Coronavirus Has Robbed Me Of The Ability To Plan & My Anxiety Is Suffering

Photo Courtesy of Jessica Morgan.
I am a prolific planner. I plan my life day in, day out: I write down my daily tasks, track my sleep, eating habits and exercise, and even make lists of all the Netflix shows I've been watching. Creating lists allows me to manage my chaotic and anxious mind. Having plans for the week, month and year gives me structure, things to look forward to and back on, and things to achieve.
But all of that has been ripped away. The coronavirus crisis has stopped what we know as 'normal life' in its tracks; we can't travel or attend social events, we can't go to gigs, eat at restaurants or go to the cinema. It's like being in a constant state of limbo with nothing to look forward to. In the age of coronavirus, we don't know what we'll be doing tomorrow, let alone in six months or a year from now. What on earth am I meant to plan for?
The pandemic has kept us in a constant state of now; everything in the future feels up for grabs. There's no point planning big, far-off things like weddings or holidays because who's to say what social distancing rules will be in place in 2021? It's hard even to think as far ahead as next week. Which parts of society will have opened up again? What will we still be required to abstain from? As the days slide into one another, it's incredibly easy right now to lose track of weeks and, in turn, lose track of ourselves.

There's no point planning big, far-off things like weddings or holidays because who's to say what social distancing rules will be in place in 2021?

When the lockdown was announced in mid March, just as I have during other tough times in my life, I turned to my bullet journal as a form of meditation and art therapy. It has given me the space to be creative and has inspired me to learn new things, such as doodling cactus plants and calligraphy. It has motivated me to accomplish goals, such as getting seven hours sleep each night, drinking more water and tracking my anxiety attacks because it's easy to do so in a fun, colourful way. But while I've been journalling, I've become acutely aware that a lot of my weekly spreads are bare. All these pretty pages, titles and neatly lined boxes with nothing in them has made me feel apathetic, confused and panicked, and left me wondering whether I'll ever get to plan properly again.
"Anxiety feeds off uncertainty and right now, we just don't know what to expect," says Rebecca Vivash, a counsellor and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. "For those of us who need to feel that we have some semblance of control over our lives, this lack of certainty can feel particularly hard and can send anxiety spiralling."
As someone who has anxiety, the coronavirus crisis is my idea of hell. But according to one study from 2011, having a plan and fulfilling small tasks can alleviate feelings of anxiety. Roy F. Baumeister and E. J. Masicampo at Florida State University found that while tasks we haven't done distract us, just making a plan to get them done can free us from this anxiety. The pair observed that people underperform on a task when they are unable to finish a warm-up activity that would usually come prior. When participants were allowed to make and note down concrete plans to finish the warm-up activity, performance on the next task substantially improved.

There is nothing wrong with planning and list-making, in fact without any sort of plan, we can drift, which then leads to that lack of security again.

Rebecca Vivash
And so I've started jotting down the smaller things – the little tasks I have completed each day, like making my bed, doing my laundry or meditating – to give me a sense of purpose. I may not be able to plan physical things right now but the simple act of ticking something off my list has been helpful.
"There is nothing wrong with planning and list-making, in fact without any sort of plan, we can drift, which then leads to that lack of security again," says Rebecca. But this comes with a caveat, as no to-do list can be absolute, she warns. "If you can shift your mindset to your list being 'aims', it still creates a sense of control over your day/week/month without assuming complete certainty."
Rebecca says that you can do this by looking at things such as what you eat and wear, what time you go to bed and which books you want to read. "There's loads that you are in charge of and if you love a list, it can help to see them down on paper for reassurance."
Making a list of your achievements each day could also help channel your energy into staying safe, while allocating yourself 'worry time' and a 'worry dump' can create a space to vent about the things that are bothering you. Rebecca also says that revisiting these lists can help you to reflect on how these worries make you feel. "Often their significance will have diminished and feel less scary."
Finding a new way to keep planning my life during the pandemic has been a lifeline for me but of course it won't work for everyone; some people find planning a stressor. My point is that your usual 'go-to' which helps you get through tough situations in 'normal' times may not look the same as it once did. Whether it's baking, running, sleeping or meditation, don't put too much pressure on yourself if you don't find it working for you right now – you might just need to rethink how you approach it, now that we're living under different circumstances.
And if one day you wake up and don't feel like doing anything other than watching Netflix and eating snacks, that's okay too. Planning on doing nothing still counts as planning!

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