Many of us seem to be alternating between anxiety over current events and feeling like this is the push we need to make a change in our lives. Both of these feelings – and everything in-between – are totally valid. But we know they can reach a point where they’re not normal. If your anxiety is getting out of control or impacting your life, for example. Which is why we reached out to a couple experts to find out what the line is between “normal” and “you might want to consider asking for help.”

getting virtual help during covid-19 anxiety samaritan counseling, guidance, consulting
Image via Samaritan Counseling, Guidance, Consulting – Facebook

The Reverend N. Graham Standish is the Executive Director of the Samaritan Counseling, Guidance, Consulting in Sewickley. He has authored eight books and has held an array of positions in and around Pittsburgh in a variety of fields. We asked his advice about the anxiety many of us are feeling:

How can someone tell if they’re experiencing anxiety?

The symptoms of anxiety vary depending on how severe they are and what the source of the anxiety is. Clearly there is widespread anxiety over the spread of the coronavirus because the future is unknown. This kind of anxiety is tied to people’s sense of survival. They are anxious because they feel powerless and don’t know what’s going to happen to them, their families, and the country. This form of anxiety can be tied to “perseverating”—having our minds constantly return to worrying about the virus no matter what we do. We can’t let go of the thoughts. 

Those with a general anxiety disorder often feel the anxiety in both their thoughts and their bodies. They feel as though something isn’t right, and with it comes a rise in adrenaline, heart rate, muscle tension, shortness of breath, and more. Also, there’s a constant worrying about all sorts of things: what my future holds, what others are thinking about me, am I doing things right, what’s wrong with me? At its extreme it can turn into panic attacks, which cause the person to have a racing heart, to feel as if she or he can’t breathe, and a panic over “will I survive this?” 

What are some ways people can manage their anxiety on their own?

One of the biggest self-management approaches is simply breathing slowly, deeply, and steadily. Since anxiety leads to elevated heart rate and shorter breaths, simply sitting still and breathing more deeply to slow the heart really helps. What makes stillness difficult is our racing minds. So it helps to slowly breathe in and out with some sort of repeated phrase. If the person’s religious it might be something like “Bless the Lord” as I slowly breathe in, and “O my soul” as I slowly breathe out. If I’m not, it might be something like “Live in the now,” as I breathe in, “not in my worries” as I breathe out. 

Also, it helps to engage in activities that disengage us from obsessing—taking a walk while listening to calm music, watching calming shows, painting, doing a jigsaw puzzle, doing a craft, or singing (singing always gets us breathing better). It also helps to talk with people who are calming and seem to have a sense of wisdom. 

Do you have any suggestions for someone who usually manages their anxiety with social interactions (seeing friends, in-person exercise groups, going to restaurants/bars, etc)?

It can be helpful to schedule online chats with others, or even online parties or gatherings. We did that last week with out extended family living throughout the U.S. We had a virtual meeting of fifteen family members. It was weird, fun, and surprising.

How would someone know when they should seek help for their anxiety?

I’m a believer in seeking help early. Most people who struggle with any kind of mental, emotional, relational, or even spiritual difficulty wait far too long to deal with it, and as a result it gets worse and harder to heal. A basic rule of thumb, though, might be that if you feel anxious on a regular basis, but aren’t sure why, you should seek help. Also, if you have persistent anxious thoughts, even about things that normally spark anxiety, you should seek help because you need guidance on ways to reduce the anxiety and to find healthier ways to respond. 

What virtual services do you offer, and are you accepting new clients?

We offer video therapy (and telephone for those who don’t have video capability), and we are constantly accepting new clients. We have wonderful therapists who are especially committed to helping others even as they themselves navigate the coronavirus threat. We also offer assistance to those who either have no insurance or struggle to afford the deductible. 

I noticed that the Samaritan website focuses on finding God’s purpose – do you find people get the most out of your services if they’re spiritual?

We are client-centered, which means that we respect and work with people wherever they are spiritually. We don’t impose a spirituality on them. Still, we have found that those with a strong spiritual awareness generally have more resources to get through difficult times, and even to deal with anxiety because prayer and faith can make a difference. But we’re here for everyone because our mission is compassionate counseling for all people as they are. 

Is there anything else you think is important to let our readers know – in general or about Samaritan?

Although we have offices throughout Western Pennsylvania, we are available through video therapy for people anywhere in Pennsylvania. All of our therapists are master-level and state-licensed, so we accept almost all insurances, as well as Medicare. 

You can get in touch with Samaritan Counseling, Guidance, Consulting here.

getting virtual help during covid-19 inspired learning
Image via: @hildavadespino, Facebook

We also interviewed Hilda Maria Valdespino of Inspired Learning. Through her experiences, both personally and professionally, she has become something of an expert in life transitions. So we thought she was the perfect person to ask some questions to help those of us feeling like current events might be pushing us towards making a change in our lives:

What would you say to someone who feels like social distancing is the push they needed to make a shift in their life?

I call these events “Moments of Truth”. They are the times in your life where you are sitting at a crossroad or an event has catapulted you into a sea of uncertainty and you know you have to make a decision to change things up.  My first Moment of Truth was a few weeks after my mom died when I was a freshman in college. My dad had died 5-years earlier. I was attending college where my father had taught when I was younger. I was on an academic scholarship, as had been promised to him when he had taught there.  In the middle of my first semester of college I received a bill for the room and board. I had no idea how to pay for it. I considered dropping out of school. My oldest brother told me he had no idea how I would pay for it but dropping out was not an option. I made an appointment to meet with the President of the College to discuss my dilemma and see what options I had. At the conclusion of the meeting she told me to stop by the Bursar’s office and they would take care of it.  Upon arriving at the Bursar’s office, I was given an invoice with a zero balance and I never received another invoice again! Moments of Truth usually turn out to be defining moments in your life. For me the crossroad was drop out of school or find a solution. The first step, which was a pretty bold one, was to meet with the President to identify my options. Extraordinary situations call for bold thinking. The circumstances surrounding covid-19 and social distancing are nothing short of extraordinary.  We have never travelled down these roads before. Social distancing has forced us to look outside the box, think creatively and in many cases people are retreating inward and asking what this means for their lives today and in the future. This very well could be the time for you to make a shift in your life. No risk is taken without a certain level of uncertainty and very often risks are taken without a safety net. However, if you don’t get on the high wire and try out the risk, you will never see what the possibilities or options are out there. 

How can someone tell if they’re ready to make a leap vs daydreaming about a “grass is greener” scenario?

I am not sure it’s about the grass being greener. I think it’s about the grass feeling different under your feet.  There is something tugging at you that feels different and exciting. It’s that feeling where you call or text a friend, a spouse a confidant at an odd time of day or night to say, “We have to talk. I want to run something by you!!!” It’s a feeling that has sparked something in you that you haven’t felt in a while.  You find yourself thinking about it often. You start googling about it and researching it online. What I believe this translates into is the start of the universe and your soul aligning to find your purpose. Once you crack the code on your purpose on this planet, you feel a certain liberation and affirmation you never experienced before. It makes you stay up at night putting ideas on paper or in a journal or on sticky notes.  You feel alive again in a way that feels refreshingly different.

What advice do you have for someone who is being forced to transition – like someone who has lost their job due to social distancing?

It sounds trite to throw out the old “make lemons out of lemonade” or “when one door closes another one opens” or “there’s a reason for this”…but there is some truth in all of those phrases because they are all reinforcing the idea of “trust”.  Trust that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be at this moment in time. Trust and Patience are the two most difficult words to embrace during a period of transition. Especially when the transition was forced on you, or when you never saw it coming. It throws you off balance and leaves you feeling very insecure. The first thing to do is accept the situation. Fighting it’s power and intensity is not going to change it.  Then open yourself to opportunities that present themselves. For me the opportunity came in the form of a twist and turn in my career path. I arrived in Pittsburgh and within a few months was offered a temp-to-perm position with a large healthcare organization as a trainer in their corporate offices. Five months later in the midst of their impending layoffs I found myself laid off and out of work. Within a month I was offered another temporary training position.  It was at a lower rate but it seemed like an interesting opportunity with lots of flexibility. Fast forward to today and that position is providing me with a work-from-home unique job during this COVID-19 crisis. Somehow the idea to accept that lower paying job, has paid off ten-fold today!

What advice do you have for someone who is anxious about anticipated transitions (that haven’t happened yet or may not happen)?

Trust and be patient. And like my therapist always tells me, “Don’t write the ending of the chapter just yet.” That saying has programmed me to change the narrative on my life.  It’s so easy to turn to the “What if________happens? What if I never get to…” “How will I ever be able to….” All of those are phrases that keep you from the present and make you live in the future of the unknown. 

What kinds of virtual services do you offer and are you accepting new clients?

I have just finished creating a remote training technical training program for a company I consult with in Pittsburgh.  This experience has reinforced to me that virtual classes, trainings and programs don’t have to be dry, boring and static.  I am a people person and I love the personal contact and interactions with face to face meetings, trainings and coaching. However, when I moved to Seattle for 3-years I continued to provide coaching services to clients I had been seeing from Connecticut and I realized it could work.  I am about the art of connection and am learning that connection does not have to be in person. It’s about connecting emotionally and authentically with people. It’s through those connections, whether virtual or in person, that the changes and inspirational moments happen. I recently facilitated my “Inspired Living” Meetup through Zoom.  The program was called, “The Talents and Treasures That Have Fed Your Soul. We had someone share a song they had learned on their guitar over 20 years ago. Someone shared with the group the benefits of Tapping and Emotional Freedom Techniques and another shared a beautiful poem he came across in the last couple of weeks that’s truly inspired him.  Moments like these meeting fill my soul. They allow me to see that life, even in uncertain times, has a gift to offer every one of us. I encourage people to reach out to me to learn how I can support and encourage them as they find their way to living an inspired purposeful life.

Is there anything else you think is important to let our readers know – in general or about you?

My life has forced me to be a transition specialist. I know what taking risks and transitions are all about. I orphaned at 18. Had a baby (after trying for 6-years) when I was 29. I got divorced from a marriage that had a slow dysfunctional leak after 30 years. When laid off from a corporate job I took a job as the director of a teen center while I launched my training, consulting and coaching business. I left the business and teen center after 10 years to volunteer for an organization serving the homeless in the state of Washington. I moved to Pittsburgh, PA without a job to be closer to my daughter who started a family. I am creating the life I want right now focused around flexibility and time with my granddaughter and her family.  It entails working as a barista for Starbucks, Amazon Shopper at Whole Foods and a professional trainer for a call center. These non-stressful, fun jobs allow me to focus on relaunching my consulting business in Pittsburgh. I believe my purpose in life is to inspire and help people unlock their potential. I love what I do and do what I love. I invite you to meet with me to see if my experience, passion and inspiration can assist you as you transition through your life’s Moment’s of Truth.

You can get in touch with Inspired Learning here.

This content was provided by a local, independent contributor to Made in PGH, a lifestyle blog.
Lauren Roberts

Lauren loves all things Pittsburgh and all things food! When she's not checking out a new restaurant, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, working on her photography, or out on a bike ride exploring the city.

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