Column, Movie Diary

Stressing out, anxiety can be overcome

By Dom Cioffi

The last couple months of lockdown have certainly had an effect on society. For many, the loss of employment and underlying fear of sickness has been a constant source of stress and anxiety.

I recently read a long-form magazine article, written by a distressed restaurant owner, that broke my heart. The author owned a small, upscale boutique restaurant in Brooklyn that had a loyal clientele of diners for nearly two decades.

When the quarantine period started, the owner applied for government help, which eventually came and was dutifully doled out to the employees and other bills. But as time stretched on, it became increasingly apparent that the take-out business they were leaning on was not going to provide enough income to help the eatery survive. That, along with the reality that new social distancing rules were going to radically alter the confines of their already small space once reopened, forced the owner into closing for good.

Twenty years of hard work, dedication, and commitment to serving quality food were gone in a few short weeks. I read the story only imagining the pain that must be associated with such a harsh reality.

Anyone involved in food services that didn’t already rely on the take-out side of their business model, must be living in a constant state of anxiety as they wonder if they will have a job when things reopen, or if they will need to come up with a new career in order to survive. That’s some heavy decision-making in an economy that is appearing less and less inviting to someone looking for a change.

I’ve been lucky so far in that my career has only been minorly effected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

There’s no telling where things are headed, but for now my fears are more for society as a whole rather than individualistic.

I’ve had a few stretches where anxiety had a grip on me, and it isn’t fun. When anxiety creeps in, it has a habit of affecting all aspects of your life, from your physical health to your diet to your relationships.

Of course, nothing can force you to swim with anxiety more than cancer. During my battle, I knew I had to face chemotherapy and radiation on a daily basis, but I had not planned on how much anxiety would play a role.

That was also true after my treatment when I had to face a new normal – at lest as far as my physical health was concerned.

I learned that overcoming excessive thinking is the path to finding peace in your life. If you dwell on the ideas and stories racing around inside your head, you will slip into a deep well of anxiety that is difficult to climb out of.

I spent many post-cancer months wallowing in self-pity about my predicament. But thinking this way never made me feel better. I felt trapped by negative thoughts and emotions and a slave to their effects on me.

Ultimately, I made a conscious decision to think less. And when I did think, I forced myself to frame things in a positive way. I got in the habit of saying, “Yeah, I’ve got constant ringing in my ears, and neuropathy in my feet, and I have trouble swallowing certain foods, but it’s a lot better than dying!”

The more I talked and thought like this, the more I believed it, and the less anxiety played a role.

While I was lying in bed the other night flipping through YouTube videos, I stumbled upon a 10 minute clip that showed a guy spelunking inside a cave. He had a GoPro camera on his helmet and was squeezing through insanely small tunnels as he worked his way deep into the earth.

I’m not fully claustrophobic, but I hate cramped spaces enough that this video had me near-panicked within a couple minutes. When I noticed how anxious I was, it dawned on me that I hadn’t experienced that feeling since my recovery. In a small way, that realization felt like a major accomplishment and made me realize how far I’ve come.

This week’s film, “El Camino,” a Breaking Bad movie starring Aaron Paul, also had me filled with anxiety, albeit an anxiety that easily dissipates after you turn off the television.

One of the most successful dramas ever released was “Breaking Bad,” the gripping story of a high school chemistry teacher and one of his students who turn into drug kingpins.

“El Camino” is a two-hour follow-up movie (just released on Netflix) that tells the story of where the student ends up once the teacher exits the picture.

“Breaking Bad” was easily one of the best shows I have ever watched, so it’s not surprising that I was interested in seeing this epilogue. Revisiting all the characters from the original series was a thrill, as was the anticipation of where the main character would finally end up.

Check this one out of you loved “Breaking Bad.” It’s got all the twisted charm from that series plus a tidy resolution for fans.

An anxious “B+” for “El Camino.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at

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