What’s the worst that could happen?

I know it sounds like anti-logic, but sometimes you have to imagine the worst.

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Stressssss

Years ago I think I was in the most stressful job I’ve ever had. I was aboard where I couldn’t speak the language very well and I had to manage people who didn’t really want to do things my way. It was incredibly hard to come in every day and the pressure was relentless.

But nowadays I have a way out of this seemingly impossible wall of stress. And it’s simple.

I imagine the worst case scenario. The thing that has been truly the source of all my stress and anxiety.

I get reprimanded by my boss. I get a warning. I lose my job. I lose my house. My family and me have to live in a van for a year while we scrape together savings.

I let it all unfold in my mind… then I come back.

Because once you’ve gone through the ‘worst’ in your head, it’s easier to see your present situation in a different light. One that is a bit more realistic.

Why?

Because you’ve already been to the worst place … the one your mind was so trying to avoid with all that stress attached…. and you lived to tell the tale.

The chances are things will never turn out the way you project them to.

Yes, stress is there to make sure we don’t cock things up.

But sometimes you have to step outside of yourself and reassess.

And fight fire with fire.

Sometimes you have to ride the storm

The other night I was tired and stressed.

And that was all the excuse my anxiety needed. The first ‘signal’ that anxiety had come knocking. I felt bad about myself. My vanity kicked up a gear, or insecurity anyway.

I become super vain at times like these, and stare at myself in the mirror, wishing I could change one thing or another about how I look.

But although I felt this stuff that night, this time, I told myself not look at the mirror. Instead, I told myself that if I went to sleep and got a good rest, the next day would be a new day … and mentally, I would most probably feel better about myself.

I knew that what I perceived on the outside of myself, was because of the anxiety I had on the inside.

I had to ride the storm.

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Many people who suffer mental illness experience highs and lows. Depending on the illness, some more than others. But generally there is a common feeling during the lows – that you’ll never come out of it.

Desperation, despondency and depression … they’re all part of the storm.

A storm no one else, not even loved ones, can seem to breach. A storm that blocks out their words of reason. A storm that hampers your ability to hear normal conversations in the same way. A storm that wants to drag you down into it, to behave the same way you always behave in the storm.

So if you experience that, I know it’s not easy, but you have to trust that you’ll come out of it. For me, it meant going to sleep and hoping that I would wake up in a different frame of mind. But I know, it’s not always that simple. And if you suffer from say depression, well that storm can continue for days weeks or months.

But the only way you can handle it is to face it, and not let yourself get drawn in. To distract yourself. To listen to a song. To ask a friend to drive you around for a bit. Or maybe just bake something.

I’ll admit that I fail sometimes. Often. I look at the mirror and hate what I see. But I know, that I have done this before. That I came through it and felt better.

So fuck the storm. You WILL get through. Just trust.

Turn off Anxiety’s Background Refresh

If your mind was the operating system of a phone, your anxiety would be like the worst app ever. Constantly draining its battery with annoying notifications, using up valuable processing power, and distracting your mind from more important tasks. 

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To continue this probably painful analogy, if you’re an anxiety sufferer you have to remember to go back to your settings and turn off your anxiety background app refresh setting.

“Oh, but that’s easier said than done Matt”, I hear you say.

Well, let’s look at the alternative. You ignore this particularly shit background refresh, and it doesn’t go away. In fact, it just gets more insistent, until it really ruins all your other app functions.

The app for concentrating on work.
The app for being present with your family.
The app for remembering to call your dry cleaner.
The app for getting all those little extra things done like walking the hound.

All the while, the app for bloody anxiety is nudging in, taking up much needed battery.

So check in with yourself. Acknowledge your anxiety. Then move on. You may not solve it while you are busy, but just being aware that it is running in the background, is enough to give it less power.

Aaaaarrrrghhhh do something!!!!!

Recently I’ve been thinking about how great anxiety is at ruining a potentially peaceful state of mind and making you feel like shit, and why that is.

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I think in part, it’s down to anxiety being linked with a ‘fight or flight’ response.

Think about it. If you’re in a fight or flight situation, your brain is dealing in absolutes. It is latching onto anything that might be a threat, that it then has to get away from. It’s ACTIVELY looking for threats… or in daily life, potential negative events.

While that is happening, the other part of your brain …. your true, more logical self … has to deal with all its focus being shoved towards the ‘what ifs’ … the stuff that your fight or flight part of the brain is shouting about.

You need to break the loop.

If you force yourself, even for a few minutes, to step away and realise what your brain is doing, you can stop the fight or flight automatic response in its tracks.

The way I do it is to think about something nice that I can reward myself with later on in the day. Like a Netflix special, or maybe a super indulgent snack.

Suddenly it’s like my brain says “oh yeah, that stuff I was worrying about is silly” because I’ve ignored it.

Meditation is also good. Visualise a stream with all those worries and problems floating down it. Then just let them go.

However you do it, you need to zig when your anxiety is telling you to zag.

It’s F**king World Mental Health Day!!!

I almost forgot to post, on one of the most relevant days of the year for this blog.
I’ve focused today on telling all my negative thoughts to shut the fuck up, and I hope you have too :).

I’ve also started reading a new book called The Untethered Soul by Michael A Singer.
it’s a really interesting book about getting to know your inner self. I know that sounds wanky, but I actually think it’s a quite special read … and forces you to think about how misguided your little internal anxiety voice is.

I’ll be posting more about it soon.
But for now my friends, I hope you’ve had a great World Mental Health Day!

👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Anxiety is a Bully

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a strictly no tolerance policy on bullying.

I remember one of my first jobs in a call centre. It was fricking horrible and I’ve never worked in such a toxic, cluster-fuck-of-a-place since – not even in my career in advertising!

Anyway, there was this supervisor who had way too much BDE and acted like he was our overlord (which in call centre terms, he kind of was). If you wanted to get off the dirty data entry desk and onto the much sexier call operator desk (where you would get your own cool headphones), you had to play his game. However playing his game meant sucking up to him and being his bitch, which he rewarded by stamping on your ego with constant snide jokes and remarks in front of your colleagues, on a daily basis.

This bullying continued for a while until staff complained about his tactics, and he got quietly ‘moved on’, which was good, because we all know that bullying will continue if no one does anything about it.

Which is why being a bully, is the perfect metaphor for anxiety.

It can put you down and make you feel like you’re not good enough. It finds your weak spots and prods at them, on a daily basis. Many people stay quiet and suffer its attentions in silence … and arguably that just means anxiety’s bullying continues and gets worse.

Which brings me to my point: you have to call out your bully.

Because if anxiety was a real person, constantly pushing you around, controlling you and telling you that you were a failure, why would you tolerate them?

The answer is you wouldn’t. You’d find some way of dealing with them, for self preservation.

I know it’s not that easy, you can’t exactly punch anxiety in the face, or run away from it.

But you can face it. Talk about it’s shitty attitude to a colleague or a friend. And take steps to give yourself a break and some much-needed self care.

Ultimately, bullies are cowards. They hate it when someone calls them out.


Headphones On, Chill Out

Right now I’m suffering from man flu brought on by being a bit stressed about looking for work, so this weekend I went into full ‘self care mode’ and found some great tunes, care of the Tune In app.

The All Lounge Experience
The All Lounge Experience (T.A.L.E.)

The All Lounge Experience is a super chilled listen with various mixes available, thanks to different guest DJs. It’s perfect (in turns out) for plugging into as you read a good book under a blanket on a Sunday. I was listening to Episode 58 with guest DJ Spike Deep.

Oh, and while I’m at it, if you are a sci fi nerd like me, you could do a lot worse than this book (at 99p on Kindle, an absolute bargain) which goes really well with aforementioned radio show:

The Great Disparity

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.

Don’t think about how far it is

One thing I love to do is go running in the local country lanes.

They say that exercise is superb for lowering stress and anxiety, so I look at running as a way of keeping myself calm.

The other day I just had one of those runs where you feel like a sack of potatoes being pushed up a hill. I was puffed and felt like my legs were deadweight.

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But then I realised that I was overthinking it. I was thinking about how far I had to go, how steep the hill was, and how hot it was.

So I changed my thinking. I thought “one step at a time, it’s cool”.

And this strikes me as a way to tackle over-worrying about the future. If you spend too much time worrying about how difficult it will be to get a new job, or how much effort it is to plan a wedding or how much home renovating you need to do, you will stress about it.

The better way to live is to not worry about how far you’ve got to go. Or the effort required.

It’s just to enjoy the run.

Oh F*ck, I’m Facing Redundancy

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Redundant.

adjective. Meaning not or no longer needed or useful; superfluous.

It’s something many people are facing right now.

And I’m one of them.

I only just found out this week that my company is making me redundant. With redundancy comes ‘consultation’ where you fight your corner after getting scored against your peers at work. It’s a stressful, and mentally challenging thing to go through.

If you suffer anxiety, it’s worse.

Because you have to fight against the critical opinions of those on the other side of the redundancy Zoom call, and then fight the critical voices in your own head, too.

“See?” they say, “this is what you were thinking, that you’ve failed. And here’s the proof!”

I’m not going to lie – I have got really pissed off and worried over the last few days. Getting emotional at times like these is to be expected. You shouldn’t push it away.

It’s difficult to deal with, but it did force me to make a pact with myself. That I’m not going to let this take my confidence. I’m good at what I do, and I’ll fight my corner. I’ll move on, and keep checking in with myself – letting myself know that this was not my fault.

And in the end, I’ll find something better.

Our anxieties make things difficult, but they also challenge us to think our way through things. They can make us consider all options and (for me) be creative people. But they can also overwhelm us, like feedback from a speaker that just gets worse until your ears bleed.

I’ve been fighting self-critical thoughts for much of my life, but at times like these, the stakes are high… so I need to fight, to not let those thoughts win. So, I’ll be spending some quality time over the next couple of weeks sorting out the shit thoughts, from the ones that hold me up.

This is just a speed bump for me, and if you’re going through redundancy right now, it’s just a speed bump for you, too.

I promise we’ll get through, and we’ll know ourselves better because of it.