That Knot In Your Stomach

Anxiety is a funny thing. For me, I didn’t manage to put a name to that erratic feeling that made me mess up and fail on so many important occasions until my mid twenties going into my late twenties. People talk about it, and you hear about it. It just made me think about people who were of a  nervous disposition. It’s hard to recognise that clenching of your stomach and the tightness of the chest you unknowingly feel is the same thing.

Recognising it for the first time wasn’t a formal process, the first time I recognised it as such, there definitely was a feeling that I was making it a bigger deal than it is – a running comment on the British culture I’ve been brought up with. Now that I’ve accepted what it is, it’s been helpful and freeing to realise all those job interviews I messed up at at the last hurdle, or the time I broke down in my grade 8 piano exam, or my three failed driving exams at 17 were all products of a deep anxiety that had not been managed and not because I was weak, or stupid, hopelessly flawed or a failure. It’s allowed me to do less beating myself up and put that energy into increasing self awareness and trying to manage the real cause of the issue.

It’s taken me a while to be able to catch my anxiety rising. The way I can best describe it is that I catch myself feeling erratic, like my lung capacity has diminished and I can’t breathe like I normally do. This usually causes my brain to panic and in the past has been the zone where my mistakes occur and I feel out of control. Once I recognise that feeling, that allows me to push my self awareness through my body and look for the tension I’m holding in my stomach and chest – the energy pushes my body forward and like it gathers on my forehead and chest. The main way I find I can combat it is to sit up and back (because usually I’m slightly hunched over) and take a long and deep breath in and then out. Repeat a couple of times if necessary but the breaths need to hit the bottom of my stomach expanding it down and releasing the tension that it held before. And that allows some calm to wash over me and neutralise the frenzy.

I now do not view that it is weak to have anxiety. It is just something that I know I have and that I have to conquer, every single time I put myself in a stressful position. That can be in work, in job interviews, whilst climbing, whilst out and about, whilst shopping. It is a part of me, but it doesn’t have to control me. And for being equipped with the self awareness and the tools to help combat it in the moment, it makes me feel more capable. I have learnt to conquer an obstacle within me and I will continue to conquer it each time.

The World Today

The world today is not the world that it was three months ago. Or perhaps even two months ago in Europe. It’s crazy how quickly things have changed.

It is Easter Monday today and tomorrow I’ll be entering into my 5th week of working from home – 4 weeks into national lockdown. Whilst working remotely is something in recent years I’ve wanted to secure for myself, never would I have guessed that it would happen in this form. Covid-19 has taken advantage of hesitation from governments around the world and spread across the globe. To my knowledge, only a handful of countries have not yet reported a case although as we all know by now, confirmed cases and deaths are only as accurate as the reporting itself.

It’s occurrence is unlike anything we’ve ever known in this lifetime (most of us won’t remember the 1918 pandemic of Spanish flu I imagine) and how strange it all is. None of us could ever imagine something to occur on such a global scale, dominating the news until you’re sick of hearing about it everywhere you turn, and yet unable to stop thinking about it because it penetrates every aspect of your current life. As someone who doesn’t like feeling trapped, this turn of events is pretty suffocating.

There are fascinating things to come out of it, whether that’s statistically (biomed was my undergraduate degree so I find this all so interesting), politically, economically or socially. And whilst I’m sitting in my flat gleaning all these insights and collating all the articles and information I’m reading each day, all I can hope is that governments across the world are doing the same and better. I really don’t think much of the response to this crisis from some governments – slow to respond, and some absolutely ridiculous ideas have been floated around. When you have the government using the term “herd immunity” as a strategy against a virus for which there isn’t an existing vaccine for and an estimated fatality rate of 1-2%, that’s a pretty serious mistake particularly when a virus moves as fast and is as infectious as this one. Man oh man oh man.

Knowledge is power. That’s why countries like South Korea and Germany have had such success in comparison to their neighbouring countries. Find the trail of infection, if you know where it’s been and where it’s going, you can control it – short term and long term. For the period between now and when a vaccine can be mass produced and distributed, that is the only really conceivable solution, a national lockdown is not sustainable.

I’m so intrigued to see how the world will change after this. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, lots of East Asian countries including my home region of Hong Kong took it as a cultural habit to don a face mask whenever they were sick. Western societies seem to misinterpret it as people not wanting to get sick but it’s actually the opposite. They’re wearing the mask to avoid spreading it to others. Given the misinterpretation from the West, I doubt that this will become a common trend like in East Asia.

Things that I think will change:

  1. A shift towards more of a working from home/ remotely culture. For the companies that have moved remote (including my own), senior management may see that productivity doesn’t drop as much as they fear and actually be encouraged by the idea of revenue they can save by hiring less office space.
  2. Introduction of heat cameras at transportation hubs like airports, at least for the first couple of months after we’re allowed out again.
  3. A higher public awareness around illness, particularly on crowded public transport if people are coughing etc.
  4. In the UK, I sincerely hope (and this point is more of a hope than a prediction) that there will be more protection around the NHS. It’s unique and great quality that’s part of British life which has been dredged through hell and back in the last decade under tory rule. Hopefully this will help put it back on the list of priorities.

If the Labour party is clever, there is a potential to shift public favour towards their way. However, given the recent change in party leadership, the timing may be against them as the news hasn’t been that much of a forefront of the headlines due to covid-19 and so far Keir Starmer hasn’t really been able to do much to turn the tides. What with Boris Johnson probably gaining some national sympathies from his infection with the coronavirus, Starmer will have to really start getting a plan into gear if he is to lead Labour into a win next election.

So that’s some of the ramblings and muddled thoughts I’ve had so far in my month of quarantine. All in all, I’m not in a position to complain. My partner and I are both working from home and both are currently not at risk of losing our jobs. It is just difficult living in a city when the main reasons for you to live there are all currently moot and shut down. In a city, without all the bright lights, culture and bells and whistles, at the end of the day is just a grey monolith of a prison. Mentally, that’s probably the hardest part. It is a long journey and we’re only partway through it, so just pace yourselves, we will get through to the other side.