Wellbeing

Tips To Calm Your Anxious Mind – From A Newly Anxious Person

April 17, 2015
A Busy Life

So.

I have sort of alluded to the fact that lately, things have been getting to me a bit. Nothing in particular, but I’ve felt that I can’t put into practice all those awesome ‘fight on baby’ nuggets of self-empowered love that I preach. What’s up? Well, nothing, actually. Nothing in particular that’s for sure, except its manifestation of a constant niggling feeling somewhere in the top of my chest that slowly but surely has threatened to leave me a little bit overwhelmed by nothing and everything at any given moment.

Ok good.

My first and most problematic issue here is/was feeling like I have categorically, wholly absolutely and undoubtedly no right to feel like this at all.

I have a lovely home.

I have a great job.

I have a next level awesome set of friends who are at the magical tipping point of part human, part unicorn.

My family are healthy.

I have a blog and a whole set of virtual friends that light up my life.

I have an incredibly supportive and loving other half.

I have a crappy auto-immune condition yes, but I manage it really, really well (for the most part).

I’m healthy, and I’m HERE. Praise be I’m alive!

So what the jeff I have I got to suddenly start feeling so anxious about?

I’ve always been a deep thinker, sure. But I’ve never worried, like lay-awake-at-night-worried, about the small stuff. I’ve just, you know, cracked on and felt ok about most things as long as I’m laughing as often as possible in the process.

Feeling comfortable with saying hey there! This is getting difficile’ is for sure part of the problem.

So, hey there.

I’ve been trying to figure out what’s happened, and why. I don’t think it’s much, but I’ve been reflecting on ways to keep this as a onetime thing that I’m just currently experiencing for a little while. You know, a passing period of time that I can learn from. Soz anxiety, I’m just not that into you.

So what can you do if you’re feeling a bit (or a lot) antsy? I’ve been working through the below in a bid to return to a former and much preferred state of chill, and I know for sure that I’m not the only one who can sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by, well, life, so hopefully these will give you a little love too.

A Busy Life

Busy, lovely, little life.

1. What’s going in your gob?

Yadda yadda, eat well, we know. But DO you? Cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pizza for dinner. All cool, but they will likely leave you feeling as beige as the meals themselves if this is your regular intake of foodstuffs. Don’t worry about calories too much, pay attention instead to the names of the ingredients. A sandwich should not contain thirty ingredients, only half of which you recognise as English. These will cloud your brain and make it sad. Eat lots of different colours and prepare as much as possible from scratch, yourself. This doesn’t mean slaving away for four hours a night with your head in and out of the oven; something like a stir fry is an easy and cheap way to get all your goodness in. This will also help you sleep better because your body’s not busy working to break down a shit load of chemical weirdness.

2. Don’t hibernate too much.

You may think you need to create your own space when things are a bit hectic, and you’re absolutely damn straight, but chances are if you’re feeling anxious some naughty (untrue) thoughts are creeping into that monkey mind of yours. Too much time alone with them and there’s a danger you’ll start giving them too much credit. Friends, laughter, FUN, will remind you what life’s all about. Don’t go doing anything too drastic (packing it all in to go and figure it all out in Southeast Asia has crossed my mind more than once), but positive experiences will chemically benefit your brain, and those nice experiences will help you see what’s important, and what matters.

3. But… do take some time for yourself.

The world is a really cool place. There’s so much to do and see and smell and feel and experience and love. Diaries and dates get filled up quickly, and before you know it you’re spending the weekend simply catching up on sleep. But the sensory assault and dashing from A to B to C via D and back to B will take its toll, even if you’re heading from fun thing to fun thing. If this sounds like you, try to keep at least two evenings and one weekend day completely clear for you to just chill. This can be tough if you suffer from a case of the FOMOs, but then it’s a case of prioritising events that are one off and super exciting, and moving that regular catch up to the following week. Prioritise different people on different weeks and you won’t let anyone down. Most importantly, this will ensure you’re prioritising yourself in the process. Also – make time for exercise, even if it’s literally just a walk in the park. The air in your lungs and the time away from life noise is one of the best medicines out there. Try not to see exercise as a chore, but as a lovely thing you’re doing for your body and (more importantly) your brain. It’s self-indulgent time that is just for you. More on that here.

4. YOU DON’T MATTER!

Well, of course you do my darling, you matter so very much. But for some reason this little trick of perspective helps me. It’s impossible to quantify what the 7 billion odd people on this earth look like. Now think about those 7 billion people, over and over again, for every year we’ve known to be on this earth, and every year that’s yet to come. You’re an ant. You’re a dust mite on an ant. Your time here is so precious, and it’s all you can do to make the most of it and to make as positive an imprint as possible, but you think you got problems? They’re so insignificant in relation to the infinity of time! To the number of people to ever walk this planet! Just chill out and enjoy yourself, because when you’re gone none of these little stressors will matter in any way whatsoever. That looming deadline, that silly squabble, that annoying person in front of you who’s holding up the queue – they are not important enough for you to seriously stress over. Preserve yourself so that you can be a dust mite with enough energy to make a positive difference.

5. Detox… From Your Devices.

Ah gad I’m absolutely bloody terrible for this. I sit down to watch the TV and within a couple of minutes I find myself scrolling my timeline, paying attention to nothing in particular. GIVE YOUR BRAIN A BREAK WOMAN. I definitely feel the pressure of keeping up with the infinity of the internet, particularly as I have a job that not only allows, but actually depends on staying in tune with the digital landscape. SO…

  • Firstly turn off push notifications for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest… you get the idea. That means YOU control when you check your feeds.
  • Secondly, if you sit down to watch a film or read a book or draw or whatever it is you do for chillaxy fun times, leave your phone in the next room. On silent. No vibrate.
  • Set your alarm for the next morning and turn your phone so that the screen’s down at least an hour before you get into bed. Don’t check , or even look at it again until the next morning. The ONLY exception to this is to use a mindfulness app like Headspace (DO IT, it’s great), and if that’s your plan, turn your phone to Aeroplane Mode.
  • In the morning the world will be exactly the same, but your mind will be in a better place.

6. Focus and Prioritise.

Again, so very guilty of this. I start everything, finish nothing and get distracted 4305 times in the process: reading new information, learning new things, remembering to call about the Council Tax, and worst of all… reading about people who are doing it better/faster/harder/stronger than me. ‘It’ could be anything from blogging to managing type 1 to getting that book deal. Note to self – if you spend your days reading about everyone else’s ginormous achievements, you won’t produce nor achieve anything for yourself, and then you’ll likely feel a bit rubbish about that. If where you want to be or what you want to achieve or the things you need to do feel huge and daunting and scary, step back and focus on the two or three things you can achieve that week, that day, that hour. Write them down. Don’t start anything else until you’ve ticked those off. Keep them small – reply to that email, remember that birthday card, finish that blog post. Suddenly you’re ticking the shit out of life left, right and centre. Hello, sense of accomplishment!

7. SLOW THE HELL DOWN BABY.

Life is short, but it’s also kinda long. You really don’t need to keep rushing around at 100mph – whatever you’re rushing to will still be there when you get there, two minutes later. Sure, a commute isn’t the most pleasant experience, whether you travel in the car or succumb to the depths of the underground (and thus being squashed into someone else’s armpit) of a morning. But ultimately, it will take as long as it takes, and there’s really no need to rugby tackle a poor tourist out of the way to get a train when there’s another one 120 whole seconds behind it. Just because you’ve perceived something to be shit and frustrating and annoying, don’t make it shit and frustrating and annoying for innocent people around you. If you drop your pace just a little, accept a situation for what it is and just ride it out, you’ll arrive at your destination in a much better mental state, ready to take on the next part of your day having not over expended your precious energy on things that you can’t control, nurturing negativity in the process.

8. Ultimately… Be Kind To Yourself. 

This goes back to my little post on compassion, and also apparently contradicts point 4 above. Well, it does and it doesn’t. 4 is about perspective. This is about your fundamental and critical need as a human being to be kind to yourself to have any chance at not driving yourself crazy with self-loathing, doubt and/or regret. You’re not a dick for thinking you *should* be better at something. But know that you’re being and doing and living right now, right this second, and as long as you’re not being a dick to everyone else in the world, you’re doing just fine. Better than fine. Amazingly, in fact. So just make sure you’re being a bit nice to yourself, because there’s no practice run, or stabilisers or manual for this thing that is your very precious life so you’re going to feel a bit weird about it all sometimes. And make sure you’re doing things that feel nice FOR YOU, not because you feel like you *should* be doing them (there’s that *should* again! He’s a bugger that one), or that other people expect them of you. Doing things that don’t feel authentic will just make you really sad. Being a bit selfish sometimes in order to preserve and nourish your delicate mind is a very positive thing to do. Look after you, and you’ll be in a better place to respond, interact, help and be kind to others.

 

Got any more tips for me? Send ’em my way!

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8 Comments

  • Reply Heather April 17, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you for this! As someone who has a constant low -level state of anxiety which increases during stressful times of life, I can certainly recognise something of myself here. I especially need to work on number 5!

    I hope this stage passes quickly for you and that the changes you’ve made will benefit you and those around you in a really positive way in the long term.

    • Reply missjengrieves April 17, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      Hey Heather! Thanks for reading (that was a long post!). I feel like at the moment that slightly on edge feeling is constantly lurking a little and I’m doing all I can to prevent it from developing any further. I do feel like life is more demanding and busier than it ever has been, so preserving our delicate minds is so important as I don’t know that we were designed for so much advancement! I definitely don’t think you or me are alone by any means on this one x

  • Reply Heather April 17, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Yes, life is crazy and hectic and FAST! Having to factor frequent finger and tummy poking with needles is something that adds to the daily to-do list! I think that it’s always in the back of my mind and regardless of whatever else is going on, of course I go through life doing what I need to do to keep myself alive and healthy, but it would be SO good to be able to take a couple of days off from it and escape completely from all of the things we have to do, not just the ones we can choose not to do.

    If you’re an over-thinker like me, dedicate some time to thinking and brainstorming solutions for an hour or so if something in particular is bothering you. Then, get outside, go see friends, whatever will distract you and try and give your brain a break. That’s my plan this weekend anyway :) x

  • Reply Helen ActuallyMummy April 18, 2015 at 2:20 am

    I recognise this so much. I go through phases of anxiety, and I totally have the tools now to deal with it, but it’s hard work. Your strategies are all good, especially food and focus. I had some CBT for mine years ago, and that whole thing of mindfulness, and not letting your ‘srlf-speak’ get out of proportion really helps. You strike me as having that nailed already so you’ll crack this, I’m sure. Time offline, good food, exercise and sleep help a lot for me. Then the thing I learned that was most important was taking time to do something for myself. And that means actually doing something – not reading or watching TV or taking a bath. I ended up joining Rock Choir. Totally cheesy, and to be honest it was a pain to make myself go every week, but it was exactly what I needed, to spend some time doing something I enjoyed, that I didn’t have to do, just for me.

    Life is hectic and stressful, even when it’s good. But I’m sure you can kick anxiety into touch eventually.

    • Reply missjengrieves April 20, 2015 at 10:46 am

      Helen, when I’m growed up can I be like you please?! A rock choir! You’re a goddess!
      I’ve actually been investigating quite a few things to do for ‘just me’. I have my bike which is a huge part of that, but I would love to get back to dancing because it was my absolute love and I stopped in a bit of a tangle of self-loathing post-uni, so I need to replace those quite sad memories with the positive ones it gave me for so many years. I’ve also been looking into an illustration course because when I was little I would draw and draw and draw. Taking it back to a simpler time you know?! I think you’re so right in that you can have all the tools and strategy but putting it into practice is a constant effort. To remember to be mindful when life is so busy is difficult, which is quite ironic really! Thank you as always for your kind words, I hope you’re all well over there? xxx

      • Reply Helen (@ActuallyBlog) April 21, 2015 at 5:34 pm

        Yes!!! Get dancing! It always feels like there’s no time for things that feel ‘frivolous’ but a regular fix of selfish frivolity is massively important.

        All good here thanks, though the honeymoon that I hated is leaving, and boy do I want it back! Scary horrid time, but we’ll get there :)

  • Reply Alex R April 19, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    I enjoy reading your blog, Jen. (And the bit about Southeast Asia made me laugh!).

    Good tip about Headspace. I rate it too.

    My limited understanding of the neuroscience behind anxiety (and apologies if you’re all-too familiar with this already) is that it’s possible for the brain’s fight-or-flight centre, the amygdala, to become over-stimulated, particularly during times of stress, feeling overwhelmed, constant rushing, trauma, self-neglect etc. The amygdala is well-meaning but dumb, and when it shifts into a kind of high alert mode it starts shooting out fight-or-flight signals inappropriately. It becomes trigger happy and everything feels worse than it really is. When the more sophisticated cognitive parts of the brain inadvertently buy into and ruminate upon the amygdala’s trigger happy signals (which is 100% natural, given that it’s protected us from legitimate danger throughout our evolution) it receives a green light to keep sending them, thus keeping it in this state of heightened alert.

    If you try too hard to combat the “problem” of anxiety that can become, in itself, a problem. “How can I make this stop?” becomes a low-level resistance that greets anxiety’s arrival with dread and adds more fuel to the fire.

    Thankfully it’s totally possible to get the amygdala to cool its boots and let you properly mellow out again. Sometimes all the good tips you mention do the trick. Another strategy is to learn to be at peace with and disidentify from the amygdala’s signals. By that I mean to stop thinking of anxiety as something you own and want rid of, to not blame yourself for “over thinking” or see yourself as the self-sabotaging author of these anxious thoughts, but to see anxiety as just meaningless signals from an over-stimulated part of the brain. Just something that’s happening in there but you don’t need to get involved with or fight against. To literally picture the amygdala as a discrete entity in the brain (actually two small almond-sized entities) which are all fired up for some reason at the moment but you can choose to calmly ignore, like a screaming kid at the back of an airplane. The repeated act of stepping aside and disregarding the signals – through re-framing techniques, observing in meditation, distraction etc – can require a significant effort of will, but leads to not just regaining calmness, but actually feeling better than you did in the first place. Anxiety, like many forms of suffering, can lead you on a path to learning things you never would have without it.

    And it really helps to know that you’re very much not alone in experiencing this. I hope it passes for you soon.

    • Reply missjengrieves April 20, 2015 at 10:42 am

      Ahhh, Alex! What a wonderful, USEFUL comment. I know I’m not alone by any means with this, but I hadn’t done any digging into the chemical reasons for any of this – that is so tangible and understandable, to the point that I want to publish it as a post in its own right! I think it would help a lot of people.
      Sounds like you have come to a very considered and calming understand of how to tackle these feelings, and I must say you always seem the picture of calm on the outside :) (although I know that doesn’t necessarily mean the same inwardly). Also thank you for taking the time to read my blog, it always means a lot when non-type 1s give it a go.

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