Anxiety is a tricksy bugger. At times it seems so normal that it sneaks in beside stress and picks away at you until you’re an empty shell of anxious and hadn’t noticed until it’s too late and you’re crying that your pen just ran out.
When I am busy, or tired or worried or stressed, anxiety likes to walk with me and be helpful. I makes me jittery and wired, which, at first, is great for banging out tasks and staying up late to be productive. But eventually it leads to indecision and doubt and distraction and a constantly vibrating thrumming feeling in my chest even when I’m trying to relax. It’s thinking about things to do next month when I’ve particularly set aside twenty minutes to read or watch tv so as to NOT think about my current to do list.
I know how to recognise my anxiety a little faster now. Not all the time, but often. I know that I can’t make it go away. I’m an anxious person who suffers from anxiety and pretending I am not is helping no one. What I can do is try to manage it. When I can see that anxiety has a grip on me like a too tight sweaty itchy jumper, I try one of these:
– lying down on the floor for ten minutes and just not moving. It feels like torture to be thinking and not doing, but it gives my body an actual rest in an usual place which is mildly distracting. Even if it does make me need to hoover the moment I stand up.
– putting on a stand-up show while I buzz about and do things on my To Do list. Hearing someone else’s voice and humour distracts me from having second or third thoughts about my decisions. It also makes me laugh, which is more important than I would have expected. I like to listen to the same shows again and again. The wordy clever ones with minimal visuals. I like to hear one person talk for a solid hour. I also like to listen to the Six Music podcasts of Jon Richardson & Russell Howard because they are so wonderfully balanced. Jon is grumpy and curmudgeonly while Russell is enthusiastic and ridiculous. Russell Howard once described his mum as “not the full tambourine” and l just love that.
– walking quickly along the river while listening to loud music. The light on the river soothes my eyes and rests my head while my body is physical and productive. The music distracts me from the endless repetitive thoughts and takes me out of my brain.
– sitting on my bed in the dark watching a fun story dvd. The bed supports my whole weight, so my body rests. The dark prevents me from doing anything else. The story dvd is usually a comedy or a crime drama and it commands my whole attention. A lot of people put a lot of time and effort and heart into making this story. It would be rude of me to only pay half of my attention. I light candles for the scent and the atmosphere and immerse myself.
– eating a lot of carbs. When I’m anxious it is really hard to make and stick to a decision – even about what to eat of an evening. That’s when I have to take away the decisions and focus on one thing at a time. To watch potatoes boil and mash them, to chop a stack of vegetables and make lasagne with its many layers, to bake a cake and not do the dishes, some laundry and download four podcasts at the same time. To eat something warm and filling and just for me.
– saying a mantra reminding myself I am safe and that the to do list has no impact on who loves me or how they love me. Anxiety can feel like panic. And panic lies. Panic tells you that everything is life or death and that the wrong decision or action is fatal. I try to play Worst Case Scenario and see how bad it could possibly be. Logically, I know it won’t be terrible, but emotionally it does not feel like that. I try to connect my logic and my emotions by saying the words out loud.
– having a gimlet and singing along to some Beyonce. She’s powerful and takes no prisoners while being fun and vulnerable. The gimlet knocks me on the head and lets me try and be silly for a half hour.
– painting my nails. It takes a lot of concentration because I am clumsy. I choose a red and I watch it deepen with coats. I glide a top coat on over that and wonder how to get the colour out of the brush. And then I have to either sit still or only type for an hour or else I will smudge my work. Throughout the day, I notice the coloured fingertips and remind me that I am worth a little bit of colour and attention.
– finding a cat and stroking it utnil it becomes bored or threatens to follow me home. Fur therapy is excellent. I miss having a cat so much that I am quite the crazy cat lady out and about. Luckily, the universe sometimes sends me a cat on my way to Sainsbury’s and I thank the universe.
– rereading an old novel. Security comes from the known. Give me a tale I already love and let me enjoy it again and again.
– communicating with friends. I am unlucky to have so many wonderful people scattered across the globe and not within reaching distance. I am lucky that these people have whatsapp and email and facebook and I can text them or call them or leave them a voice note and some photos to stay in touch no matter how far away they are. I’ve recently gone on a massive voicenote kick and I’m loving it. To hear their accents and expressions and backgrounds is everything. They remind me I’m not alone and that there’s always something going on, but friends are a constant.