NOTE: This article has yet to be submitted to my editor. Please be kind to forgive any mistakes. Getting the message out is more important to me than a grammar check.
Most people have been doing their best to wash their hands regularly. I greet you today having washed my hands of anxiety following an episode of high stress in the face of unfamiliar territory.
While all of us are avoiding the daily handshake, I’m once again learning to shake hands with uncertainty.
This uncertainty I felt this week is not related to the coronavirus. Still, it worked to rattle me.
What I’ve learned this week definitely opens the door to more effectively help those who are stressed, fearful, or anxious regarding this health crisis. Those like my daughter, whose anxiety has risen and has been losing sleep because she fears her father (a disabled veteran) will get sick from this virus. (more on this in a video to come).
There I was, ready to take another delightful sip of hot coffee when a loud banging erupted at my front door. I did a quick run through the calendar in my mind.
Was this the plumber here to install our new garbage disposal? Oh, nope, I think that’s next week. Anyway, why is this person knocking so rudely? My thoughts were interrupted by another series of very loud banging, and now I was a bit anxious. Time to abandon the coffee and put on my big girl pants.
Stop shaking like a puppy about to pee, Amy.
I was immediately faced with two men waving badges in my face. They claimed they were federal agents with the postal service. The man in front of me said, “You know why we’re here, Amy, so I suggest you let us in now.”
Who were these strange men, and were those badges straight out of a cereal box from the 70’s? No chance I was letting them in! I said, “I don’t know who you are, I’m not letting you in.”
They encouraged me to call the police department to confirm their identity and followed with, “You’ll be talking to them sooner or later, so you might as well talk to them now.”
Damn, now I really needed to hold my pee. I called the police department. Two offers arrived in about five minutes. No guns were drawn, but my anxiety was triggered! The officers confirmed that these were in fact, real and true, federal agents, here to question me. The shiny cereal badges suddenly grew in size.
Now, I was surrounded by four authority figures, who felt more like a pack of wolves biting into me.
To some, this story may not seem like a big deal. If you’re a stoic person like my husband, you may have been fully prepared to calmly answer questions, and asked for the facts of the situation rather than being sucked into intimidation tactics.
To me, it was a most upsetting experience (as the friends I called can attest to).
STEPPING INTO UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY
We all face the unfamiliar in ways that are very personal. How prepared we are to lower our anxiety in the moment is unique to each person—thankfully, given my years of training and practice, I was able to deal with it successfully. Learning to shake hands with the uncertainty is a connection I believe we need to make at this time, more than ever.
A knowledge that it’s an agent’s job to intimate didn’t calm me in the moment. I also know it was a product of my imagination to have felt so under threat when these men of authority threatened jail time and told me they don’t believe me…This didn't make it any less real! And this is what's important here...
It didn’t matter that I’m innocent. In that moment stress seemed to be winning and all I could see were my hands cuffed behind my back! I imagined my life was over…innocent people go to jail everyday, after all…and on, and on, in the face of the unfamiliar, I created a crushing fantasy that I’d never see my children again.
HERE ARE 3 WAYS I ADDRESSED MY ANXIETY AND GAINED CLARITY OF MY SITUATION IN THE MOMENT:
While I most certainly wish I could have switched out of little puppy-pee-wiggle and into towering confidence more swiftly, I do recognize that I did in fact, access the tools I practice pretty quickly. To ground myself, I first needed to breathe when all I wanted to do was bark and scare these guys away.
Breathing is the first step to gaining clarity in situations where you feel your brain is scrambled. Learn to master your breath.
TAME EMOTIONS THROUGH PHYSICAL RE-POSITIONING:
To tame my emotions, I repositioned my slowly sagging posture to erect myself into a state of physical confidence. I turned myself into a single pillar of emotional calm whose job it is to stand tall vs. crumble unnecessarily under the weight of internal anxiety.
STAND IN THE UNCOMFORTABLE-NESS
After doing the job to clear my mind, I could make the choice to stick with the agents and cops (even though they encouraged me to go indoors, and even though I would have rather been inside cuddling my cats). It was a drawn out twenty minute wait for my husband to arrive.
Standing with the officers was a confidence measure for myself…to remind myself, “I got this--there really is nothing to fear”. I kept telling myself: Things aren’t as bad as they’re playing out in my head. The uncomfortable-ness of what I was experiencing didn't have to last long.
WHAT’S MOST NECESSARY TO NOTE IS THIS:
How we process the unfamiliar, uncertain times, and especially where we feel intimidated is a very personal experience!
Stress is there to help protect us when we feel under threat. Our job is to not allow it to stick with us for long.
Anxiety is an opportunity to grow, it is not a label of shame!
When we see others managing, coping, and responding to uncertainty (whether real or imagined), we can learn to support rather than jump to negative judgements.
AMY'S CHALLENGE FORWARD:
In this time of uncertainty I see many conversations that are dismissing others’ response to coronavirus as “overblown” or “irrational” and even “stupid.” These words are direct from comments I’ve seen floating about. A type of arrogance usually follows: “How could people be so dumb…paranoid…out of their minds…"
The question isn’t whether or not it is fair to make these judgements. We all have a right to our opinions, and our individual choice to express them. Any consequence attached to those opinions is ours to own, of course.
In reality, there may be more anxiety and fear attached to people than is visible. Many people are silent about their worries for fear of judgement and are doing everything they can to feel safe. One of these people may be someone you love.
I was a bit nervous to share my own internal story of the Feds coming to take me away. Thankfully, I can now see beyond my own nervousness to try and shed some light on this topic. Many people I've worked with who deal with anxiety feel very much alone. Emotional loneliness is a #1 overlooked topic I believe, and one we should pay close attention to.
TO HELP MOVE US ALL FORWARD:
I'd like to propose a challenge for us to become more deeply aware of the differences inside of us--to appreciate the struggles we face, for the sake of higher understanding and compassion for our fellow human beings …to reflect upon, recognize, and respond to others’ fears as real, valuable, and worthy of attention (especially our kids).
Let’s work a personal mission to help flatten the curve on our collective habit to lose patience with others, or make fun of them when they may be struggling with real and internal fears.
Let's rise up to create an intentional social connection via picking up the phone as we physically distance ourselves from others through this coronavirus season.
Let’s view this coronavirus experience as an opportunity to talk about more than toilet paper hoarding. We can open up dialogue about fear, anxiety, stress in the face of any and all kinds of uncertainty. We can help prepare our children for the unfamiliar…without dismissing their fears as perhaps nonsense or irrational.
Let’s do more than wash hands. Let’s work together to wash our hands free of long-term anxiety and debilitating stress. Finally, for the sake of all, let’s learn to shake hands with uncertainty and embrace the unfamiliar with greater heart than knowledge.
Amy is the author of Persevere to Succeed: A Practical Guide to Ignite the Fire of Success Through Uncertainty, professional speaker and coach.