As our hair grows longer and our manicure chips, there’s no doubt that our once normal lives have become hijacked by COVID-19. We humans are creatures of habit, it’s what makes us feel secure. When everything that was normal becomes turned on its ear, we invariably become unsettled… anxious. But before resigning yourself to just “getting through” a day of uncertainty and fear waiting for news of a curve that never seems to flatten, recognize what you’re doing — you’re conceding that today will be just another day waiting for this nightmare to end.
Truth is, the one thing this virus can’t do is steal your mental health or your day — you have to let that happen. Sure, you may feel helpless, but you’re NOT helpless! Remember, feelings aren’t facts. You could instead courageously decide that every day, in spite of living in lockdown, could be an opportunity, an adventure. But if you allow insecurity to paralyze you, then COVID-19 will define you and your day — not you! When this happens, you’re listening to the voice of insecurity, “I can’t stop worrying, I can’t get through this.”
The voice of insecurity — the fear of vulnerability — isn’t always obvious. Typically, we don’t make a distinction between insecurity-driven thinking and healthy thinking. That’s because insecurity can subtlety and insidiously twist your thoughts and feelings, convincing you that circumstances, not you, are controlling your life. We don’t recognize insecurity as something alien because we have become identified with its doubt, fear, and negativity. There’s no separation — healthy vs. insecure thinking. We’ve become one with our fears.
Start with this. If you hear yourself saying, “I can’t handle this,” or if you’re starting every sentence with “What-if,” ask yourself, “What is steering my thoughts right now? Is it me, my healthy “voice,” or insecurity?” Just asking this question puts you in a position to have a choice. A choice not to worry.
Worrying is insecurity’s major delivery system. Insecurity and worry are joined at the hip. When we feel out of control and vulnerable, we want to do something to regain a sense of control. This tendency to want to be in control is baked into our DNA — humans hate, absolutely loathe, being out of control. Now, finding ourselves confronted with this pandemic, our imaginations have become a blank screen on which to project our deepest worries and fears. Just as children fear a bogeyman coming and snatching them away, so too with COVID-19, we fear having our lives snatched away.
So we worry. It gives us the illusion that we’re doing something!
Sometimes worrying is an attempt to rehearse what you would do. If, for example, someone in your family gets the virus, what would you do if you ran out of food or toilet paper? Or what-if this, what-if that… and so on. In this case, worrying is an attempt to prep for the worst (we don’t worry about things going right). Unfortunately, rather than solving problems, worry simply begets more worry as we spin over and over. Other times, worry can be a form of superstition. I had a patient last week tell me (via Skype) that if she stopped worrying, something bad was going to happen to her or her family. Hey, is it any different from knocking on wood?
Bottom line: regardless of the form your worrying takes, it all boils down to the fact that you’re trying to do something — anything — to feel more in control. At least worrying is better than doing nothing, right? Wrong.
I admit that a little worrying isn’t unnatural or unusual in dire circumstances. Worrying that is proportionate to our circumstances can, in fact, cause healthy behavior like sheltering-in-place, washing hands, social distancing, etc. But when worrying becomes entwined with insecurity, it harms instead of helps, potentially paving the way for anxiety and depression.
And if you’re still insisting that worrying makes sense, recognize that worrying always takes place in some fictional future. As Mark Twain once said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.” Worry is a prediction of future chaos. And since the future doesn’t exist, then we must designate worry as an emotional fiction. It simply makes more sense to deal with today’s here-and-now challenges, staying present and not time-traveling into an uncertain what-if future.
If insecurity has convinced you that you have no choice and you must persist with your hand-wringing, feeling anxious, and anticipating chaotic future events, then at the very least ask yourself one simple question, “What is worry (insecurity) doing for me now?” Answer: nothing! Except making you miserable.
Take your life back from insecurity and worry:
- Beginning today, differentiate between facts and emotional fictions (hint, if it takes place anytime but in the moment, it’s a fiction).
- Recognize that you are not your insecurity. Insecurity is a long-standing habit. All habits are sustained by feeding them or destroyed by starving them. With awareness, you’re more than capable of separating yourself from your habit of insecurity.
- Overcoming the habit of insecurity requires an active mind, not a passive one. A passive mind puts up no resistance to doubts, fear, and negative thinking. An active mind can insist on more healthy thinking.
- There are many ways you can resist insecurity’s tug on your emotions. Try distractions like watching TV (not the news) or reading a great book, exercise, getting outside, immersing yourself in a hobby. Or simply employ a mantra telling yourself, “Stop it! Drop it!”