Some tips for dealing with anxiety: 2019 edition

Hello it’s me again, it’s been five weeks since my last post and now I’m ready to throw some more words at you all. Last year I wrote a post sharing some things that I like to do to handle my anxiety and amazingly it benefitted a few people who got back to me and shared bits of their stories with me. It’s a year on from then thereabouts and I thought I’d put out an updated post with the things I’m now doing to alleviate my anxiety and panic attacks. I don’t expect these to really resonate with a lot of people because they’re my own personal philosophies and methods but if it so much as gets you thinking about how you deal with your anxiety then I’ll be happy.

Over the years I’ve come to embrace some different philosophies, but stoicism has remained close to my heart throughout the years. To those who know me you’ll probably think ‘what the fuck, he’s the least stoic person I know’ and I say well yes that’s true but I’m not talking about hiding my emotions, I’m talking more about how stoics approach anxiety. I won’t bog this down in philosophy, you can read some amazing books which I’ll put into a list at the end of this post. The thing that has stayed with me a lot going into 2019 is how I’ve tried to build some separation between myself and the things that are going on in my life, like work, finances and relationships etc. I’ve always been prone to letting each take over my life, so much so that I get overwhelmed quite easily and quite frequently. One thing I try to do now is to look at them for what they are- yes friendships have frayed, yes finances can be difficult and yes I am about to make a huge move into a very scary career where everything is uncertain, but I’ve come to see through little tests over time that when actually thrust into these situations I can handle myself pretty well. To give an example, anxiety is a bit like having a fear you’ll drown when you get put in water, that is until you actually get in the water and realise you’re not drowning at all but rather you’re floating. Taking the plunge is so incredibly hard when your anxiety is debilitating, but if you start as small as you need to and challenge yourself in manageable ways you’ll start to see that actually you can handle yourself. My first major challenge was going to the cinema, a guaranteed place for me to panic. I brought my dad along and I spent the entire thing wriggling in my seat, grabbing the arm rests, even occasionally grabbing my dad but I survived it and that really does create a lasting effect on how much power your anxiety has over you.

In recent times this has really been a big one for me but it’s also the most personal so I’m really not expecting anyone to read this and think ‘holy shit I’ve found the kryptonite for my anxiety.’ When I was doing my teacher training in London I sat to myself one night and thought about how my life had changed since graduating university in 2018 and I realised something pretty huge: had I have not made the decisions that I did in the preceding twelve months, I probably wouldn’t have been able to handle the pressures that came with being in London. In July 2018 I was given an opportunity to move to China and teach English for a year; I was elated at the time, I looked up every aspect of the city I was moving to in minute detail I was that excited. However, I started to panic as my departure date neared. How would I survive in a place so far from home where I might drown without my comforts being close to me? This thought circulated in my mind a lot to the point where I felt so anchored to little routines that I couldn’t envisage leaving home and surviving. I backed out, and for the next 10 months roughly I felt such a deep regret about my decision. Fast forward to London, I’m in a place where I’m without a lot of my home comforts: I don’t have a games console to relax with, I don’t have the familiarity of my room, life made the gym pretty much inaccessible and I couldn’t really eat in the way I usually would either. These all might seem rather trivial but a year ago even the thought of being without them, well, stopped me from embarking on what would have been an amazing journey. Yet I survived, dare I say I had an amazing time even though I had absolutely none of them. I made some absolutely incredible friends, enjoyed some wonderful experiences and come September I’ll be embarking on my journey as a teacher. The thought that occurred to me after that night in my room is maybe these things all happened for a reason: deciding not to go to China, having multiple derailments because I couldn’t quite get my gym routine perfected or organise my life the exact way I wanted to. Had I have not had those experiences, I wouldn’t have had the urgency to throw myself into the uncertainty of moving down to London. Despite all the fears and anxieties you have right now, maybe you’re exactly where you need to be on your journey. It’s okay to have those fears, it’s okay that your decisions haven’t quite made life go the way you want it to; it’s all absolutely fine because you’re right where you need to be and in the end, it’ll be okay. When I tell myself this it packs a real punch because I think of the experiences that I’ve had. I urge you to give it a go, think of how far you’ve come and what you’ve overcome and see yourself on a journey, not squashed underneath the challenges that face you right now.

I’ll come away from the abstract stuff now, if you’ve managed to make it this far! The things I’ve shared with you have definitely helped me in recent times and I hope I’ve put it across in a way that might help you to give them a go. If not, please do feel free to reach out for a chat. So this year I’ve given meditation a go beyond sitting on the carpet cross-legged for a few minutes waiting for the magic to happen (spoiler: I cramped up, still had mental illness, 0/10 for meditation). When I worked at Apple I downloaded this app called Ten Percent Happier, it’s one of a myriad of meditation apps available that come with various topics like mindfulness, sleep, activity, thoughtfulness, kindness and what not. I’ll be very honest, I jumped on the sleep section and haven’t really left it because my sleep is terrible, most of my panic comes at night in bed so logically I’m going to go for the sleep meditations. I’ve tried a lot of them and honestly guided meditation is a real winner, there have been many occasions where I’ve fallen asleep way before the end of a 15-minute meditation and this is coming from someone who takes an hour plus to fall asleep. Most sleep meditations encourage you to do as little active thinking as possible and instead focus on things you can feel and hear, like the weight of your body pressing down into the bed. I feel like this kind of meditation can be quite useful for someone with anxiety, especially when it comes out a lot at night. Sleep meditations can take you outside of your own head and because you’re thinking about what your senses are telling you, actually your time spent meditating can lead to some very peaceful, serene moments. When your mind is constantly racing, never underestimate how powerful just five minutes of peace feels.

Those are the main new things I’ve learned this year, I like this kind of practice because it’s nice to see how your relationship with your mind changes over time. The methods I have now are less challenge-oriented and definitely more holistic; in earlier times I used to set myself challenges, make sure I was constantly organised etc and while these definitely still have a place in my life I think it’s useful to dedicate some of your time and energy to finding some kind of peace in yourself, either through reflecting on what you have achieved so far, appreciating that life is a journey full of successes and defeats or taking some time each night to slip into quietness. You deserve peace and I hope these tips help you find it.

The books I really like:

Marcus Aurelius, the Meditations. (This book is almost always in my bag)
Seneca, On the Shortness of Life.
Andy Weir, The Martian. (odd choice I know but Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars and just takes it as it comes)
The Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness.

Some good apps and sites:

Ten percent happier
YouTube (It’s free…)

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