health

In 3.5 minutes, Elizabeth Gilbert will help you feel less anxious about the world.

Warning: This post deals with anxiety and might be triggering for some readers.

Anxiety has likely never been so forceful in so many of our lives as is it right now.

For those who live with anxiety, it’s a familiar feeling. For others who’ve never experienced anxiety before, they’re now feeling all sorts of things for the first time. The quickening of heart beats. The shortening of breath. The spiralling thoughts. The feeling of losing your grip on control.

The irony of feeling anxious in these unusual times is many of our usual coping strategies aren’t working. Anxiety sufferers might be feeling at a loss of what do to because the ‘worst case scenario’ you imagined in your mind is now a reality.

In times of crisis, like the coronavirus pandemic we’re currently living through, we look to experts in their fields to tell us what to do and how to feel. For the latest up-to-date advice on how to go about our lives, we listen to medical experts and scientists. For emotional guidance, we have psychologists and therapists, and Elizabeth Gilbert.

WATCH: How to talk to people with anxiety. Post continues below. 

Video via Mamamia
ADVERTISEMENT

Gilbert, the best-selling author of the non-fiction books Eat Pray Love and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, is somewhat of a spiritual guru. Not so much in a woo-woo way – it’s more she has a knack for knowing what to say to help us make sense of things and navigate our emotional lives.

In a new video interview with TED Connects, the writer and speaker delivered an hour’s worth of wisdom on coping through COVID-19 but there’s one three-and-a-half-minute snippet that will help you feel less anxious about the world today.

Speaking to host Chris Anderson on her 17th day of no human contact from her home in New Jersey, Gilbert’s advice for managing your coronavirus anxiety can be broken down into two parts: showing yourself mercy and the central paradox of the human emotional landscape. But what does that mean? In Gilbert’s words, “You would have to be a sociopath or a totally enlightened being to not be feeling anxious right now”.

She adds, “Sometimes, our emotions about our emotions become a bigger problem. If you’re feeling frightened and anxious and then layering shame on top of that because you feel like you should be handling it better or you should be doing your isolation better or creating more while you’re alone or serving the world in some better way, now you’ve just multiplied the suffering.”

“The antidote for that is a really warm, loving dose of compassion towards yourself. Give yourself a measure of mercy and compassion for the emotions you’re feeling.”

LISTEN: Get Mia Freedman’s interview with Elizabeth Gilbert on the No Filter podcast in your ears below, post continues after audio.

Once you’ve accepted it’s OK to feel overwhelmed and given yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling (without feeling bad about it, this bit is important), you can then turn to the pressing question of, what do I do next? Gilbert can’t tell you specifically what to do, but her perspective on what she calls the ‘human emotional landscape’ might give you a place to start.

“Here’s what I think is the central paradox of the human emotional landscape that I’m finding particularly fascinating at this moment… there are these two aspects of humanity that don’t match,” she says.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The first is, there is no species on Earth more anxious than humans. It’s a hallmark of our species because we have the ability/curse to imagine a future. Also, once you’ve lived on Earth for a little while, you have the experience to recognise a terrifying piece of information: literally anything can happen at literally any moment to literally any person.”

Essentially, our own rich imaginations that make us so creative also have the power to conjure up all sorts of scary things, one of which, being the pandemic, is actually happening. The paradox is: humans are also the most capable, resourceful and resilient species on the planet.

Gilbert adds, “History has shown that when change comes to humanity on a global level, or a personal level, we’re really good at it. We’re really good at adaptation and I think if we remember that, it can help to mitigate any fear.”

“You can remember it from a historical perspective by looking at what humanity has gone through and what we have survived and figured out how to thrive through, but you can also look at it on a personal level where you can make an inventory of what you yourself have survived.”

You can watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s full TED Connects video interview here.

There isn’t a single person alive who hasn’t experienced some measure of hardship or struggle. Our struggles are relative, but taking stock of the challenges you’ve overcome in your own life – be it with your health, family, career, mental health, relationships or trauma – can serve to remind us we’re stronger than we might feel.

To that point, Gilbert says, “Trust that when the point of emergency actually arrives, you’ll be able to meet it and when the world changes, you’ll be able to adapt to it. It certainly helps me calm down”.

And just like that, the world makes a tiny bit more sense.

If you think you may be experiencing anxiety, depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you’re based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

Anxiety can leave you exhausted and overwhelmed, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Introducing The Anxiety Course – designed to help you grow your confidence, identify your triggers and reclaim your life. Find out more here.

Feature Image: Instagram/@elizabeth_gilbert_writer.

How are you feeling during these times as we adjust to a new way of life? Tell how you’re doing in the comments below.

00:00 / ???