I'm Matt, creative, writer and illustrator of the book "Tell Your Negative Thoughts to STFU". This is an anxiety blog where you'll find my ramblings on mental health, with various book recommendations and some chill music thrown in.
One of the habits someone with anxiety can have is to look for things to get worried about.
I know this, because I do it. Or at least one part of my brain does. It seems like it is ‘always on’, and always on the look out for things that are not quite right. And if it doesn’t find anything, it enlists part of my imagination to imagine shit things. It’s like that one person in your group that loves trouble.
And if it doesn’t find trouble, it goes looking for it.
That’s why I, or any anxiety sufferer, needs to ‘check in’ with our own mind some times. Practise slowing down and reviewing our thoughts. Because it’s easy to get sidetracked by these silly worries that our mind makes seem like the truth. But if you face them, and recognise those worries as unlikely to come true, then it’s like calling out that part of your brain that goes looking for trouble – and asking it to quiet down. For a bit, anyway.
As far as I’m concerned – my restless imagination helps me in my job as a creative. But I have to keep it occupied, or it does go off on one.
Of course when you are stressed, and going a million miles an hour, it’s difficult to recognise these thoughts. It’s difficult to ‘unpick’ which worries you have are valid and which ones are bullshit.
Which is why you need to slow down sometimes. Have a cup of tea, and review!!!!
Everyone knows that working out keeps you in shape, and not working out means getting all flabby and untoned.
The same goes for your mind. If you just go on automatic all the time and never apply any thinking, never push yourself creatively or intellectually (like learning a new language or doing a sudoko) your mind gets…. rusty.
Edward De Bono is an author and philosopher, and pretty much a solid thinker. I’ve seen him talk and read a few of his books that focus on ways of thinking that are a pure pleasure to read. I think if you suffer from anxiety you more than likely are an overthinker, so to divert your attention to a different, constructive way of thinking has got to be beneficial, instead of just turning your wheels.
The above book got me into De Bono. It covers a pretty cool way of thinking that helps construct everyday thinking tasks into a cast-iron process. It entails splitting up thought processes into different ‘hat colours’ – from emotional, to factual, to critical thinking and up to seven different thinking types.
It forensically examines the way the west and east differ in their corporate thinking – from western meeting where everyone shouts their opinion in a group discussion, to eastern meetings in Japan where each person around the table has their facts and the conclusion is reached after everyone has said their piece. Neither are wrong perhaps, just different ways to think.
Anyway, my point is that exercising the mind takes many forms. But just like physical exercise, you need to change your routine sometimes, and do something new.
The wealth of the rich is growing at a much faster rate than that of the poor.
But what does this mean?
It means that the wealth disparity between the haves and have nots is at an all time high.
And with the arrival of the pandemic and millions of people losing their jobs, often blue collar jobs, this disparity is going to grow even more.
When you consider that socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and poverty are correlated with a risk of mental illness, it’s truly concerning.
So what are the government doing to handle the mental health? I don’t think they are doing enough. In fact this article details a sad lack of meetings between the Health Minister and mental health organisations during the Covid crisis.
Sorry to write such an annoyed post, but this is an area I think that we as a society need to be doing better in.
And I’m going to think about all the things I can do personally to push the government to act.
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of DIY, gardening and for the want of a better description, digging and smashing stuff up.
This kind of manual work has been a great way to fend off anxiety during lockdown. But why? Well, firstly there are the proven good effects of doing something physical on mental health. Exercise lowers stress levels (via cortisol) and also gives your mind time to just focus on something else for a change. but there’s also something to be said for working outdoors in the quiet and peacefulness of nature. I love the feel of the wind or the warmth of the sun, and the fresh air. Not to mention, it’s almost carthartic too, to smash the living shit out of my old garden shed AND still receive praise from my wife for “getting stuff done”.
Smashing things apart is underrated , and it’s even a business – just look up your local rage room and you’ll see what I mean.
Lastly, there’s even a trend of “Care Farming” where people who suffer from depression or anxiety-related illnesses can work for up to months on small farms. It’s already a big thing in Europe. It’s been reported that “people valued, among other things, being in contact with each other, and feeling a sense of achievement, fulfilment and belonging.“ which is definitely my vibe while I’m gardening or pretending to know DIY.
So, get out there, smash up a shed or plant something and start to heal your mind!
When you deny or resist feelings of sadness, depression or fear, they just have more power over you. That’s why it’s important to not judge these feelings, but just acknowledge them and then move on.
There’s a meditation technique about this – it involves visualising yourself sitting by a stream, and watching as these feelings arrive on the current, observing them, and then letting them pass.
I think this new animation I am Square from Benoit Leva is a super cool way of showing a range of emotions, and how they make the difference between an inanimate box, and something that seems to have sentience.
So next time you feel ashamed about feeling something, remember that it’s just because you’re a human, and not an empty box.
I’m currently on furlough, which is bizarre in the way that I’m getting (a little) money, and yet I’m not allowed to work (for my existing employer, anyway).
It also adds to the anxiety that already exists if you’re socially distancing in lockdown. The highs and lows can come thick and fast, fuelled by uncertainty of when we will come out of it, whether we will have a job at the end of it and if you’re getting used to isolation like me… the fear of being around people again.
I’m actually lucky. Because I have a family around me, and a decent amount of space amidst countryside where I can go for long runs.
Others aren’t so lucky. It’s a no brainer that the medical professionals that have been dealing first hand with the virus and its effects have had to face daily trauma. I listened to a doctor talk on LBC telling us that his colleagues ‘will be changed after this’. PTSD will be widespread amongst the medical front line.
Then there are those that live alone, who have had to face the echo chamber of their own minds, with little day to day conversation. And it’s this echo chamber that I think sometimes fosters anxious thoughts.
The number of infections and deaths from COVID-19 are showing signs of slowing. But the mental health fallout will last longer.
So, last night I took a first step in a long term plan of mine. I joined an open day for a psychodynamic counselling course. I hope to (part time, maybe) do my bit in the future to help others face the shitty business of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
It was either that or start a micro brewery, but beer makes me flabby so….
The other day I was sat around sketching. In truth, my mind doesn’t deal with ‘downtime’ very well, and being in lockdown for covid-19 (what week is it now? 10?) has given me lots of it… especially because I’m on furlough. To use another seafaring metaphor, I’m like a rudderless boat adrift in an ocean of time.
Anyway, I started sketching this submarine, probably because I’ve been playing way too much Subnautica on the playstation (goodness how I love that game). And it came to me that going into counselling is scary, in the way that thalassophobia is scary.
You just don’t know what you are going to be confronted by in the murky depths of your mind, and that’s why it’s confronting to enter the deep waters of counselling.
You see your brain doesn’t like being uncomfortable, and dealing with things it deems scary. So it worries, about meeting them again.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try counselling. Like with all things, you just have to get to know what’s under there and then it doesn’t seem so scary after all.
*starts up the playstation for a game of Subnautica*