High Anxiety…not just an old Mel Brooks film.


I'm sure you've heard about the crushing inadequacies of mental health services right now. Teens in mental health crises are being "boarded" in emergency rooms for WEEKS waiting for a bed on a mental health unit.  There are even fewer Geri-psych beds available for specialized care.  Though not all cases of heightened anxiety fit the criteria for hospitalization, we should know how to intervene and help those in our inner circle when these symptoms manifest.

It's an everyday conversation now as I talk with Aberdeen clients and families: "My 80-year-old mother is worrying herself to death," "Dad doesn't want to leave the house. He's too afraid of COVID (and everything else it seems)," "My teenagers and elderly parents are suffering from anxiety, and now I'm starting with it too."  So, what can we do to help? And what about ME?  I'm the "sandwich person," the one with teens on one side and elder parents on the other.  I'm feeling even more out of sorts than I am comfortable with.

As we enter our third year with COVID, undoubtedly, we have "normalized" the many ways our lives have changed.  Fortunately, it seems as if our collective burden is lightened. So, why are the vulnerable among us suffering?

I've witnessed extreme vulnerability in my many decades working with those at the end of life or with life-limiting illnesses. The struggle of losing control, either slowly over time or in one fell swoop, leaves these folks and their families feeling powerless.  Powerless in the way many of us feel about the big-ticket items like the epidemic of opiate addiction among our youth, political unrest and the threat of invasion and war, truckers on strike, take your pick.  But then, add in our local worries: beloved beach erosion, are there enough beds in local hospitals to take care of us all, is Captain Dusty's really going to open on March 7? Sometimes, it’s just too much.

We Yanks like strength.

We come from stock that dug in their heels and made things happen.  So many of our 80-somethings were children during WW II, our 90-somethings may have served in Korea, and our 70-somethings may have served in Vietnam.  We haven't been living at the country club, and it's not as if we don't have historical resilience to draw on.  The North Shore is full of these folks. You know them, and I do too.  They are our families, neighbors, and friends.

Except, much of what has happened just doesn't make sense to some of us.  Imagine the terror of a child who thinks about the transmission of COVID and how just breathing the same air can give you a potentially lethal illness. It sounds like something out of a Ray Bradbury novel.  Very X-Files-esque.  Impossible.

Change is inevitable, but why do we struggle with it so much?

Four generations of my family were children at our 120 School Street "homestead."  The walls held countless memories, and the old goat attached to the light post by the back door welcomed people for nearly 100-years.  Admittedly, it was an old house with lots to be fixed, and at the end of 2021, it was sold and taken down for a new one to replace it.  My heart broke, but my wise cousin Stu Parsons comforted me with, "it will be a new wonderful homestead for the next family too."

We all want to feel safe.  Sure, safe is a loaded word, but if we "peel the onion," we want to live with predictability, security, confidence, and wellness.  We should have a solid comfort level if we live responsibly and have our helpers in place (physicians, home care, medications, household, family).  Enter stage left: many threats over which we have very little control. Enter stage right: increasing levels of vulnerability, fear, anxiety, and panic.

The million-dollar question: What can we do?

Start with a level playing field.  Collect your allies.  Confide in your loved ones who may be struggling with unhealthy anxiety that you also worry too much.  They're not alone.  You feel the backpack getting heavier and long for a simpler time, too.

Acknowledge the monster under the bed.  Our feelings are real and present and will manifest themselves even if they are denied.  I argue that denying them feeds them.  Ignore the monster under the bed, and it will only get bigger.

Name what we feel.  Describe your feelings using colors and write about it: "It was a dark and stormy night that went on for two years…"  Express it.  Find a language that works for you and get it out.

Release your disappointment, frustration, worry, lack of control, and anger, not by driving aggressively, which the credible news outlets are all reporting, and not by drive-by shootings or fruitings (for those familiar with the wonderful Mrs. Doubtfire).  But, before we jump to a deep dive into the positive, we acknowledge what is—loneliness, isolation, loss, darkness, and hopelessness.  

In our emotional pedicure, let's name the awful color that's on our toes.

Take it off one toe at a time.  Take the time to see the nails as they are. Let them breathe before we slap a new coat of Paradise Pink.  Don't cover up what is painful with trite, just to "make it go away."  Slow it down.  Examine what hurts, dig deep, peel the onion, and then go to work.

Reclaim all the power we have.  The choices we make can still affect the quality of our lives. Rethink celebrating life: our senses, ice cream, "spinning the beach."  All the pleasures around us that are legion.  Once we name the monster and acknowledge our intimidation, we can shrink it down a few sizes.

Reacquaint ourselves with our power.  Maybe it starts small.  Feed it and watch it grow.  Patience, kindness, and opportunity are required—one day… at a time.  

aberdeen home care, inc., covid, captain dusty's, joanne macinnis