Anxiety is a funny thing. Lots of people have it, thanks to the frantic world we live in and there are lots of ways to deal with it but it’s still taboo to talk about it. And if you do talk about it, you’ll often get one of two responses: dismissive, where people say things like ‘just don’t worry about it’ or like you’ve just told them you have something contagious like Ebola and they shift away from you in case they catch it.
For me, my anxiety is pretty general. I can become anxious about the tiniest work issue e.g. a run in with a student. Or I can become anxious about massive things e.g. climate change. Both can sit in the pit of my stomach, making me feel nauseous or they can crowd my head, meaning I never really switch off, as I’m constantly thinking about possible scenarios. Both are exhausting.
I am still learning about how to deal with it, as new things trigger it. For example, the state of world politics triggers it, making me go cold and shake a little. As a result, I limit my news intake, avoid Twitter and pretend the world isn’t going to hell in a handbag. (Am currently watching The Walking Dead again, just in case!) I’ve read Matt Haig and Ruby Wax in a bid to try and gain more control over it and there are a few things that I know already help me.
Food. Having anxiety is exhausting. No matter what I feel inside, I hide it from the rest of the world as much as I can and it takes a lot of energy. Eating healthily is essential if I’m to function while I hide what’s going on in my head. Eating a whole food plant based diet definitely helps. I have more energy, I sleep better and I feel better inside. Eating this way also makes me plan my food, gets me organised and helps me feel in control, which is a really important element in managing my anxiety.
Exercise. I’ve been going to spinning classes three times a week for well over a year now. No matter how tired I am, I drag myself to the class as I know it’ll help make me feel better afterwards. It gives me energy for the rest of the evening, provides my week with structure and gives me a break from working and thinking. While I’m on the bike, I have to focus or I’ll lose my way. After reading Matt Haig last year, I also started to incorporate Pilates but I let this go last term, when things got hectic. I definitely notice the difference, both physically and mentally so will be resuming this again. It definitely helps to give my head some space and gives my body some much needed strength work. I’m also going to start using my foam roller again, as my leg muscles are so tight from spinning.
Mindfulness. As I said earlier, I’m going to have a go at Ruby Wax’s mindfulness course from her book, Frazzled, and I’m going to give Headspace another chance. I think I’m going to do it in the morning, as I struggle to find time in the evening and my head is always buzzing from the day. I’ve also started up knitting and learning to crochet again. I might not have time to do this during the week, but Sunday nights are quite tough for me so I’m making Sunday night craft night, where I can do something simple.
Reading. This has been a massive help to me and something that I lean on the worse my anxiety gets. It started with me binge reading How to Stop Time and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine back to back and ended with me beating my Goodreads reading challenge target last year. Reading makes me focus 100% on what I’m doing – no checking my phone, no watching TV and it’s something I can do anywhere – in bed, in school, in a cafe, on the coastpath. I need to schedule time on the weekend, either during a lie in or in the afternoon, where I can just sit by the fire, indulging it some epic adventures.
Nature. Being outside, not matter what the weather is doing, is food for the soul. In fact, if I’m feeling particularly anxious, I will make a point of going outside and touching a tree. I try to take in the sound, sight and smell of nature whenever I can, as it helps me feel calmer. It’s one of the reasons I like to go walking during the holidays, as it helps me re-calibrate. Having said that, I’m really relieved that the days are getting lighter and the sun is about a bit more. Having previously been a fan of winter, I’m much happier when it’s warmer and brighter. I practically lived outside last summer, reading in the garden whenever I could (yes, I’m aware that head was probably caused by climate change, which causes me anxiety!)
I’m also going to be looking into essential oils and how I can use them to help me feel calmer, especially when I’m doing the things above as much as I can. It might not help, but I’m happy to give it a try. I’m also open about my anxiety. I even gave tips during a faculty meeting last year, which got shared with the whole staff and was outed as a result to everyone in one go! But it helped open up a conversation with a few people. I’m also open (professionally) with my students about it and again, this has helped them articulate how they feel with others. One parent even emailed me to thank me about the tips I shared. We must talk about anxiety as much as we can to get rid of the stigma that still surrounds it, as it’ll help more people to handle it better.