A new study has found that one unlikely result of the pandemic for many has been Panic Disorder – an increased inability to make inconsequential decisions due to the constant need for risk assessment in everyday life.
If you’ve found yourself struggling with making minor decisions recently, you’re not the only one. A new study conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association found that nearly one-third of US adults (32%) are having difficulty making basic daily decisions, such as what to wear or eat.
The survey also showed that, while 70% of respondents were confident that everything would work out fine once the coronavirus pandemic ended, and 77% felt like they were doing well overall, more than one-third (35%) said it has been more stressful to make major life decisions, around half (49%) said the pandemic has made planning for the future seem impossible, and 61% said the last 18 months have made them rethink how they live their lives.
Those results are not surprising in and of themselves. We’ve all read the headlines about the general anxiety and feelings of dread that people have experienced throughout the pandemic, as well as the stories about people completely re-evaluating their lives thanks to all of the free time for self-reflection. Deciding whether or not to quit your job and move to Missouri is always stressful, even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on.
But the statistics about anxiety over minor daily decisions struck me as new and interesting, not least because I’ve been experiencing this myself.
I’ve always been a relatively antsy overthinker, but I have never been reduced to beads of sweat over whether or not to do a yoga class, as has recently been the case. I can spend an entire afternoon debating whether or not to go to a party. My boyfriend has taken to simply ordering for me at restaurants, like I’m a baby. I know, on a rational level, that none of these decisions are A Big Deal, but they feel like The Biggest Deal Ever in the moment, and knowing that they’re not simply makes me annoyed at myself on top of everything else.
This type of anxiety – in which you can have a panic attack over something relatively small – is known as a Panic Disorder. You might even recognize that debating whether to go to the gym or straight to work is not worth the agony it’s causing you, but you still feel like you’re in an airplane that’s about to crash into the ocean. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 4.7% of US adults experience panic disorders. Based on this new survey, it seems like quite a few more of us are suffering from them now.
The survey blames this new surge of anxiety almost entirely on the pandemic. “For many, the pandemic has imposed the need for constant risk assessment, with routines upended and once trivial tasks recast in light of the pandemic. Many people ask, ‘What is the community transmission in my area today and how will this affect my choices? What is the vaccination rate? Is there a mask mandate here?’ When the factors influencing a person’s decisions are constantly changing, no decision is routine.”
Concerns over the Delta variant and changes in routine are no doubt the main source of stress for many people. And they’re still at it. Almost everyone I know is freaking out over the vaccine mandate, either because they’re worried that it’s not safe to go out as not enough people are vaccinated, or staunchly against the vaccine and terrified of losing their jobs.
Oh, and inflation is on the rise and the economy is trash. I feel sorry for my parents, because this country is very quickly starting to resemble the 1990s Russia from which they so optimistically fled.
Whatever the cause may be, something must be done about this new mental health crisis, because this type of anxiety can be extremely disruptive and destructive to your life. You spend so much time thinking about things that are not important that you don’t get to the things that actually are important, thereby increasing your anxiety even further. It’s a very vicious cycle. Or, it takes you so long to decide what to wear and make sure the oven and the candles and the tap are off in your apartment that you’re consistently late for work, and therefore get fired. The consequences of panic disorder can be quite severe.
If, like me, you’re struggling with this type of anxiety, here are a few tips that might help:
Get a therapist. We’re way past the point where there’s any stigma to it. Everyone should see a therapist. Everyone.
Keep the drinking to a minimum. Having a few drinks will alleviate your stress in the moment, but it’ll make the hangover anxiety all the worse in the morning. Take it easy on the bottle until your mental wellbeing improves.
Monopolize on your moments of peace. If you’ve been freaking out all day and suddenly find yourself actually feeling at ease in the evening, don’t immediately jump to relaxing, though you’ll be tempted to. Use this clear-headedness to map out a plan of what to wear, to eat, to do, etc. for the rest of the week.
When in doubt, just do it. If you can’t make up your mind about something and it’s driving you crazy, it’s likely that it’s something that you want to do but there’s some sort of fear holding you back. If you find yourself debating the ups and downs of going to a cocktail party for more than 10 minutes, stop thinking about it and just go. Short of infidelity or murder, if you want to do it, just do it.
Keep busy. If you have a lot of things to do and places to be, you won’t have time to obsess over one thing before you have to move on to another thing you have to think about.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This type of anxiety can be really embarrassing because you’re aware that you look ridiculous to others. Don’t be afraid to share your struggles with a partner or someone else close to you. I’m eternally grateful to my boyfriend for making the final call for me when I can’t make up my mind about something trivial. We’re all nuts and we all have to help each other out.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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