Suffering from death anxiety? Here’s what you need to know

Written by Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

A psychotherapist explains what we must do to help put a stop to all of our Covid-induced anxiety around death.

My day began much like any other: I woke up, blearily groped for my phone, and took a quick scroll through my social media feeds. I put my phone down. Then, as something clicked in my brain, I picked it up again and went back through my feeds again.

I hadn’t imagined it – although, Christ, I really wish I had. Because there, in big bold letters, The Surrey Comet informed me that a temporary morgue had been set up about, ooh, 20 minutes from my house “to store Covid dead.”

Just as I’ve made a point of doing with the ever-rising coronavirus death toll, I decided the best course of action was to… well, was just to pretend nothing was wrong. To draw a veil over this unsettling news bulletin, push it to the very darkest recesses of my mind, and go about my day as normal. So I kicked off the duvet, hopped in the shower, swallowed the sudden lump in my throat, and sang along reedily to my favourite bathroom ballads (Celine Dion, eat your heart out). 

This done, I headed downstairs and brewed myself a cup of peppermint tea, ignoring the low hum of anxiety running through me. I logged into my morning meeting over Zoom and pasted a smile over my (slightly paler than normal) face. I cracked jokes, I laughed along as people shared their anecdotes, I made notes, I hit mute whenever I needed to take a few deep, steadying breaths. I shut down the call, I cried a little, I started working on a TV roundup.

Then, when I filed my copy, I cried again. It felt as if I could barely breathe and, when I finally got myself under control and back to work, I found I was still shivering, that my heart was still pounding inside my chest, and that I was still shaking like mad.

Thus went my day. And, when my head hit the pillow later the same night, I found myself plagued by fears of this seemingly never-ending global plague, and of death. Not the skeleton with the scythe, and not my own mortality, but of… well, just of death, full stop.

Because, to paraphrase Wet Wet Wet’s 1994 song, death is seemingly all around us, and so my anxiety grows.

“It sounds like death anxiety,” Stylist’s Lucy Robson tells me, when I mention my experience to her. 

And so, with these words burning in my mind, I reach out to psychotherapist Ruairi Stewart (aka The Happy Whole Coach).

“It’s very normal to feel anxious around death,” Stewart reassures me. “And, as Winston Churchill famously said, ‘Any man who says he is not afraid of death is a liar’.”

He adds: “It has been speculated that death anxiety or thanatophobia as it is medically known, is considered one of the most common human fears. 

“It could be described as a free-floating anxiety that is often ignored and repressed which then leads to it surfacing in other ways.”

But why is my initial reaction to brush all of my feelings around death under the carpet, I wonder? Well, because, as Stewart explains, our day-to-day existences typically don’t tend to remind us of our own mortality.

“In the western world we usually only face the reality of death when in the process of losing a loved one,” he says.

“A lot of people find the thought of death uncomfortable, but having the occasional thought or fear around this is totally normal. When it starts to have a negative impact on your ability to manage your day to day life, however, then it is a problem.

“How grief and loss are handled in the face of a loved one passing away is also a large part of how people tend to frame and experience their own understanding of death. Death can serve as a very painful reminder for people, depending on the nature of the losses they may have endured – how the person died, how this grief was processed and handled, or even the amount of loss a person has experienced and over what amount of time.

“This is something I’m sure a lot of people are struggling with at the moment due to the death tolls around the pandemic constantly updated in the media: it’s a stark reminder of our own mortality.”

Stewart adds reassuringly: “On an intellectual level, we know that life ends for us all at some point. This is still an uncomfortable truth to sit with, however, and the thought of our own mortality is something we tend to push down and deny for the most part.

“It is too overwhelming to be at the forefront of your mind all the time so it ends up dwelling in the subconscious and can subliminally influence behaviours and coping mechanisms when it comes to thinking about death.”

So what can we do to help put a stop to all of our Covid-induced anxiety? Well, Stewart says we need to take the time necessary to get comfortable with the concept of death.

“We all think about our five year plans from time to time, but how often do you sit with the realisation that you are going to die, how often do you reflect on how you’ve been living your life and what would you change if you knew you only had a little time left?” he asks.

“These are intense thoughts but also powerful tools to shift your perspective on things.”

Stewart continues: “There is so much global grief and trauma that we are collectively experiencing right now. People are losing loved ones in the most traumatic ways, the death tolls are constantly in the news and we have a sense of feeling trapped in our homes with the knowledge of it all.

“We need to shift our perspective to take responsibility for how we are currently living our lives,” he adds. “Ask yourself if you’re unhappy, or if anything needs to change, and use these thoughts to help give you clarity.

“They will serve as a reminder that this is your responsibility and something you can control. Choosing to bravely face trauma and work through dark times will help to heal.”

Angharad Burden, Marie Curie’s information and support bereavement service coordinator, agrees wholeheartedly with Stewart, saying that it’s vital we all take the time to confront our fears around death.

More important than even this, though? We must pluck up the courage to talk to loved ones about it, too.

“Our own mortality can be one of the hardest things to accept but taking the time to have important conversations can make a big difference,” Burden says.

“Many people we support wish they’d been able to have these conversations to better understand their loved ones’ wishes before they died. I like to think about it as an act of kindness and love. At a time when the people that are important to you may be experiencing a range of powerful emotions and grief, you will have already acknowledged and shared your final wishes.”

Burden continues: “It can be difficult to know where to start and this doesn’t have to happen in a formal setting. You can talk over dinner, a walk in the park or during a car journey. The more you talk the more natural and comfortable it can become.

“Start by reflecting on a memory, maybe a photograph or piece of music that means a lot to you – it can help start the conversation. Marie Curie has a set of conversation cards you can order that will help you and your loved ones start talking and remove any pressure about knowing where to start. 

“Questions include: ‘What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?’ and ‘Name the three songs you’d like at your funeral’. This gives you the opportunity to understand the people you care about better, perhaps agree or disagree with questionable music choices, but ultimately save unnecessary stress and confusion later.”

Burden adds: “We are all unique and talking about death can be daunting, so try not to force it. There are books, pieces of music, documentaries and films that all introduce the topic of dying and death in a way that may be more accessible to you. You may also wish to express your own feelings creatively. I often hear of people writing songs, creating drawings or painting their thoughts and feelings, which can be both cathartic for you and informative for your loved ones.”

“It’s easy to not talk about your own mortality but it could be incredibly difficult on those you leave behind if you don’t. Marie Curie can help you think, talk and plan for the end of life. It’s never too soon, until it’s too late.”

Marie Curie can help you and your family or friends open up the conversation, share your thoughts and feelings, discuss your wishes and make plans earlier in life, for what you and your loved ones want for the end of life experience. Visit www.mariecurie.org.uk/talkabout to find ideas and tools to help you get started or call the Marie Curie Support Line free on 0800 090 2309.

Marie Curie Talkabout Conversation Cards are available to order on the Marie Curie online shop.

Images: Getty

Source: Read Full Article

Mexico sees record spike in coronavirus cases

Mexico

Mexico posted a record spike in coronavirus cases on Friday, with 21,366 newly confirmed infections, about double the daily rate of increase just a week ago. The country also recorded 1,106 more deaths.

It was unclear if the spike was due to the presence of the U.K. virus variant, of which only one case has so far been confirmed in a visiting British citizen.

The country has now seen almost 1.61 million total infections and has seen registered over 139,000 deaths so far in the pandemic.

The country’s extremely low testing rate means that is an undercount, and official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000. So little testing is done that 8% of all those who got a test later died during recent weeks; normally, only people with severe symptoms are tested..

Teams vaccinating frontline health care workers administered about 59,000 shots on Friday, bring the total so far to over 415,000. The numbers are still inadequate for the 750,000 frontline health care workers, each of whom will require two doses.

In Mexico City, the current center of the pandemic in Mexico, 90% percent of hospital beds are full.

Mexico has pinned much of its hopes on cheaper, easier-to-handle vaccines made by China’s CanSino. But that vaccine has not yet been approved for use.

Source: Read Full Article

U.S. tops 4,000 daily deaths from coronavirus for 1st time

coronavirus

The U.S. has topped 4,000 daily deaths from the coronavirus for the first time, breaking a record set just one day earlier, with the surge being driven in several Sun Belt states that experienced spikes over the summer.

The tally from Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. had 4,085 deaths Thursday. The U.S. had nearly 275,000 new coronavirus cases on the same day.

The numbers are another reminder of the worsening situation following travel for holidays and family gatherings, along with more time indoors during the winter months.

Cases and deaths are soaring in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. Those four states had a combined nearly 1,500 deaths and 80,000 cases on Thursday—figures that were comparable to nationwide totals in October.

Many hospitals in Los Angeles and other hard-hit areas are struggling to keep up and warned they may need to ration care as intensive care beds dwindle. Many nurses already stretched thin are now caring for more patients than typically allowed under state law after the state began issuing waivers that allow hospitals to temporarily bypass a strict nurse-to-patient ratio law.

The biggest fear is that hospitals will be tipped into rationing care in a few weeks when people who ignored social distancing rules to gather with friends and relatives for Christmas and New Year’s Eve start showing up for medical care.

In Los Angeles County at the Henry Mayo New Hall in Valencia, nurse Nerissa Black says her hospital is overwhelmed with patients, comparing the situation to New York at the beginning of the pandemic.

She has worked there for seven years and staffs the telemetry unit where she is assigned six patients. She essentially can spend 10 minutes with each of them per hour, which includes the time it takes for her to change her personal protective equipment and document and coordinate their care.

“It’s very hard to decide which one should I go see first: the patient who has chest pain or the patient whose oxygen level is dropping,” she said, speaking on a day when she where she wasn’t working after getting the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

At St. Joseph Hospital south of Los Angeles, nurses in the COVID-19 ward describe being overwhelmed as the death toll mounts.

“Just today we had two deaths on this unit. And that’s pretty much the norm,” said Caroline Brandenburger. “I usually see one to two every shift. Super sad.”

“They fight every day, and they struggle to breathe every day even with tons of oxygen. And then you just see them die,” Brandenburger said. “They just die.”

The outbreak has taken another turn for the worse in Arizona, with the state now leading the nation with the highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week. From Dec. 30 to Jan. 6, one in every 115 people was diagnosed with the virus.

More than 132,000 people nationwide are hospitalized with the virus.

Source: Read Full Article

Ohio Governor Says Students Exposed to COVID-19 In The Classroom Don't Need to Quarantine

In Late December, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine took to Twitter to share an update to his state’s recommendations on COVID-19 precautions in public schools — determining that, in cases where masking and distancing protocols were followed, students exposed to others who tested positive COVID-19 while in the classroom will not be expected to quarantine. DeWine said in a statement that these recommendations are based on preliminary results from state-conducted evaluations of transmission in schools that found that “if students in class are masked/distanced, they did not have an increased risk of catching the virus from a nearby positive student.”

Related story

You Might Still Get Covid-19 After Your First Vaccine Dose — Here's Why

These recommendations do hinge, as DeWine notes, on the requirement that masking and distancing are being followed — and that it doesn’t apply to after-school activities or incidents where students weren’t wearing masks or were exposed outside the classroom.

“Because of the data we now have, we’re changing our guidance and are no longer recommending that students who have been exposed to another COVID+ student quarantine — as long as all students have been wearing masks and the exposure took place in a classroom setting,” DeWine said. “Schools should continue to quarantine exposed students if masking/distancing protocols were not followed. This change doesn’t apply to after-school activities, including sports. Ultimately, this is one more step to keep our kids in the classroom – which is where we want them to be.”

This information differs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for school exposure that are recommended via their official website. The agency states that, following a student being identified as testing positive for COVID-19 the following occurs: “Close contacts are notified, advised to stay home (quarantine for 14 days), and to consult with their healthcare provider for evaluation and determination if testing is recommended; Administrators or COVID-19 POC communicate with teacher(s), staff, and parent(s), guardian(s) or caregiver(s) the importance of COVID-19 mitigation strategies (e.g., staying home when sick, washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing); Members of the student(s)’ household are requested to quarantine for 14 days; Student(s) returns to school after meeting criteria for ending home isolation.”

As the virus is so new, the information we get on how it moves through different people’s bodies and through different communities has been ever-changing. The most recent data has shown that schools, when other protocols are followed, aren’t necessarily hotspots for the virus — but, of course, that doesn’t mean they do not play a role in spreading virus (children infected with COVID-19 carry just as much of the virus as adults, though they are less likely to become seriously ill). 

Teachers in the area expressed concerns about how these recommendations differ from those of the CDC: “The fact that we are doing it simply as our state and not with national or international CDC guidelines makes me quite concerned,” Shari Obrenski of the Cleveland Teachers Union told a local ABC affiliate News5 Cleveland. “To separate out just one section of our society and say, ‘No, everything needs to follow CDC guidelines except for schools,’ I think is quite frankly a dangerous step.”

The anxiety felt by teachers has been an ongoing theme throughout conversations about schools reopening as it encompasses their own health risks, those of their families and those of their students. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in four teachers would be at risk of serious illness if they contracted COVID-19, due to age or pre-existing conditions. Plus, there’s the new normal of their day-to-day work including ensuring kids are complying with all masking and distancing recommendations while also attempting to teach (sometimes remotely and IRL), offer emotional support and even assist in sterilizing their environments.

“We can’t ignore the science. That removal of quarantine, it makes me uncomfortable because I don’t know the science of it,” Bonnie Monteleone, another area teacher, told the ABC affiliate. “But at the same time, I understand where the governor is coming from…It does make me nervous about who’s making the decision about whether or not the masks were worn and these other pieces are in place. I worry about my colleagues being put on the spot. Do I tell that the kid did drop their mask? Do I reveal that some kids don’t want to sneeze into their mask?”

While the emotional and infrastructural toll of schools being closed is one that is heavily felt by parents and students alike, determining the safest path forward (as cases continue to surge around the country and a loud sect of the population is reluctant to follow the mask and distancing guidelines) continues to be a challenge for state and federal officials. 

“Everyone’s goal is to prioritize the reopening of schools as safely and as quickly as possible given the many known and established benefits of in-person learning. In order to enable this and assist schools with their day-to-day operations, it is important to adopt and diligently implement actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside the school and out in the community,” per the CDC. “Vigilance to these actions will moderate the risk of in-school transmission regardless of the underlying community burden – with risk being the lowest if community transmission is low and there is fidelity to implementing proven mitigation strategies.”

No matter what model your district chooses, you’ll probably need to stock up on some of these kids face masks.

Source: Read Full Article