The front door broke away from its hinges and Big Foot—all eight feet of him—lurched into my house with claws out and fangs bared. I quickly divined the reason for his intrusion—Big Foot was The Virus and he was there to get me. I jerked awake with the realization that I had to deal with my COVID-19 anxiety. But how?
Yes, we’re all in this together. As social distancing creates empty spaces between us, differences of opinion on continuing stay-at-home orders are leading to even more turbulence. An abundance of news articles on weird dreams seems to indicate that we have become members of a collective pandemic subconsciousness. National Geographic magazine recently reported on the phenomena of strange or disturbing virus-themed dreams. Nightmares, according to the article, can be warning signs of anxieties that we might not otherwise perceive in our waking lives.1
Back to Big Foot. He and other menacing creatures have been clomping, slithering or oozing through my dreams a few times a week since February, when I first noticed an uptick in articles on the novel coronavirus. Recently I shared my concerns with my friend and coworker, Grace Campagna, director of our employee advocacy support center, BenefitsVIP®.
“I’m not an anxious person, but how can you not have anxiety with what’s going on in the world?” Grace said after I described my dream. Her statement was a revelation; she’s one of those take-charge people who always seems so calm. Yet she experiences anxiety, too.
“For me,” she said, “meditation takes the worry away for a couple of hours. When I start feeling anxious, I just breathe.” She explained that the simple act of mindful breathing is a way to refocus the brain from obsessing about the past (or the future) and living in the present. Cultivating the practice of resting the mind on an “anchor” (breathing) is a central aspect of meditation. The process of sitting still and focusing on the present involves learning basic mindfulness meditation practices, such as following the breath, and doing it on a regular schedule.2
Grace meditates four times a week, and she has facilitated our company’s twice-a-week lunchtime meditation sessions over the last five years. “Meditation shuts down the clutter in my head,” she said. “I’m usually going a thousand miles an hour, but when I meditate it keeps me present.”
Last week I joined Grace and several other coworkers on a guided meditation conference call. She queued up a YouTube video by Mindful Movement and the guide, Sara, began to narrate the 20-minute session. Sara instructed us to inhale, pulling in a white light, and then exhale, pushing out negativity. She noted that it’s impossible to draw a breath from the past or access one from the future; a breath is always in the moment. Maybe it was the deep breathing or Sara’s calm instructions but I felt something ease in my chest—a release like the uncoiling of a spring. Before I knew it, the 20-minute meditation was over.
Is meditation a miracle cure for anxiety, a pandemic panacea? I really don’t know yet. Also, the nightmare came back last night. I woke up in a sweat in the wee hours but remembered what Grace had told me: “When I start feeling anxious, I just breathe.” I breathed in and out for a few minutes and felt the uncoiling in my chest, the same release I had experienced during the meditation session. So yes, I’ll give it a try over the next several weeks to see what happens.
I don’t want to oversimplify the impact of the pandemic. We all pine for the days before the virus, when a loving hug or a benign handshake didn’t result in infection, a hospitalization, or worse. We worry about the financial stresses of job loss or the new, gnawing threat of meat and poultry shortages.3 We worry that despite our constant disinfecting, social distancing and mask-wearing, the virus will Big Foot its way into our homes. Anxiety has emerged as the ever-present undercurrent that’s become hardwired in our brains and emotions. To coin another metaphor, anxiety is the tie that binds us.
Still, as I said in my Quarantine 15 article, we can’t get this time back. I don’t want to waste the next months being a victim of COVID-19 anxiety. In search of better control, I’m:
- Starting every day by remembering three things I’m grateful for
- Saying “thank you” often to loved ones, coworkers, my employer and the Universe
- Listening to uplifting podcasts (see More Resources below for ideas)
- Calling my friends and family
- Creating something: a painting, a sculpture or a piece of fiction
- Maintaining my daily walking schedule and healthful eating program
- Laughing more
- Inhaling, exhaling…repeat, repeat
- If all else fails, seeking help from my primary care physician, health insurance carrier, my company’s employee assistance program and our BenefitsVIP support service
Is there a Big Foot in your dreams? There are many resources available that may help you cope. Check out Mental Health America’s Mental Health and COVID-19—Information and Resources for information on how to get better control of COVID-19 anxiety, and much more.
Be safe and take care, America. #TogetherApart.
1National Geographic, “The Pandemic Is Giving People Vivid, Unusual Dreams. Here’s Why.”
2Mindful.org, “A Breathing Practice to Stay in the Moment”
3Bloomberg, “U.S. Could be Weeks from Meat Shortages with Shutdowns Spreading”
The Atlantic, “Dear Therapist’s Guide to Staying Sane During a Pandemic”
Child Mind Institute: How Mindfulness Can Help During COVID-19”
Podcast: Mayo Clinic Q&A, “Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19 Crisis”
Podcast: Hidden Brain, “A Social Prescription: Why Human Connection Is Crucial To Our Health”
Podcast: Ted Radio Hour, “Pure Joy”
Podcast: Invisibilia, “The Prayer”