Recently I’ve recognised that I have anxious episodes far more often these days, particularly since having a baby. Maternal mental health is notoriously shaky, with the highs often feeling really high and the lows sometimes feeling really low.
I’ve also realised recently that anxiety is pretty much the smoking of our generation. It’s an epidemic, it’s getting more prevalent, and it’s realllllly bad for our health. I’ve been paying attention to my own anxiety rhythms, and thinking quite a lot about it as I notice it in those around me.
With it being #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, I wanted to publish a collection of random thoughts I’ve had about the beast that is anxiety.
- 1. Anxiety is Often Just Overwhelm as the Result of a Full Life
We are juggling a lot of fricking plates, you and I. Career, family, friendships, health, money, exercise, living arrangements, house work, laundry (sooooo much laundry), charity, faith, hobbies, commuting… and we’re supposed to cook our food from (organic) scratch, have amazing sex and look super hot all of the time, too. Oh and also grow our Instagram following to a few million, obvs!
I want to go lie down just thinking about it. And one morning I very nearly did creep back into bed. I was in the shower feeling utterly overwhelmed about the day ahead. Just worrying about the minutiae and how I was going to get through all the things I had to do that day.
The thoughts whirled round my tiny head and I ended up dragging out my shower because I couldn’t face getting out and getting dressed and getting started with the day.
And then I recalled something I had heard a couple of days prior:
Take it BIRD BY BIRD.
The expression comes from writer Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Here’s the anecdote she recalls, from which the book takes its name:
Thirty years ago my older brother was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. … he was at the kitchen table close to tears immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
And that’s exactly how I face anxious days these days: Bird by Bird. Or, as another smart writer, Glennon Doyle Melton puts it: I just try to “do the next right thing.”
2. With Regards to #1, Remember that It’s (Usually) Better to Be Busy than Bored
This one helps me a lot when I’m anxious about being too busy. I remind myself how much I dislike boredom and how I’d rather live a colourful, FULL life than a boring monotone one. It’s almost certainly always better to be busy than bored!
(Note: It’s ok to be busy – but if it’s really stressing you out and you need some downtime, that’s important to recognise too, especially if you’re an Introvert like me. It’s also okay to start saying No to things.)
3. Comparison is the Thief of Joy, So Use Social Media Sparingly
These two things go hand in hand; since we often find ourselves feeling shittier after seeing yet another hot person having a seemingly amazing holiday from her seemingly amazing real life, sometimes it’s time to get off Instagram. Or, at least remind yourself of this: It’s a highlights reel. The shitty moments didn’t make the cut and the 1001 less-than-perfect selfies didn’t get posted. Once we stop comparing ourselves to an ideal that doesn’t even exist we can feel liberated from comparison anxiety.
4. In Stillness Comes Answers
Sometimes we’ve been afraid of facing our fears for such a long time that it’s difficult to hear the voice of what to do next rise up. But I know this to be true: in stillness comes answers. The body often knows the answer before the mind does; so I’m going to try sitting still for a while and listening to my gut. It never lets me down, and the amazing thing is, that the more you listen to your gut, the louder it becomes.
5. There’s ALWAYS History
Where has this anxiety come from? A past memory or situation that we’re scared will repeat itself again? Anxiety doesn’t come out of the blue, there’s always a backstory.
6. FOMO is overrated
FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.
Making a decision about what to do and sticking with it could ease like 90% of Millennial anxiety. Once you realise that there isn’t a “right path” or “better party” or “better thing you should be doing right now” you can focus 101% on wherever you are RIGHT now doing whatever you’re doing RIGHT now – and not thinking about all that you’re missing out on.
Plus: Doing what you said you would do and not flaking out on friends (to go do something else) are pretty much the best human qualities ever.
7. When in Doubt, Get in Water
Whenever my little one is having an unsettled day or is overly tired, we throw him in the bath. It doesn’t matter what is bothering him (bar serious illness), something about the water immediately instills calm. Since babies are just small people, what we know is true for us can be applied to them, and what we know is true for them could probably be applied to us, too.
8. Know What Your Tools Are
For me it’s walks and baths and nature and yoga and writing and wine. For you it might be painting or running or cooking up a storm. When anxiety hits, get that toolbox out and start doing some DIY on your mental health.
9. “We all just want to be seen and heard”
I heard this on a podcast and it is, I believe, our fundamental human desire. It explains why so many of us are addicted to social media. Why we spend money on looking good. Why we get upset at poor customer service where there is no respect shown to us.
To FIX the issue of so many people feeling unseen and under heard, we need listeners. More active listening could solve a lot of society’s ills.
10. Your anxiety can probably be boiled down to one sentence
Although it might seem like everything is going wrong, there is usually just one stressor that is wrecking your attitude and having a bad knock-on effect. E.g. I’m scared of getting fat. Of death. Of having no money. It’s really helpful to figure out what that one thing is and tackle that – you might just find that everything else feels better already.
11. Let it be what it is, not what you think it should be.
I’m stealing this from my good friend Eva of Bad Bitch Living who shared it today on Insta and I actually said “HELL YES” out loud. There is so much peace to be found in this wisdom.
12. It’s absolutely ok to admit your feeling a little wobbly
Finally, let’s start talking about our anxious thoughts a little more often, shall we? There ain’t no shame. Candour beats coyness. Anxiety happens to the best of us and it’s about time we start to share that experience and in turn help others to do the same.
Sharing is caring – please feel free to send this to a friend who might need to read this right now.