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.
Interesting things I’ve found in the field of psychology
I am sorry that it’s been a while since I posted, but I’ve been supremely busy at work!
I wanted to write about something some with anxiety might find familiar. It’s something I’ve been conscious of lately.
It started with a film shoot I went on with work. It was a busy day, with lots of new people to interact with. I had a lot of fun, but it was also quite intense. That day came and went without any major anxiety.
But fuck me, the next morning I woke up with ‘mental fall out’.
If you have anxiety you might get this. You wake up after something with your mind racing through the events of the last day. Forensically picking apart everything that you did or said. It’s like you conducting your own kangaroo court in your head.
It can be mentally exhausting to deal with all the emotions. But I’ve learnt to accept it as just another symptom of the endlessly chattering voice in my brain.
In the end, this time, I actually didn’t find anything wrong with the previous day. All was well and I passed unscathed. But even if something had come up in my cross examination, I’d just have to tell that chattering voice to STFU.
I know it sounds like anti-logic, but sometimes you have to imagine the worst.
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.
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.
Firstly if you’re a cow reading this, I’m in no way criticising your digestion processes.
This is in fact about mental rumination. And why it sucks for your mental health.
If you’re in the UK like me, you’re still on lockdown. And while that is nice in terms of snacks and relaxation time, it’s also giving you a lot of time to ruminate over things.
Mental rumination is a good feeder of anxious thoughts. I find myself waking up to worry about something I did or said YEARS ago, which is a mental battle.
Also I ruminate over things that have happened more recently, like getting annoyed with my kid and whether I overreacted or was just a solid father figure. Other stuff too, like where am I going in life and how do I measure up with ‘the ideal’. Only what is the ideal and why does it matter so long as I’m doing my best?
Rumination makes us more considerate sometimes of how we act, but it can also be a form of self torture.
Which leads me to my point, that I think we should treat rumination like we treat a glass of wine. It’s okay to have a couple now and again, but when you’re drinking a whole bottle and becoming morose, that’s too much.
Getting sleep is very important for your mental wellbeing for several reasons.
Obviously it’s a time for your body to mend, recuperate and that feeds into your wellbeing.
But there are other aspects. Not least, dreaming is the time where your brain processes stuff that has happened to you during the day. It’s a time for sorting through all the conscious and unconscious thoughts you’ve had, and making sense of them all. Sometimes it connects those thoughts in weird ways, which is why you end up not wearing pants on the bus in your dream, or trying to fly away from a monster.
But here’s the thing, as your mind sifts through all that day’s shit, it means that any anxieties you also experienced, come to the fore.
Like last night – I dreamt that several people who I used to compete with at work were loads more successful than me. Which is in part true, lol. But the dream took it to the next level with a grand award ceremony that saw me winning fuck all, and them winning everything. It didn’t help that my dream had invited all my loved ones to see how shit I had done, either.
Then I woke up during the night and had a semi panic attack. Which was fun.
What is my point? That sometimes your mind works stuff out, but sometimes it’s also an arsehole, dredging up insecurities or old negative core thoughts.
The important thing is to have coping mechanisms so if you do wake up, you can distract yourself enough to think of something else. My coping mechanism is to go on Reddit and watch gifs of people getting knocked over by dogs (reddit.com/r/Dogberg) but that’s just me.
I haven’t been able to write much in the last couple of weeks as I’ve been so busy starting a new job. But what a year it has already been. Out of all that has happened, the Trumptards have given me the most anxiety. I mean how brainwashed can you be? Or maybe just plain old racist.
I realise going into this year that I’m one of the lucky ones. A new job and financial security. Not everyone has that right now. I can’t imagine what it must be like if you’ve been out of work for 10+months.
We just donated our 1 year old PC to a family in need as they can’t afford a computer for their kids’ homeschooling. It wasn’t much, but it made me feel good to do it.
Altruism has been proven to improve a person’s emotional wellbeing and peace of mind. I have my own theories why: we still are heavily programmed to be social beings. We need to be part of a community. So by looking after others, we’re actually just obeying our social programming – because good things in the end come back to you.
Just like being a seditious, racist, fat prick of a president who spreads hate will come back on him. I hope.
If I have to hear another “This year hasn’t been easy for any of us” in a radio ad.
We’ve been here, in our houses as our jobs disappeared. We’ve seen relatives get sick. We’ve cared for neighbours. We’ve watched politicians politicise everything. We’ve watched them give money we need to their mates. We’ve seen NHS heroes exhausted, shell shocked and STILL under supported.
We know it’s been a bloody hard year!
But it’s also been a year that has taught us about being close to our families. And to be grateful for what we have.
Because life gets dark sometimes, but there is always light if you look for it.
But for christmas-bloody-sake, stop harping on about “This year hasn’t been easy” you carbon copywriting twats!
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.
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.
Two nights ago I dreamt that I had a second wife, who looked identical to my real wife, only she was an alien. Somehow I was disturbingly living the life of an interplanetary bigamist. Also, we had kids that looked like little squid people. I had to carry them around in a bucket and unfortunately left one of them on the beach.
Other than indicating that I watch far too much sci fi and am possibly worried about being a good enough parent, this dream might have been my brain’s way of telling me about the state of my emotions and my anxieties.
Dreams have long interested psychologists, and are often penned as the ‘window to our subconscious’. Dreams occur during our REM (rapid eye movement) sleep cycle during which your brain is undergoing a high amount of activity. It is thought that they not only tell us our deepest anxieties and desires, they also contain clues to our personality (like me being a massive sci fi nerd).
Freud himself developed a guide for interpreting dreams, which I’ll link to below. There are some really interesting interpretations. For instance, did you know that men and women dream differently? Men dream about other men twice as much as women and women dream about both sexes equally. And that’s just one of the differences between our dreams.
But a very interesting aspect to dreams are studies that suggest they are responsible for problem-solving, memory formation, or that they occur simply due to random brain activation.
I’m a firm believer in ‘sleeping on it’ when you have a problem to solve. It’s part of the reason that I keep a little notepad or my phone near the bed, because I often wake up with ideas.
So remember to try and sleep at regular times, to allow your brain to enter REM and solve problems. It may be more beneficial to your state of mind that you think.
One of the topics covered by a book I’m reading at the moment (see my last post) is something related to mindfulness.
Essentially it talks about the premise that every person has a ‘continuous chattering voice’ that has always been there, and is constantly commenting on their current situation or life, often negatively.
It won’t shut up, and is invariably wild in its musings. It might comment that someone doesn’t like you, or you’ll never get to the end of your run because you are tired, or that you are going to screw up your school play.
However there is another layer to your being. The quiet observer. And it’s this real you that so often goes unobserved.
If you think about it, you’ll realise that this quiet observer is actually your ‘true’ self. And the endlessly chattering monkey voice isn’t.
Let me give you an example.
Today I was sat at home, trying to handle all my life admin. And I was getting stressed.
At some point I thought “hang on, I need to listen to what’s going on here” and all at once, I realise my chattering monkey voice had been telling me that I wasn’t going to handle my admin stuff and that it was all too much. But as soon as I noticed it (and the fact that I had been reacting to it), it was like I had shone a torch on my naughty anxiety voice. And all at once, it died down. I literally felt my body relax.
So just be aware, and mindful, of the fact that there is this chattering monkey voice inside you, and sometimes it really isn’t in your best interests to listen!
Octopuses have been studied extensively for their intelligence. They are said to have the smarts of a golden retriever, which is pretty impressive.
In studies scientists have found that individual octopuses display different personalities. Some octopuses were shier than others (!) Even more interesting – the personality traits seem to be inherited by their offspring.
It’s not hard then to imagine that humans inherit certain personality traits from their parents. And if these traits include a propensity for introspection, or dwelling on their situation, someone’s genealogy could affect certain psychological traits, and aspects of their mental health.