Every time I log on to Twitter or Instagram these days, all I seem to be seeing messages of despair, dread and fear.
‘Having a bad one today, guys. Logging off for now.’
‘Is anyone else just feeling completely overwhelmed?’
‘Anxiety is so out of control right now!’
Announcements of people passing away due to Covid-19, heart-breaking stories from frontline workers and political and social upheaval, it’s like a disaster movie out there right now. It’s really easy for it all to become too much, especially with all of us glued to the news for updates.
Which is why it was so nice to come across Matt Haig’s advice last night on Instagram. The author of ‘The Midnight Library’ and ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, Matt's page is a little oasis of calm in the storm that is social media right now. The number one Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling writer wrote on Instagram last night;
I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression two decades ago. I have learned a lot of things in that time. Here are ten:
1. Anxiety is not fixed by anxiety. Mental illness is like a postmodern book or movie. It refers to itself all the time and you get caught in a loop. I used to get anxious ABOUT anxiety. In order to get over it in my experience you have to reach a point where you break that loop. Where you don’t fear or stigmatise yourself.
2. Understand you are not an anxious person. I know. You are thinking ‘but I am an anxious person’. I mean you aren’t a TYPE of emotion. You are simply a person who feels things. You are not the feelings themselves. This is a key difference. ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space,’ said Viktor Frankl. ‘In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our freedom.’
3. Slow breath. A cycle of six breaths is sometimes all it takes for my mind to shift gear.
4. Channel energy. Get a passion as large as your fear. Get outside your head. Music. Writing. A sport. Anything that makes you focus. That fascinates you. But...
5. Avoid fake crutches. Avoid things that distract you in that second but ultimately make you feel worse. If your desire to escape your mind is the reason you are drinking alcohol/drugs or watching porn etc it will not work. The next morning you will be back with anxiety plus self-loathing.
6. See it as an injury. Increasingly I feel like anxiety is best understood as an injury that flares up when I am not doing the right things.
7. Move more. Running helped me climb out of panic disorder. It is hard to worry about a racing heart when it has a reason.
8. Stretch. When you are feeling tense it is often because you are literally tense. If we sit all day our bodies tighten and minds tighten. Yoga opens the door.
9. Don’t wait to be 100 per cent better. Anxiety is human. It is a journey. Don’t feel like you are back to ground zero if you have a dip. Illness and wellness are not binaries.
10. Know that it is okay to be intense. Being a human is intense. It is okay to feel. We learn through the hard times. Every fall is a lesson in standing up. We fall, we rise, we continue.
I don’t know about anyone else, but this felt like exactly what I needed to hear this week. We all talk big talk about ‘minding ourselves’ during these trying times, but sometimes we need to put down the facemask or bubble bath foamer and look at these problems head-on. It’s too easy to distract ourselves away from it, or just accept that ‘I’m just an anxious person’.
We can’t let this kind of fear stop us from living our lives and making the most of it. If there was ever a time to tackle the problem and interrupt the cycle, it’s now. Matt’s book, ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ is full of more wisdom and reality checks to cope with living with anxiety in a time that is more tumultuous than anything we have ever lived through. Check thta or his Instagram page out for more information.