In the COVID-19 pandemic I am dealing with anxiety for the first time, and professionally floundering.
I'm usually good at prioritization, but the state of the world means emergencies, and anxiety magnifies the perception that I am the only person who can deal with them. Sometimes I am: I have high-risk family, have lost care for them, and my university is not making safety-centered decisions very well. I am joined by other new-anxious in not being able to buy safe help: parents of young children, colleagues with disabilities, and anyone who has family sick with COVID, many of whom are wondering where precisely the buck stops, except with themselves... My normal support circles are broken or only available over Zoom, which is less helpful than in-person access. Sleep, for many reasons, is now hard for me, yet vital zoom meetings happen at every hour. Compounding this, large projects I committed to in January are now much more difficult to finish, and past due.
Deadlines are deadlines, students get helped or they don't, grants forgone today add uncertainty to an already complex tomorrow. The law provides protections, but won't help with tenure cases, or provide funds to keep students fed. My field and academe in general are trending more competitive, not less. I am usually quite productive, publishing multiple papers a year, writing grants, etc. I am doing the 'right things': I exercise daily, have a therapist, am exploring meds, and have taken up meditation. I am lucky to be in the hands of good care, but that care is often stymied by the culture of academe. "No one you can delegate that to?" asks my therapist.
It does not help that those above me in the chain of command are largely uncomfortable with the idea of mental health, full stop. Advice to 'pull together, 'buck up', and 'chill out' has come, along with signaling that mental health is outside the preview of academe. This is even as they show their own symptoms of great stress. While industry settings often have clear ways to handle mental health situations, my institution has no such resources for faculty and staff. Academic settings also have less 'chain of authority' to directly assist individuals. "Talk to your boss" is not necessarily sound advice. 'HR' is not a useful resource either.
I am specifically looking for academe-focused strategies to cope and potentially even better succeed, with this anxiety. I am Jr. Faculty in one role, Staff in another, highly autonomous in both, at the same institution. Most of my commitments are to individuals outside of my department. I do not see this all 'ending' soon.
Those with anxiety pre-pandemic: do you have strategies I might try? How does one prioritize and strategize when everything is on fire? Can anxiety in fact be a superpower when applied correctly in academe?
Everyone: are there there things I should do to minimize impact on my academic career? I need to stay competitive with individuals who are younger and have less complexity than I do, as we will be evaluated equally.