this experience in The Washington Post. Her anxiety started around the time her daughter was born a few years ago. And I asked her how she usually feels.

SARAH MENKEDICK: There's just this constant line of worries. It's not like I'm just worried about this for a brief period. And then it goes away. But there's sort of this non-stop series of worries. And there's almost this disconcerting sense that if I'm not worrying about something, I'm not being safe. Or I'm putting myself in danger. So it's quite illogical. But that doesn't make it any easier to control.

KING: So for the past five years, it's been there all of the time. And then the pandemic starts. And you write that, for some reason, your anxiety - is it that it eased? Is it that it went away? What exactly are you feeling or did you start feeling?

MENKEDICK: So I think a lot of anxiety is about not being able to accept any uncertainty at all and having to sort of try and control everything all the time. And I think in a situation of real fear, like the one that we're living in now, where, you know, we know people who have passed away from this illness, all of a sudden, my anxiety just seems like it doesn't matter, you know? Like, it's completely futile.

KING: Do you remember the day your anxiety eased?

MENKEDICK: We were extremely stressed out in the beginning because we were actually in Mexico. And we sort of checked out of social media and the news. But then, I think once we were back in the U.S. and, you know, I was reading the news and it was clear just how huge and catastrophic this could be, all of a sudden, it was like my priorities shifted. And it was, well, thank God that I'm healthy. And thank God I'm here with my family. And who cares about sunscreen, you know?


MENKEDICK: Who cares about these - who cares if my daughter eats Skittles, you know? Let her eat Skittles. It's fine.

KING: What do you think will happen when this is over? Do you think you'll go back to being anxious?

MENKEDICK: I hope not (laughter). I really hope not.

KING: Yeah. Yeah.

MENKEDICK: It's so hard to maintain that perspective. And, you know, I write in my journal every morning. I do all of these practices to try and remember what this feels like and to keep that sort of openness, that bigness of this moment, when I feel like it is revealed what really matters. And I remember that feeling after my daughter's birth. Whenever I think there's a big sort of life-or-death event, all of a sudden, all this other little stuff falls away. And then it creeps back in. So I think it's about making this really conscious effort to stay connected to what that felt like, you know, and to sort of the bigness of things.

KING: And lastly, for people who are feeling anxious - having dealt with it yourself for so many years - what's one really good piece of advice you can give?

MENKEDICK: Right now, I think it's important to step away from the computer. Step away from social media for a while because I think it's easy to get stuck in this sort of catastrophizing cycle of doom there. And really connect with other people. And that may be talking about what you're feeling. Or it may just be talking about what you're reading or everyday life.

That connection is really important because the more you're isolated, I think, the easier it is to fall down into this dark pit. So finding ways to connect with other people, and then also just finding ways to take care of yourself and take some time for yourself, that's really, really helpful.

KING: That was Sarah Menkedick. She wrote the book "Ordinary Insanity: Fear And The Silent Crisis Of Motherhood In America." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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