The Definitive Guide To Etiquiette For People With Anxiety & Those Who Love Them In The Age Of Crisis

Erin Vazquez

The intentions of this article are:

1. To support people who experience anxiety during crisis in avoiding suffering and even findin peace.

2. To support people who have loved ones that are chronic sufferers of anxiety in understanding what a heightened crisis experience might be like for those people - and how to support them.

3. Suggest ways that we can all use this crisis to evaluate and implement decisions based in love, compassion, excitement and passion (that we might have put on the back burner for our entire lives).

At the time of writing this, March 14, 2020, Coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe. The markets are down, schools are closing, grocery stores are crazy and the awareness of uncertainty is staggering, adding to a strange energy where no one really knows what to do. 

Understandably, fear is moving through the zeitgeist just as, if not more, powerfully than the virus. So how are we supposed to manage our emotions - even to find peace? What might this be like for people who who experience anxiety to the point of it being a disorder?

What Is Anxiety Disorder?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 19.1% of Americans have an anxiety disorder. {Sidebar: reported. Anxiety is often shame-based or minimized by the sufferer so there would be no reporting in the first place.} An anxiety disorder, according to NAMI's website is: 

"persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening. People typically experience one or more of the following symptoms:  

Emotional symptoms:  

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Feeling tense or jumpy
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger  

Physical symptoms:  

  • Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
  • Sweating, tremors and twitches
  • Headaches, fatigue and insomnia
  • Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea"


Though the disorder is defined as occuring in situations that are "not threatening" per the above quote, I the disorder itself can be incredibly threatening. A panic attack on a freeway is a life-threatening situation. Being overcome by anxiety interferes with daily tasks such as work, building a business, being an emotionally capable parent and being a loving partner. Not to mention the fact that your day-to-day life is highly unpleasant, full of unknown triggers. I would add to the above list, from personal experience:

  • Loss of sight while driving
  • Certainty of impending death
  • Passing out in crowded restaurants
  • Loss of sensation through entire body for hours at a time
  • Self-soothing and medicating (aka drinking A LOT)
  • Inability to attend social functions, social isolation
  • Shame, embarrassment and hopelessness that life will always be this way (compounding the anxiety cycle)


Anxiety, Coronavirus, Disconnection & The Next Crisis

We are in an era where things are shifting. The chaos and fear surrounding politics, climate, and the general future of the human race is nothing new. Fear disempowers its captives, making them willing to consume and buy. Fear is masterfully perpetuated through the zeitgeist, disconnecting us from the dreams, imagination and wonderment that we've forgotten is our birth right. 

It also disconnects us from each other, swiftly categorizing people in one way or another to dismiss their experiences as valid and worthy of compassion or not. Are they us, or are they the other?

I was sharing a story with a loved one, who identifies as a liberal and vehemently anti-Trump, about a woman that I see in the coffee shop here in town where I live. She wears a MAGA hat and sits by herself. She often perches the MAGA hat in a precariously visible position on some kind of prop; an obvious declaration. 

One day, when there were probably two other customers in the coffee shop and plenty of empty chairs at empty tables, the woman I refer to as MAGA came up to me wearing her hat and making sure she was in my line of sight asked if she could take a chair from my table. I get the sense that she targeted me as a potential adversary with my boho-beaded computer bag and general Cali leftist woo-woo vibe. I smiled and said, very cheerily, of course.

I later saw her at City Council meetings where she read the definition of totalitarianism to the council members on one evening and appealed for the meetings to being opened with prayer on another. 

As I got to the part of the story where she read the definition of totalitarianism to the council, my audience snorted and said "she better go look in the mirror." 

We know nothing of MAGA's personal life, of her pain an hurts, her wounds, her flaws, her successes and contributions. 

She might be the worst person in the world. 

But after she requested that the council meetings be opened by prayer, a chaplain was enlisted to pray before the meeting. I'm not a religious person, but the prayer was really beautiful and called for unity, healing, patience and compassion while this community navigates complex issues and tries to serve the citizens. I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated.

Because of the division being perpetuated through the media, it's so easy to dismiss a fellow human being based on a hat (or whatever). My intention of telling the story was not to paint a picture of a demon lady, but to illustrate a character in a rich narrative tapestry of a small town in which I currently reside and am having fun learning about.

My sense of MAGA is that she's incredibly lonely and has limited tools in which to gain significance and create connection. She operates out of divisiveness. My sense was she wanted me to be mad at her hat that day in the coffee shop, but I just became really fascinated with her need to make sure I saw her hat. 

Children have some basic needs: to know they are safe, seen, their experience is valid and that they are worthy of unconditional love. 

What I see in MAGA is someone who did not get those needs met and is unconsciously getting them in other ways. She might be the worst person in the world. I don't know. Maybe her hat equates her with totalitarianism. I have no idea. 

What I do know is that the fear running through our societial veins is causing disconnection that I think is just as dangerous as COVID-19. This has been happening before this outbreak and flippant dismissal of our fellow humans based on differences opens the gap between chaos and unity wider and wider with every fear-based reaction of the "the other." Maybe not externally noticeable, but an inner cancer that shows up in other toxic ways and is highly contagious.

Okay, so what does this have to do with anxiety?

What no doctor was able to tell me before handing me the Xanax prescription and getting me out of the office was that anxiety is likely to manifest when there is a disconnect between values and behavior. Our values often suggest a desire for a life of love, creativity, curiosity, passion, compassion, purpose and connection. 

However, when not guarded and tended to as mindfully as the most loved garden, our actions often stem from a fear-based emotion. 

The fear is often connected to a story about the future in which we are not safe, seen, loved, healthy or happy. That story is informed by something in the past, which has not yet been released, resolved, healed and/or shifted.

What's missing in the current crisis, and all the ones before it and all the ones after it, is an inability to use creativity and imagination to anticipate the future that our loved-based selves are desiring. This is what happens if you experience anxiety regularly or just righ now in the midst of this current moment in time.

We are so ready as a world to create something new, to break free from systems that have disconnected us from who we really are. It's clear from the chaos that was prevalent before the outbreak of the virus. But we are unable to dream from a space of love, knowing, imagination, creativity - and most importantly in this time, compassion. 

We're dancing in a grand story of separation, spinning and spinning through echo chambers, all the while blame-stiffened fingers pointed outward at an "other." We are witnessing the misalignment of values and behavior, whether consciously or not, on a massive scale.

When the Coronavirus is contained and the hysteria has ended, unless we learn how to dream, act and believe from empowerment, there will be another crisis. And another. And another as we collectively examine the existential implications of our decisions both individually and collectively. 

So what is our individual responsibility as human citizens to shift the cycle from fear and separation to creativity, connection and imagination?

Your Responsibility If You Suffer From Anxiety

If you suffer from anxiety, you do not get to put your head in the sand and wave the anxiety flag. I have so much compassion for your experience, but I'm here to tell you that if you have any desire to be a part of the shift that is so available to us right now, you have some work to do.

Let me reword that. The shift is happening. You can use it to grow, or you can get lost in the chaos. The choice is yours.

Here it is.

1. Declare you're available for healing and start the journey. Deciding that you can and will heal is a huge message to yourself and to others that things will change. The toxic cycle of anxiety tells a story that "this is the way it is." It's not. You can change it. You can create a life in which fear shows up responsibly. There are many resources and you might have to try different things to find what works for you, but you have to find the tool. Then you have to implement it as a life practice. I use meditation, checking in with values and actions, coaching and therapy, yoga and healthy nutrition as regular practices. When I need a system reboot, I use Timeline Therapy®️, hypnotherapy and/or find a retreat or event such as Unleash The Power Within. (I have my eye on an equine therapy retreat this spring.)

2. Identify your triggers. During your healing journey, notice the activities, conversations, obligations, people, places and content that spark panic or fear in you. Pay special attention to social media, blogs and news outlets that you use to "stay informed." In regards to all of these factors, do you feel empowered, loving, compassionate, balanced and energized after interacting with them? If not, then they do not get a place in your life.

"But, Erin," you might be saying, "I can't just cut family and friends out of my life." 

Okay. There are those cases. So....

3. Create your boundaries. If there are people who are attached to your fear response, define what must happen so that can shift into a harmonious, win-win-win relationship. Make it really clear and actionable what that person can do, must do, in order to be on the healing journey that you are committing to. If they are unwilling or unable to accomodate your requests, consider interacting with that person with less frequency until somethig shifts. Boundaries are how we can tell people how to love us. If they make their own wounds more important than loving you and you accomodate them into your life anyway, you are participating in co-dependency. Which is a common bedfellow of anxiety.

4. Seek out sources of information and ways of being a part of society that work for you. When I first started my recovery journey, I detached from almost all media. Just like how an alcoholic would probably avoid going to a cocktail party until they were in a space where ordering a tonic water with lime made sense for them. My triggers were my personal Facebook feed, traditional news sites and t.v. programming. Where I felt safe was Instagram and non-politically driven podcasts with intelligent long-form conversations with guests that have expertise in specific subject matter. Sometimes those topics are political, and it's welcome perspective when it's not click-incentive generated. I found these conversations refreshing, thoughtful, able to bring different perspectives to the table. If this sounds like a good option for you, I would recommend Joe Rogan's podcast episodes (with subect matter experts, he sometimes has his comedy bros on and that's a whole different vibe) and Tim Ferris

I am a little more active on my personal Facebook feed these days, but not much. This week, I relapsed in my anxiety recovery and spent time on cnn.com and a few other fear factories and totally lost sight of my mission, creativity and imagination. I went back to the sources that work for me, and they helped me to make a decision to practice social distancing from an empowered, aligned space (as opposed to fear and hysteria).

5. Let people know you are in recovery and what that means to you. I've received a lot of emails this week from well-meaning people who want to keep everyone informed, but it transformed my inbox into a danger zone. So it's on me to ask people to please trust that I'm doing what's appropriate for me to stay informed and to please refrain from sending links or information. 

One of the things that I've heard since being in recovery from people is "well, as long as you're a little bit informed..." It's difficult these days to not have an earthly clue of what's going on. As I mentioned, through a really intense journey, I've found what works for me, and it was hard-earned. Sometimes when people utter this phrase to me, I feel hurt and dismissed. But I let it go and this is why: it's not about me, it's about them. The need to keep others informed is a strategy to get a need met - just like any other behavior.

Which leads me to....

6. Have compassion for different experiences. No one is wrong because they are handling an emotionally-heightened situation differently than you are/would. Everyone has a model of the world that is unique to them, and the more we shame, blame or rage at that which is different, the more we play into the grand story of separation.

Your responsibility if you have someone in your life who is recovering or suffers from anxiety (and you want to be helpful).

I first want to acknowledge that if your loved one doesn't do the work of actually letting you know that they're on that journey, it's much more difficult to support their healing. What's trickier about anxiety is that it exists in an echo-chamber of shame for the person experiencing it, so they might not tell ANYONE what's going on. It's a scary place to be and I'm infinitely grateful to the celebrities and public figures who are sharing their experience, hopefully making it a little bit easier for others to talk about their own.

However, if you know that someone in your life is actively recovering or is still deep in the spiral, here is what you can do to help.

1. If they have shared their triggers, BELIEVE THEM. Believe them like they're an alcoholic who tells you that being around one glass of wine makes them want to drink all of the wine. Anxiety is so nebulous to people who haven't experienced it, but know that for your loved one, IT IS REAL. 

2. If they have shared their boundaries, respect them. If someone is vulnerable enough to share boundaries with you, it means they want you in their lives and they just need to communicate how your presence can add joy, security and comort. It's not a reflection on your quality of character, so know it's an act of love, not of condemnation.

3. If they haven't shared anything with you, but you know they have anxiety issues, ask them what they need. One of my dearest friends and fellow coaches will call with something she needs to process or shift, but before she starts sharing she will ask if I'm available to go on that journey with her. I'm eternally grateful for this practice. In this instance, if you are in the practice of gathering information and sharing it with your networks and loved ones, simply ask the person if it would be helpful to receive emails or links - or not. They will be eternally grateful as well. I'm also eternally grateful to the same friend for her warmth and grace on the occasions when I am not available to facilitate her processing. Feel free to follow suit.

4. If they're acting irresponsibly, call them out lovingly. With Coronavirus, it's difficult to be truly ignorant of the circumstances. But if you have someone who has effectively enough put their head so deep in the sand that they are just skipping around, lovingly let them know that they need to consder taking certain actions. Avoid alarmist or shaming behavior. This is all about rooting in love.

5. Have compassion for different experiences. If you love staying informed, that's fantastic. If you're scared, angry and need someone to blame, it's totally understandable. But it's no one's job to go on that journey with you if it does not serve them. It might look like and be willful ignorance on someone's part to not "be informed," but what works for you is not going to work for everyone. 

In Chaos, There Is Opportunity For Creation

I invite you to evaluate your current actions and decisions into the future and ask: 

Is this rooted in love or in fear?

I have decided at this time to keep my family at home and cancel plans. What's imortant about this decision is that it is rooted in an intention of love. 

Love for my family. Love for myself. Love for the healthcare workers. Love for the community. I've decided that this time is going to be a time of beautifying my home, pulling weeds in the yard and reconnecting with my values. 

Where can you act in love? 

Where can you reconnect with your values?

And where are the opportunities to take new actions in relation to those values? 

Now is the time for the dreamers to create, to use their imagination to create a new world where we are in harmony with our true essence. Loving and respecting ourselves, and thereby others. There is door opening in front of us. What intention will we carry over the threshhold?

All the love,

E

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ABOUT ERIN VAZQUEZ

Erin Vazquez is a master certified NLP Coach, Timeline Therapy™️ Practitioner and hypnotherapist who works with clients and students all over the world.  

Her passion is helping creatives design a life that lets them dance in the intersection of creativity and wealth by helping them heal spiritual wounds, build an unstoppable mindset, then roll up their sleeves and get down to (creative) business.  

She hosts Ask Erin on her YouTube channel. If you would like to submit a question to be answered, simply contact us and subscribe to the YouTube Channel!