I often feel anxious and worry about a stack of things, most of which I cannot control. I fret constantly about my career, being a freelancer isn’t great if you have perpetual anxiety. I angst about my son and how he will manage when he first goes to school and whether he’ll make good choices when he’s a teenager. I worry about Brexit and global warming and the tangerine terror in the Whitehouse. All of these concerns have some validity, but my mind will find ways to blow things way out of proportion. In reality, my career is what it is; I work hard, I’m very proactive and that is enough. My son isn’t even two and he’s doing great; I’m not a perfect mother but I’m good enough. As for Brexit, the beleaguered environment and Trump? They are mostly beyond my tiny sphere of influence. I vote and I am environmentally conscious and responsible, which is once again, enough. Despite my concrete understanding of reality, I can’t help but be stressed about stuff I can’t change.
I know that spinning out is counter productive as I find it harder to get things done when I’m anxious. It’s a massive waste of time and energy. Thoughts can escalate so quickly and what should be a passing concern, followed by a realisation of serene powerlessness, turns into an overwhelming mass of fears that wraps itself around me like the tentacles of a giant squid. One worry will morph into another and another and another until my throat is tight, I can’t get enough air in my lungs and I feel I might be sick. My bipolar exacerbates my tendency to worry, but anxiety is very common and I don’t know anyone who has not experienced it in some shape or form. Anxiety is fear that an impending catastrophe will will irrevocably change our lives. Or nervous regret that we made the wrong choice and we are to blame for our current unfavourable circumstances. These thoughts haunt our most vulnerable hours when we’re exhausted, unwell or our defences are low. Considering so many of us are affected by anxiety, it’s odd that we haven’t developed better coping mechanisms. There are of course things like mediation and yoga, I find the Calm app very useful. I’m a fan of strenuous cardio and long walks in the park whilst listening to music and audio books. I’m still a meditation novice, but I’m practicing I want to learn more about inner stillness.
A reason so many of us are anxious is due to the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fight or flight responses. The amygdala has barely changed since we were cave people. Now many of us in the West enjoy access to food and relative safety, there are few fatal perils as we’re unlikely to be slaughtered by sabre-toothed tigers. Although the hazards are removed, the function remains. Added to this, most of us over-stimulate our neuroreceptors with addictive substances or behaviours. No wonder so many of us are a bit tortured. It’s useful to remember that our brains are hardwired to experience anxiety, in fact it is our ability to recognise threat that has contributed to our success as a species. Whatever is causing you anxiety, bare in mind that even if the circumstances of your life were to change, you would most likely find something else to stress about. This is not a weakness or a flaw, it’s biological function which has contributed to your very existence. Rather than focusing on the things that are beyond your control, why not put your energy into finding effective, healthy ways to sooth your savage squid and accept that it will always be with you. I used to feel ashamed of my worries and I longed to be composed and nonchalant. Anxiety is nothing to be embarrassed about but it should be taken seriously, particularly if it co-occurs with other mental health conditions. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, please seek medical help from your GP.
When we took these photos, I was super anxious, my hands were trembling and I was short of breath. I’ve become adept at disguising my nerves, but I’m learning that it’s good to tell those around you that you’re worried, even if you don’t know them that well. Most people are kind and appreciate emotional honesty.