‘I’m worried my friends think I’m a drama queen because of my Covid anxiety’

Tell Me About It: ‘I’m aware I can overreact but I’m scared of bringing it home’

PROBLEM: I have recently been suffering from some anxiety due to Covid and I fear it is starting to affect how my friends think of me. I run and get a PCR test for nearly everything – if I have slight symptoms or if a case has been detected in my college class (it is a fairly big class).

I also notify anyone I have been in contact with if I decide to get a test. I have probably had “scares” about eight out of 10 times since the start of Covid – most since I moved back to college last November. I am aware that, at times, I overreacted and got a test when it was probably unnecessary and then stressed a lot about it. In lectures, I always get anxious when people are not wearing masks properly. I feel that my friends are getting slightly sick of me always “freaking out” and that they think I am a drama queen. They have never made fun of me or anything, but I think that they are slightly exasperated now.

Do you have any advice that would help me to stop getting so stressed about Covid and to stop overreacting? I am scared of bringing it home and also passing it on to housemates.

ADVICE: Just because we have opened up our society and are returning to something resembling normality, it does not mean that the anxiety that has built up over the past two years will disappear immediately. We know (from the My World 2 survey, 2019) that anxiety among young people (18 to 24) has risen hugely and this was happening prior to the pandemic. So a certain level of anxiety is to be expected but you are now recognising that your actions may be a little excessive.

You have developed a pattern of worrying about your Covid status and, as with all habits, this may be hard to change. In your case the relief that comes from getting a negative test gives ease for a while and this contributes to the repetition of testing and on it goes. Anxiety is fuelled by fear and, as our minds are primed for threats, it is very easy for our minds to present us with the worst possible outcome and the constant re-emerging of the virus has captured our threat response in ever-deepening ways.

When your anxiety lowers you will find that your ability to use good judgment and to make decisions that you are happy with increases

It is helpful to understand the anxiety response, but you will also need to take some actions to mitigate it so that you do not worry excessively so your life can become more enjoyable. In an overall sense what you are aiming for is to quieten your mind so that your intelligence, reason and decision-making capacity can work. Many practices are known to help quieten our minds: mindfulness, yoga, meditation, marital arts, music, sport etc. Because your mind has been working overtime it is going to take some time for any practice of becoming still to take hold, so take a long-term view and exercise plenty of patience.

When you think of how long it took to raise your anxiety to its current level it will give you some sense of the time, and dedication, it is going to take to address this. As in most things, any new practice or habit is easier to follow if you do it in the company of others so check out your college’s meditation/yoga/mindfulness courses and sign up as soon as you can. You will not be alone, as many others are also seeking peace of mind. If you need extra help, book some sessions with the student counselling service as they will have expertise in the area of tackling anxiety.

When your anxiety lowers you will find that your ability to use good judgment and to make decisions that you are happy with increases. In other words, you will be able to trust that your judgment on leading a reasonable social life will be based on knowledge, from public health advice, and not on hyped up fear. In the in-between period, while you are working on your anxiety, you can use your friends to help you make decisions.

You trust your friends to care for you and not put you in danger (I assume you have these types of friendships) and so you can pick a few of them and talk to them about your aim to lessen your habitual anxious response. For example, you might tell some friends that your tolerance for crowds at the moment is capped at a certain number, or at a certain amount of time, and that you are trying to tolerate a slightly larger number, or longer time, and you would really appreciate their support in this. They will then be able to rescue you when your tolerance has reached its limit and praise you for stretching yourself. This in turn will positively reinforce you in reaching your aim.

Friends like involvement and being given a privileged place in our trust and so you will be honouring them by asking for their help and giving them directions to follow. Good and lasting friendships require vulnerability and as you open up to them, you will not only deepen your relationships but also offer them the opportunity to lean on you when their turn comes.

Take some steps towards tackling your fear and anxiety, seek support from your friends and you fill find that you will gradually grow in confidence and life will open up for you again.