Anxiety in a time of pandemic; finding a place of understanding. By Jane Herd

About the author: Dr Jane Herd is a clinical social worker with over 30 years’ experience. Jane has a Doctorate from the Tavistock and Portman in respect of the mental health and inner working models of hard to reach populations. She runs a social enterprise called Orb8 that provides training and service development in respect of traumatised and marginalised individuals and groups.

This paper was originally published in the Quaker magazine ‘The Friend’ The author retains copyright. Jane Herd is a Member of the Southern East Anglia Area Meeting, and Colchester Local Meeting.

We are in lockdown, stuck at home with the looming menace of a fatal disease hanging over all of us. Those of us who do go out only do so if we must and there is great support and sympathy for the many adults who need to go to work to care, feed and look after others.

There are those though who do not seem to be keeping to the rules, from minor infringements of sunbathing or driving to a nicer walk, to going out and meeting others, and even organising parties or get-togethers. It is easy to be angry and critical of these people, to take the moral high ground. However, it takes certain internal and external resources to manage the current situation well. I am lucky to have my own home and garden, to be mentally well and to have a generous group of friends including a strong Quaker community who uphold me daily through social media, phone calls and emails. I can’t work currently but can apply to one of the government schemes, I have savings, I can afford to live without much concern.

Although it seems that some of those with extensive privilege act as if the rules don’t apply to them  I am principally concerned about how we might understand those whose lack of privilege may make it very difficult, if not impossible to manage the demands of our current context? It might be that someone is stuck in a flat with small children and no garden, with limited or no income and cannot pay the bills and cannot leave the house alone as there is no one to safely look after their children. There may be no laptop, tablet or WiFi to see the faces of friends or families or much worse no friends and family who you are connected to or would be concerned for you. It may be easier to be sympathetic with someone in this position who is shuffling round the shops with small children or letting them use park equipment that is out of bounds. Yes, I know they shouldn’t, and it increases the risk to us all but who can say how we might manage in such a predicament. Then there are those who want to go out and party, often the young but sometimes those who are older, and we think they should know better. I would relate this to the management of anxiety, for those who may not have had their emotional and relational needs well met as children and young people and have no one available currently to help them manage their feelings  anxiety can quickly become overwhelming. A natural physiological response is to go into fight or flight, to want to be out and escape and to challenge those who are trying to keep you in with an attitude of defiance. This is not logical; the logical higher brain is not in charge but our more primitive responses to threat and no one can deny that coronavirus is a threat.

I am not saying this behaviour is OK. It is dangerous and potentially deadly for those who cannot contain their anxiety and stay at home. For those of us who are in stable comfortable situations to meet others struggles with condemnation is not helpful, but to accept them as holding a sacred light as we all do and to hold them in this is something, we can all offer.  If we can find opportunities to help others manage their feelings better by being kind and caring rather than critical then we may all be able to manage a little better.


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