I consider myself to be a laid-back person. Easy going. Calm. But lately, I’ve been questioning whether this is my real identity or just a fabricated fantasy that I desperately want for myself in the vain hope that it will become reality. Then again, most people I know have suffered with anxiety at some point in their lives. It is absolutely nothing to feel ashamed about.
I remember feeling anxious as a child. I moved schools several times and loathed being the new kid because it meant that all eyes were on me when I just wanted to blend into the shadows. I always felt different to other people, and I can see now that that was part of the reason I was drawn to supernatural literature and films where the heroes and heroines embraced their weirdness and had cool powers to boot.
I wrote a post a while back about being an HSP or Highly Sensitive Person and the huge relief I felt when I realised that I wasn’t abnormal. I wish I’d known that as a child. I discovered that my desperate need for security stems from a deep insecurity I had in my younger years.
In school, there was a recurring theme of me starting off every new school as the exciting new girl who all the other girls wanted to be friends with. This would soon descend into cattiness and outright physical bullying. I hated school and found escape in books, movies, and writing. I preferred my own company to other people’s because it was the only time I could truly relax and be myself without fear of judgment.
As an adult, I have frequently dug deep into what makes me the person I am today, and why I occasionally suffer from bouts of anxiety. These bouts have ranged from full on panic attacks and episodes of sleep paralysis to just a mild feeling of being unsettled and not knowing why. In what is often referred to as shadow work, we need to confront our inner demons face on and get to the root of what we’re grappling with. I believe it’s an ongoing process, and the work is never ‘done’ because our lives are not linear; there are potential changes and upheavals around every corner. That’s life. My magical friend Veronica Varlow uses the analogy of choosing whether you want your life to be safe but dull like the monorail at DisneyWorld, or an exciting roller coaster like Space Mountain. Or as Homer Simpson says to Marge, “I can’t live the button-down life like you. I want it all: the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles.”
Anxiety can be that annoying person who outstays their welcome or it can creep up on you and shout “boo!” in your ear when you least expect it. I recognise certain triggers that set off my anxiety, but likewise, sometimes I have the physical symptoms of stress and I’m perplexed as to why.
A big thing for me at the moment is feeling comfortable in my writing. I’m writing a novel and it’s only in the first draft stage, i.e. the stage where writing is supposed to be freeing and perfection can go out the window. As Ernest Hemingway so eloquently put it, “The first draft of anything is always shit.” But I come to my work every day with a crippling fear that it’s far too terrible to ever be shared with anyone. I know this is my inner critic pulling a fast one on me, but it still gets me. I have to try and acknowledge the negative thoughts and change them into something positive.
I was even anxious about publishing this post. I actually wrote it early last week but kept putting off clicking the publish button because I worried that I was making a serious subject come off as frivolous. If it comes across that way at all then it’s not my intention.
I’m also aware of how food can bring on anxiety, especially if I drink too much coffee (I try to limit my intake to two cups a day) or consume too much sugar. Hormones can also obviously play havoc with your emotions, and I’ve found that tracking my cycle is really helpful to highlight patterns. I use the app Hormonology as a cycle tracker, but I’m not completely convinced that an app has all the answers so I also make a note of my moods and energy levels every day. For more information on cycles, I highly recommend Lisa Lister‘s books Code Red and Love Your Lady Landscape.
So how do I cope with anxiety? There isn’t a magical solution (believe me, I’ve looked), but I have little habits which I believe help me. The following suggestions are tips which help ease my anxiety and in no way am I advocating doing these instead of seeking help or seeing a GP. Also, these are just my go-to solutions for mild anxiety. In the past, when I’ve experienced more serious symptoms such as panic attacks, then there has often been a root problem which needed identifying and solving.
- Breathe. Perhaps this is an obvious one, but focusing on slow deep breaths really calms me
- Olfactory goodness. The right scent of perfume, flowers, candles or food can transport me to a better place. I tend to carry essential oils with me when I travel and a large inhalation of lavender is so soothing. I adore floral scents such as rose and lavender, uplifting citrus notes and woody comforting smells of old books and leather. I have an embarrassing amount of perfumes and scented candles for different emotions and seasons. When I’m at home I like to burn Palo Santo. Long used for its reputed purifying properties, I definitely feel a sense of calm after a deep inhale of the stuff. I also love using herbs when I cook, and I always take a sniff before adding it to the dish.
- Tea. In Japan and China, the tea ceremony has long celebrated as an art form; a traditional ritual of preparing, infusing and serving tea for others. It holds many spiritual aspects and philosophies. A simple way to enjoy tea is to just enjoy the act of drinking tea. Smell the tea, taste it and be mindful – that is to say – don’t just gulp it down while you scroll through your newsfeed.
- Meditate. This is a tricky one and possibly a method which wouldn’t work in a full blown anxiety attack but more as a preventative method. Find a way that works for you. There is no ‘right way’ as far as I’m concerned. You could sit in silence for a few minutes, you could listen to relaxing music or a guided meditation, and if you wanted, you could build up your practice to 30 minutes or more every morning.
- Switch off. I definitely think that our society’s dependency on technology is a big contributing factor to anxiety. We often look at our phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We are well and truly addicted, and let’s face it, the constant stream of bad news and unrealistic beauty ideals are not healthy. Try and give yourself time away from your electronic devices on a daily basis. Go for a walk, dance, cook. Rest your eyes and your brain, because information overload is real.
- Be in nature. Go to the beach or take a stroll in the woods. I find that my anxiety decreases after an hour or so soaking up the sounds, sights, and scents of natural spaces.
- Exercise and avoid processed and sugary foods. Cut down on caffeine.
- Listen to music. I have so many playlists for different moods. Sometimes I want something totally relaxing while I read a good book, and sometimes I want to sing at the top of my lungs and dance around the room.