Anxiety. A PSA.


Look. We all have anxiety, or the great majority of us do. Our society is a 24 hour society now, if you’re salaried your boss likely expects you to complete work however it must be done. If that means taking it home and working until midnight, then that’s what we are expected to do. If it means we are on call, that’s what we do. If it means we don’t take vacation because we might get overlooked for a promotion – or worse, laid off – if we do, then we work endlessly.

Some of us don’t call out even when we should, even when we’re potentially infecting others that can’t protect themselves from our illness. We can’t afford to.

We look around at our homes, which are not as clean as some of us would like, but we’re too tired in the time we have at home to do anything about it. We look at our neglected yards, and realize the same. If we even have a yard to worry about. Some of us are working 2 and 3 part time jobs and barely breaking even – because we can’t find a full time job.

We’re exhausted. We don’t exercise enough, or sometimes at all, because our jobs wear us out and we don’t get enough sleep, because we don’t exercise. It’s an endless feedback loop. Some of us awaken at night with anxiety about what the future might bring, even though we’re exhausted. We spend all too many hours on the computer – as a hiding place to avoid these issues – which causes disruptions in melantonin production and interferes with sleep. We stay up too late and we get up too early, always fatigued and wishing for just one more hour of sleep. We say yes to people when we should be saying no, because we worry about the future monetary situation if we don’t.

I’ve given all the reasons we have anxiety, but it doesn’t do any good to name the problem unless I offer solutions. So here are a few.

Turn the computer or your phone OFF. OFF. Like, totally. Set a time after which you will turn it off, unless you are on call, and realize that the world will go on without you for a time. If you give in and turn it back on, use the time it’s booting to think about whether you really want to get sucked into that morass again. If the answer is no, or you’re not sure, then don’t do it. There will always be tomorrow to get involved in that three ring circus again. Respect yourself enough now to turn it off.

Go for a walk if you can – if your neighborhood is too dangerous, then don’t do it there. Getting fresh air and being around trees and other plants is anxiety reducing. Go to a park if it’s safe, find some place you can safely enjoy a little nature. Even if that’s by walking in the landscaped area of an industrial park.

Dig a hole if you can. Then fill it back in. Or plant something, even better. Seeds are cheap and sometimes people will give them away. There are seed exchange websites and some libraries for seeds. Use your time on the computer to look for a few. Touching dirt actually causes markedly reduced stress and an increase in happiness because the natural soil bacteria and fungi secrete substances that are calming to the brain in that way. We absorb them through our skin, we breathe them in when we turn over the soil, and we help ourselves work through anxiety in this way. The physical exertion of digging a hole will use up all that excess energy that anxiety generates, giving it a physical outlet and dissipating it.

Time, there’s never enough time, right? Well there’s always time for the things we MAKE time for. Volunteer somewhere. Maybe a shelter, a nursing home, the food bank, the library, a hospital, even a church if you are so inclined, or an alternative spiritual center if you are not. Many places have a need for volunteer staff that goes chronically unfulfilled. Giving your time, even an hour a month, away to someone who needs it more than you do is anxiety reducing. Why? Because selflessness reduces anxiety. Giving of ourselves makes us happier. Human interaction – real human interaction, not FB interaction – reduces stress and increases happiness.

Read a book. No, it’s not like a kindle and it’s a little bulkier and harder to carry around, but the mind engages with an actual book in entirely different ways than it does when you are reading off a computer screen. This has been documented in studies. The physicality of an actual book can ground you and help reduce anxiety. You can rub the spine, you turn pages, the scent of the paper and the ink sometimes can be smelled. These are all physical cues that reduce anxiety. If it’s a good novel, you can be carried away to the land in the story and this prevents anxiety from even developing. When you return to the land of reality, you have a vicarious experience that you can retreat to in times of stress and use as an anchor point.

These are only a few things. Not everyone will be able to do them all, most people will be able to do one or two. Even people who are living on welfare and food stamps will be able to do at least some of these. Try one. You might find that not only have you reduced anxiety, you’ve increased happiness and created a better life for yourself.

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