Hypervigilant

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines hyper-vigilance as, “the state of being highly or abnormally alert to potential danger or threat”. This is not to be confused with paranoia, “mental illness characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur usually without hallucinations”.

Normally hyper-vigilance is a term used when discussing PTSD or someone in a dangerous field of work; however, this term can also be used to describe those of us who experience anxiety disorders. On any typical day I am hyperaware of my surroundings and potential dangers that could be at play. My mind automatically thinks of the worst possible things that “could” happen, however highly unlikely. On a “good” day, I can allow those thoughts to flutter on by and shake them off as if they are just like any other thought. On my hard days, however, it’s not quite as easy.

My hard days often include: racing thoughts, constant “what ifs”, tense muscles, exhaustion, feeling “on edge”, irritability, and headaches. Most days are fairly “good” now, thanks to social support, medications, and therapy. Throw in a global pandemic, however, and my hard days have become my new normal again.

No matter how much I try to relax, turn off the news, or unwind, I constantly feel on edge these days. My shoulders creep up towards my ears, tensed. My stomach is always in knots, and I often sigh deeply just to get enough air, as I realize that I have been holding my breath. It feels as though I’m just waiting. Waiting for symptoms of the virus to HIT me out of nowhere, never knowing when it will strike. I am hypervigilant. Are you?

Hypervigilance isn’t always like you see on the movies. Sure, it can appear as constantly flinching at loud noises and acting out in irritability; however, I want you to know that a lot of the time, the battle of hypervigilance is within, unnoticeable to those around us and maybe even unrecognized by the person themselves.

My battle with hyper-vigilance is within. It’s a constant battle between fearing the worst, and feeling guilt and shame for not having enough faith. It’s not typically an outward struggle (unless illness is involved and then suddenly I’m washing my hands to the point of sores, wiping everything down with alcohol, and having a panic attack nearly every time I leave my house). It’s something that most people don’t notice. This is why it is so important that we check in on our friends during this unprecedented time. Even if our friends may not have a diagnosed mental illness like anxiety or depression, ALL of us are feeling the uncertainty and sometimes even the hyper-vigilance going on in the world right now.

Clinical Psychologist Karen Cassiday stated in an article by the Chicago Tribune, “The thing that makes the coronavirus difficult for people with anxiety is the level of uncertainty,” she said. “We know that when there’s uncertainty, then people with anxiety disorders try and narrow down the field of uncertainty to assume the worst-case scenario.” I would add to that and say that we are not merely trying to “narrow down the field of uncertainty” but we want answers. We want reassurance. We want to know the facts to know that we will be okay.

Moukaddam and Shah state, “Although the effects of the coronavirus on mental health have not been systematically studied, it is anticipated that COVID-19 will have rippling effects, especially based on current public reactions.” We are already seeing the effects of social distancing on those we love. Staying home, sometimes alone, is bound to lead to loneliness in most people. What we fail to recognize is the effects that this pandemic is having and will continue to have on individuals for years to come in regards to anxiety.

If you think about it, most of the world is experiencing hyper-vigilance right now. Please be intentional about reaching out to those you love. Be intentional about sharing how you are feeling about this pandemic. Be intentional about caring for yourself. Be intentional about putting your faith in God. Be intentional about having fun. If you do those things, the hyper-vigilance may not completely disappear, but it will help to know that you are not alone in this.

As a person of faith, I know that anything can happen any second of any day. I know that life could end instantly. I know that no human has any control over anything in this world, yet, my mind constantly fights for any sense of control. And that’s exactly what it is… a fight. A fight between faith in a God who loves me and is trustworthy, and my selfish, fearful, perfectionistic human nature.

I’ve had several people tell me throughout my life, but especially recently to “trust God and give it over to Him because He’s in control.” I know they mean well, but they aren’t telling me something that I don’t already know. I know that God is the only one in control. I know that I can trust him. I know that He is good. It’s not a matter of lack of faith or belief in those things, at least I don’t think it is. I appreciate the reminder, and sometimes it is helpful to be reminded of those truths, but it’s not a cure-all for my struggle, no matter how much I want it to be. God can and does bring me peace in the sense that: I know that He is with me, He will never leave my side, I am loved by Him, and no matter what happens, He’s got this. But that doesn’t always calm my racing thoughts, tense body, and emotions. Sometimes those truths do calm my mind and body, but most times they don’t.

Please know that if someone you love is really struggling with the way things are going right now in the world, just be a listening ear. Acknowledge their fears, talk through them, and if they are believers, pray WITH them, remind them of God’s love and goodness without dismissing their inner turmoil. Chances are if they are a devout follower of Jesus Christ, like myself, and struggle with their mental health, they KNOW God is in control, but they need love, gentleness and to know they are not alone or going “crazy”. Let’s stay home, wash our hands and be there for each other in ways we never knew we needed to be.

Thank you for reading my rambles.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out. The resources below would be glad to help you through this.

NAMI HelpLine, please call 800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., ET, or send an email to info@nami.org.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – For youth and adults
(800) 273-TALK (8255)

http://www.remedlylive.com

Resources Used
https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/psychiatrists-beware-impact-coronavirus-pandemics-mental-health

https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-coronavirus-ocd-anxiety-20200309-sxwxvepaevh73ec4w3cdtzgopa-story.html



Pandemic and Mental Illness

Pandemic.

Just the word ignites panic, fear, and doubts. For someone who struggles with mental illness or even chronic illness, that word also brings havoc to mental health.

As someone who struggles with anxiety disorders and even diagnosed subclinical OCD, I ask that you PLEASE be patient with us. Whether you are concerned about the virus or you are one who thinks it’s all a hoax, the threat can be very real in our minds. Not only that but whether we want to or not, our minds may constantly be racing with thoughts pertaining to the pandemic. Sure, limiting exposure to media is helpful to a degree but there is still evidence of the pandemic everywhere you go.

I have noticed myself developing obsessive behaviors and thought patterns surrounding the pandemic. I read article after article, watch video after video, and can’t help but do mental checklists constantly to ensure that I am healthy and safe. I struggle with medical/health anxiety as it is, and THIS has made it flare up even worse. I constantly want to check my temperature to make sure that I’m in a safe range, and I’m becoming scared to leave my house. These are things we SHOULD be concerned about given the current state of things, but when it becomes obsessive and the only thing your mind can think about, it’s damaging.

I’ve already been over cautious and scared of the coronavirus, but when you see that every single store is completely out of essentials, it only makes the anxiety worse. So please stop hoarding things if you don’t actually need them. I’m one of those people that likes to be prepared for any situation, I’m what some may call an over-packer. To see all of these items completely wiped out can be terrifying. My mind then races with all of the “what if” scenarios, and it can become debilitating if I let it.

So to all of my fellow people out there struggling with their mental health in this crisis, here are the ways I’m trying to get through it that might be of help for you too.

  1. Pray.
    1. Whether you are a follower of Christ or not, praying to your higher power can bring so much peace. To know that I don’t have control over anything is scary, but to know that God is in control eases my mind and body. My spiritual walk is a rollercoaster, some days are better than others, but knowing that I am still loved by God brings comfort and ease of mind.
  2. Rest.
    1. Rest has been exceptionally challenging for me in the past 2 months as I have not been sleeping well. Rest is CRUCIAL for not only your physical health but your mental health too. When I don’t get enough good rest, my anxiety and depression are two-fold. Do your best to get enough sleep.
  3. Get outside.
    1. I’ve discovered in the past 6 months that getting outside and taking a walk, helps me tremendously. It helps me to clear my head, focus in prayer, and get the excess adrenaline out of my system. Not to mention the fresh air and sunshine (when the sun is out), is super uplifting.
  4. Keep a Normal Routine.
    1. If there is anything I learned in my 2 months off of work for IOP, it’s that keeping a normal daily routine is very important. If you’re off work or school for an extended period, like I am now, keeping a normal routine will be vital to keeping your sanity. Get up at a decent time, shower, get dressed, get ready for the day even if you’ll be at home with nowhere to go. Just doing those simple tasks, can make the world of difference to how you feel physically and mentally. Of course, it’s important to take some days here and there to stay in your pajamas and watch movies, but if you can keep some structure to your days, it will help tremendously with your mental health.
  5. Reach Out.
    1. I hate that the media is throwing around the term “isolation”. We are so fortunate to live in a time where the people we love are just a text message or video chat away, no matter the distance. Social distancing is important and crucial to keep the virus from spreading, yes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have valuable connections with those we care about. Text, call, dm, or video chat the people you care about and talk about something unrelated to the pandemic at hand. Yes, expressing our concerns and fears with others is important for our mental health, but don’t let the conversations be solely about that topic.
  6. Have Some Fun.
    1. If I’m going to be distanced socially from others, and I’m having to stay home out of work for four weeks, I’m going to have to get creative and make things fun. Don’t let boredom overcome you, as I often allow it to overcome me. I plan to take some time to read, watch movies and tv shows, write, and play way more hours of The Sims 4 than I care to admit. Allow yourself space to have some fun. Watch a funny show or movie, play a video game or board game, read that book that’s been on your shelf for years, learn a new talent. There are so many possibilities and I’m excited about all of them.

Those are just some of the things I plan to implement in my time off of work during this crazy pandemic, and I hope it can be helpful for others out there who are struggling with their mental health during this time too.

If you are someone who is blessed to be in a good place mentally right now, then please make sure to reach out to those you know who may be struggling. Sometimes when our mental health is suffering, we do isolate. Reach out to us. Offer encouragement, support, and a listening ear. But most importantly, have patience. Our fears, thoughts and even behaviors may seem irrational and over the top, to you, but to us they are very real. Have compassion and patience. But also know how and when to give us a good dose of reality too. It’s a scary world we live in, especially now. We all need each other.

If you have any other ideas for making this time off of work even better, or you just want to share how you are dealing with this pandemic, feel free to share them with me! Stay safe and healthy! Thank you for reading my rambles.

iocdf.org/covid19