Reader Cammy this week asked me this:
“I’m an anxious person, very annoying, but you have made me feel like maybe I can deal with it. Thanks!! How do you deal with anxiety and enjoy things when you’re feeling anxious. Please! I would love to know what you do.”
I’m a very anxious person. It’s the background soundtrack to my existence. When you’re an anxious person, you notice things a lot. I’ve noticed there are different types of anxiety. But regardless, I reckon the beat (or buzz) of the soundtrack is the same. It’s common to the human experience.
At different stages in my life anxiety has ruled, and crippled, me.
The thing is, you can struggle with it. Or you can work with it. I don’t think we’re not meant to be anxious. I don’t think we’re not meant to be anything. We just are.
Happiness is generally impossible for longer than 15 minutes. We are the descendants of creatures who, above all else, worried.” Alain de Botton
Worrying about worrying is very familiar to the anxious person. Constant monitoring of your level of “Hey, I’m cool”-ness is too. Ditto, thinking that everyone else goes home content and anxiety-free, jumps into bed and sleeps sound.
I reckon we all get to the bathroom mirror on our way to the bedroom at night and look at ourselves and wonder if we’re doing this caper called life right. None of us are. All of us are.
I love Stephen Fry for the fact he reminds us of this, constantly sharing on Twitter his doubt and anxiety and sadness. Dave Eggers, too, in interviews.
Anxiety has made my life good
I don’t particularly feel like dwelling on the anxiety bit of Cammy’s question. The “how do I enjoy things” bit is more interesting. I think anxiety pushes us. It exists to do so – it’s part of the flight or fight mechanism and helps us friggen fire up. If it makes us stall with terror at times, it eventually makes conditions so unbearable that we ricochet off to a new important direction eventually. This is how we moved forward as humans since our primitive beginnings. Some of us get niggling, uneasy feelings (that this tundra is not the place to camp for the night), we investigate (look around the rocky outcrop and see a pride of lions), and motivate everyone to high-tail. Anxious people saved clans. Anxiety kept the human race moving forward.
Anxiety has pushed me to do wonderful things. The hyper-awareness it affords has landed me in this career. It’s made me a participant, not a mere passenger, in life.
Of course, it’s also taken over. The trick is to find a sweet spot. Where you allow yourself to be who you are, but you curb the extremes.
Mostly, I find soothing my anxiety works best. I don’t fight it. I work through it.
some tricks i employ
* Notice your anxiety. Witness it deliberately. Don’t let it wash over you. I used to let it build up, subliminally pushing it back, thinking it shouldn’t be there. But simply saying “Hello there Anxiety” lessens it’s havoc.
* I’ve learned that anxiety feels and smells a lot like excitement. So I choose to interpret it as the latter as often as possible. Standing on the precipice, about to jump into something new, I feel anxious. But it’s excitement when you pause and reflect on it. When you see it this way it’s BLOODY FUN! I switch the interpretation. I’m allowed to!
* When I’m doing something definitely scary, I let my anxiety have the stage. It’s always got me through maths exams and driver’s tests and TV gigs. I let it express itself. Which might sound irresponsible. But I’ve found it’s only when you put the breaks on it’s forceful charge through your system that it leads to things like freak-outs or brain freezes. Let it be and it will be less so.
* When you’ve been anxious during the day, take a good 20 minutes out in a quiet room and just sit and be still. We must rest our adrenals. We must.
* To this end, I take a concoction that Angela Hywood made for me – rehmannia and licorice – to support my adrenals so I don’t burn out.
* Meditate. Just meditate. Your anxiety appears comical when you meditate. You become rather fond of it eventually. “Oh, there you are again, Anxiety. You can’t help yourself, can you!?”
* Notice moments where anxiety melts. I like this passage from DH Lawrance’s Women in Love. Anxious Ursula and Birkin have had a fight. Then they have sex. Full-on, engorged (sorry!) sex. Then they go down for tea and Ursula serves the tea.
She was usually nervous and uncertain at performing these public duties, such as giving tea. But today she forgot, she was at her ease, entirely forgetting to have misgivings. The tea-pot poured beautifully from a proud slender spout, her eyes were warm with smiles. She had learned at last to be still and perfect.
Sex helps anxiety. It stills it. So does walking. So does yoga. So does washing the dishes a little bit slower. So does anything that has a soothing rhythm. Finding things that ease you into flow or flow you into ease – and doing them daily – is key. Over and over. Over time, as you get older, it turns the dial down on the background soundtrack.
I hope this post hasn’t been too grey and indulgent. What do you do to still anxiety?