Are you unsettled, insecure, and expecting something bad to happen in this uncertain COVID-19 time? Do you wonder why some of your friends seem to manage uncertainty and don’t feel the same way?
That’s complicated. There are and have been way too many uncertainties in the past 8 months. It’s a scary time. It’s hard to live with uncertainty. Understanding the reasons why you’re edgier can help.
Let’s start with a few questions. Did you have an uncertain or unreliable childhood? Have you lived with a lot of anxiety anyway, even before the pandemic? Do you tend to catastrophize and be pessimistic? Or are your friends living in a “blissful” denial?
Maybe you even wish you could be like them. “Blissful” denial can sort of be a mechanism of control. But it can also make you overlook ways to protect yourself. On the other hand, living in constant fear can make you think you’re less safe than you are.
How do you deal with uncertainty in uncertain times? Why are you so panicked?
The Effects of a Traumatic Childhood
If you were a neglected or abused child, you likely had erratic, frightening, and unreliable parents. This creates anxiety and terror about what will happen next.
That feels and is far from safe. And, it’s not unusual to keep expecting the worst, not something good. Especially if there wasn’t much “good” you could count on.
Even if you weren’t abused, maybe you had an early loss, the death of a parent or loved one. Or your parent’s divorce. That brings up doubt about what you can count on too.
You want something good, but maybe every time you think you have it, it gets taken away by one thing or another. It’s hard to hold onto hope. Hope doesn’t feel safe either.
The uncertainty in this uncertain time of a serious pandemic stirs up your old anxieties. Along with the worry, panic, and feeling that danger is around the corner, you know too well.
Why You’ve Lived with Anxiety & Panic Attacks
It’s common to live with anxiety and panic attacks when you’ve had trauma in your childhood. You likely pushed down a lot of sadness, fear, and anger just to soldier on.
Those feelings become symptoms, expressed in fear, worry, or panic. You try hard to control your feelings, not to show them, especially not to be what you call “too needy.”
Feelings don’t seem safe if you never had anyone accept them or comfort you. In fact, if you were told you’re too sensitive or criticized for your needs, you think you’re weak.
Now you’re in a frightening and sad time. You might even be angry at the restrictions. The COVID-19 pandemic stirs up these feelings for anyone who faces the reality of it.
Yet, on top of the uncertainty about when this will end, whether you’re safe or have had contact with anyone infected, you’re worried your feelings might get out of control.
These worries can make you feel hopeless. You keep expecting a catastrophe to happen.
Being Pessimistic & Expecting Catastrophe
A large part of your pessimism or catastrophic thinking is rooted in unsettling experiences in childhood or unexpected trauma later. That’s important to remember.
When a catastrophe actually happened, when you were unsafe and unprotected, it’s very hard not to expect more of the same. Especially in an uncertain time, not within control.
That’s what we’re living in now. And this kind of uncertainty is layered on top of all the old uncertainties of the past. It’s hard not to believe it’s all very real. It is, but also not.
What needs to be sorted out are the past experiences from the present ones. As a child, you couldn’t control what was happening, protect yourself, or make your own choices. And, if you lived in an out of control family, a catastrophe seemed “waiting” to happen.
Yet, now you’re not helpless. Although there is much you can’t control, there is also much that you can. You don’t have to end up in a catastrophe, not if you are careful.
Yes, hope is scary if you’ve been hurt. But there is hope. Try not to let pessimism take over. Plus, that “blissful” denial of some friends isn’t something to be jealous about.
Is Seemingly “Blissful” Denial A Good Thing?
Those friends of yours running around and living life as if nothing has changed aren’t a model of who you “should” be if you weren’t always so panicked or scared.
When your friends say they aren’t scared or don’t think they’d get a bad COVID case because they’re young or healthy, they’re denying there’s something real to worry about.
There’s a big difference between being frozen in fear or catastrophic worry (even though you’ve washed your hands numerous times already) – and not being afraid “at all.”
Those who won’t wear a mask, gather in groups when advised not to, or go about life in a carefree way are counterphobic – reversing fear to its opposite. That has its own risks.
It’s one way to deal with difficult uncertainties: pretend they aren’t there. This means diverting their attention away from any feelings and isn’t exercising reasonable caution.
That’s nothing to envy. You can find a balance between fear and denial.
Healthy Ways to Deal with Pandemic Uncertainty
Living in a pandemic is living in an uncertain world. There’s too much you can’t control. That can trigger childhood trauma of never knowing whether you’re safe.
It’s important to find ways to have some control where you can. Here’s how:
- Listen to expert advice, which is like having a good parent watching over you.
- Keep yourself safe by following all the recommended safety precautions.
- Sort out when your pessimistic thinking takes over, instead of living in reality.
- If you’re starting to feel like nothing and no one is safe, that isn’t the truth.
- When seeing friends, don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Ask safety questions.
- Determine who is taking precautions and putting safety first, including yours.
- At the very least, don’t withdraw into fear. Stay connected with your friends.
- Striking a good balance between denial and catastrophic thinking helps a lot.
- Keep hope alive. Getting through this means working together. That’s the key.
If you had to figure it all out by yourself as a child, you don’t need to now.
Get Help When the Uncertainty is Too Much
You don’t have to do this alone. If you find yourself traumatized, scared all the time, thinking catastrophically, unable to find a way out, it’s time to get professional help.
This is a good time to start psychotherapy. The uncertainty of the pandemic and the normal fears it evokes for all, does trigger your personal vulnerabilities and old traumas.
Therapy sorts these out. Don’t wait. Contact a therapist now. Therapy can help you work through your panic and catastrophic thinking, and feel safer in this uncertain time.