March 18, 2020

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Alyssa Petersel

What To Do When It Feels Like The World Is Ending

If you are feeling existential fear, anxiety, depression, or dread, know that you are not alone. I will outline a few techniques to counter existential pains below, which I hope will support you as a foundation for where to begin.

Have you ever found yourself wondering, “What is the point of all of this, anyway?”

Believe it or not, it would be more “normal” if you have than if you haven’t, especially during times of uncertainty.

One natural reaction to unexpected change is grasping for control, meaning-making, and understanding. If we are unable to secure control, meaning, or understanding, our grasping can evolve into anxiety, depression, or both, especially during crises.

If you are feeling existential fear, anxiety, depression, or dread, know that you are not alone. I will outline a few techniques to counter existential pains below, which I hope will support you as a foundation for where to begin.

Let’s walk through these practices today, together.

1. Think about a time you felt this way before.

It’s important to remember that challenges are often the most fertile grounds for growth and evolution. They can be very painful while you’re in the midst of them, no doubt. Often, though, on the other side, we recognize the beauty between the lines.

Take 5-10 minutes to think about a time when you felt groundless before. Perhaps you felt deep uncertainty, anxiety, or fear.

If you have pen and paper accessible to you, I invite you to think about and write down answers to one or more of the following questions:

  • What were you worried about?
  • What did that feel like? What sensations did you feel in your body, or what thoughts were circling around your mind?
  • How long did you feel that way?
  • Did those thoughts or feelings pass?
  • Did that experience lead to anything else that you are now grateful now?
  • What did that experience teach you?

If you have an opportunity to connect and share your responses with peers who you love and trust, or with your therapist, I encourage you to do so.

2. Connect and empathize with peers.

Despite social distancing, we are not alone. Loneliness can be very dangerous and very unhealthy. It is important, now more than ever, to identify and invest in social relationships that lift you up.If possible, I encourage you to write down a list of 1-3 people who you would like to text or have a video session with in the next two weeks. Mark a time in your calendar to do so and treat that commitment like a work meeting. It’s that important.If you are feeling as though you do not know exactly who to reach out to, or who might understand, MyWellbeing is hosting a number of Grounding Groups, which are opportunities for people to come together to empathize with each other and share resources. The Grounding Groups are choose-what-you-pay and all donations go to supporting the mental health providers who we work with during this important time.

3. Identify healthy distractions

While it is important for you to stay informed and to behave responsibly for your own health and the health of others, you cannot possibly sustain being alert and “on” or “tuned in” at all times. Your mind and body need opportunities to rest and restore in order to manage these uncertain times at your strongest capacity.

Please take 5-10 minutes to consider who or what you can turn to when you are hoping to turn “off” and feel pleasant. I’ve listed some ideas below to help spark some inspiration.

Know that what works for you may be entirely different than what works for me, or for your friend or neighbor, and that is absolutely okay. It’s most important that this thing be fulfilling and restorative for you.

  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Spooning a cat or dog
  • Watching a chick flick
  • Watching your favorite sitcom
  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Cooking
  • Singing
  • Dancing
  • Writing love notes to yourself and your loved ones
  • Listening to music or podcasts

4. Maintain your routines

One of the first things to go when working or living remotely, which can contribute to feelings of loss of control, are your routines.

You all will differ in the degree of morning and evening routines you practiced before this lifestyle change. Even if you did not practice routines before, routines can be helpful now, particularly if you are confined to a small space that will house various activities (work, play, and sleep, for example). If your physical environment will not cue your mind and body to behave a certain way, your routines can.

I encourage you to write down your ideal morning routine and your ideal evening routine. I also encourage you to write down how you plan to reward yourself for honoring your routine(s) when you do.

I will outline some ideas below to get you started. As always, please edit to make it your own at every possible occasion.

Morning routine options:

  • Coffee or tea
  • Breakfast
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Reading a few positive affirmations
  • Journaling
  • Open your blinds

Evening routine options:

  • Light a candle
  • Take a hot shower or warm bath
  • Dim the lights
  • Meditation
  • Reading a novel
  • Journaling
  • Write down 5 things you are grateful for from that day
  • Lavender essential oils

5. Practice boundaries with the news and media

We talked about this briefly in our healthy distractions section. As important as it is to stay informed, for your health and the health of your community and your loved ones, it is important to take breaks from the news and from the media (social media as well as your favorite outlets).

I trust you to define what type of boundaries you need. This may vary according to the type of work that you do and the degree to which the news and media causes you stress and panic, among a variety of other factors.

I recommend designating at least 30 minutes at the start of your day and at least 30 minutes at the end of your day to live without checking the news or media. If you are able to manage 30 minutes each of no technology, even better. This will provide your mind and body an opportunity to reground, reset, and rejuvenate. This may sound counterintuitive, but every time you turn “off,” you are strengthening your ability to turn “on” in the most authentic and fulfilling way for yourself and those around you.

6. Go to therapy

Research shows that anxiety and depression peak during times of crisis and uncertainty. Research also shows that therapy is a proven tool that can help you manage anxiety, depression, and any other broad feelings of dis-ease.

Most therapists are willing and able to provide their services remotely, particularly during this time of need, even if they ordinarily only offer in-person sessions. I encourage you to inquire with your current therapist if you can continue your work together remotely for the duration of the crisis.

If you do not yet work with a therapist, I encourage you to begin, even if you think you don’t need it.

Therapy is an incredibly rare and important opportunity to have space that is reserved for you and only you. You can process anything and everything that is on your mind, learn about the nuances of who you are and how you tick, and build resilience in the face of stress. The results will have an incredible impact on your sense of self, your sense of security, your work, and your relationships.

If you are in NYC and would like support finding the right therapist for you, we at MyWellbeing are happy to help. Share some of your preferences in our brief, easy to understand questionnaire, and we will send you the best 3 matches for you in less than 24 hours.

I understand that we are living through a time of heightened stress, panic, and uncertainty. For some of you, your adrenaline will be glaring and you will have a hard time not moving 100 miles per hour. For others of you, even the simplest of tasks will feel incredibly challenging to complete, which may feel confusing or alarming in itself.

I can guarantee for each of you that you are not alone. There are people out there who care about you and your wellbeing, myself and my team included.

If you take nothing else away from this piece, please practice compassion and patience toward yourself and those around you. If we band together during this time and support each other, we will survive and we will come out stronger on the other side.

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About the author

Alyssa Petersel, Co-Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.

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