Anxiety isn't always a monster
A little anxiety can sometimes be a good thing
This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For me, anxiety doesn’t always have to be bad thing. Some Sundays it’s the older brother who gets me up in the morning; because it knows that I’ve a lot of assignments to get done. Other times, it’s my personal trainer, driving me toward bigger and better things and pushing my work ethic as far as it can go. Believe it or not, a little anxiety can be good for me a lot of the time. Yet, anxiety is renowned for the times when it builds up too much in our minds. To many, it’s only seen as feeling scared of the future; the feeling of worthlessness; the feeling of despair.
Sometimes it’s the voice telling me that I’ll never be good enough, a chilling sound telling me that I’m not loved, and the dark presence in a room of smiles. Sometimes it becomes an uncontrollable racecourse in the centre of my mind, and I feel like it’s never ending. Sometimes it possesses, sometimes it reduces me to curling up on the bathroom floor. Too much of anything can be bad, and too much in this case can become harrowing. But over the years I’ve learned that I have the tools to cut anxiety back to the right level; it’s only a matter of me using them.
There seems to be this misconception out there that sleep can be consumed through a cup of coffee. I once believed it, and I’ve been known to let my coffee consumption reach its peak around exam times. What I’ve discovered, however, is that it’s around these times of ‘false sleep’ that my anxiety reaches its most savage point. I’ve sometimes felt that consuming coffee was my only way of getting study done under time constraint, thus reducing my anxiety through progress. This isn’t how it turns out.
Instead, that led me to becoming irritable, frustrated, stressed and overly anxious. That’s not the right approach for me or anybody to take. No matter how much material you think you don’t know close to an exam or another event you’re nervous about, sleep is as important a form of preparation as, well, preparation. If you push back on sleep and strain and drain your body with false tools such as coffee and sugar, you will push yourself to breaking point.
This is where my buddy anxiety gets angry and becomes an enemy. If you want to move smoothly past an obstacle without having to face a bad dose of anxiety, you need to rest your body the proper way.
The right headspace
When we think of meditation, we often visualise Buddha dolls and the Dalai Lama crouched down on a carpet wearing strange garments. The truth is, however, that meditation is something that can be done on your sofa between brushing your teeth and setting off for work in the morning.
Like a lot of people, I used to be a sceptic about meditation, and I visualised trying to meditate during times of anxiety as something that would only frustrate me. I thought that the silence of it would only be creating a void that my dark thoughts would have the opportunity to fill; that slow breathing would only make me impatient.
One of the best recommendations ever made to me was to try out a meditation app called Headspace. It’s strange to think that the same store that can sell me Candy Crush, can also sell me something that can calm, sooth and replenish the positivity in my mind. That is exactly what the app has done so far.
On session seven out of ten, I’ve already raked in the benefits of what the app promises. Don’t get me wrong, some days it’s easier to sit down to this than others, but I think it’s worth experiencing the therapy Headspace can give to your mind. The app shouldn’t only be seen as a medicine for when you’re emotionally unwell, but also as a vaccine that can help prevent the build-up of anxiety and stress.
A flawed diet/plan
I know you’re thinking it, so no, the title isn’t a mistake. An issue I used to really struggle through was not being able to stick rigidly to my diet plans. When I say diet plans, I don’t just mean adding in a little salad here and there; I mean the striving to stay off anything and everything junk-food related.
As a growing teen who naturally needed a high sugar consumption, I used to set myself these (I’ve since discovered) torturous food goals. They’d all involve me getting off on a good start and feeling proud that I hadn’t let myself have any treats for two weeks, and eventually feeling very anxious when I’d crack under the pressure of it all.
When you deprive yourself of one of your main comforts (in my case, certain foods) you’re actually punishing yourself until the point where you crack, give in to temptation and then hate yourself for doing so. It may sounds like a trivial thing, but this is something that led to my (and I’m sure in different forms, other people’s) anxiety problems.
Of course I’ll never deny how imperative the right, wholesome, nutritious food is for giving yourself a clear, happy and healthy mind, but it’s just as important that you have your ‘cheat days’ too. Some of us think that our body only wants comfort and doesn’t really need it, but I’ve grown to learn that when you give it that bit of extra loving between bouts of doing everything “perfect” and healthy to it, your mind will thread a less troubled track and your anxiety won’t have the chance to build up so much.
And here we go, it’s that overused mantra about exercise being good for the mind again. Believe me, if there wasn’t any truth in it, we’d have gotten tired of saying it already. The other day, for example, was a bad day for me mental-health wise.
When I'm not in the right headspace, and my anxiety becomes too much, nothing will ever go right for me. Staring at the same college slides for hours, nothing goes in. Taking breaks doesn't work; leaving it all aside for the day only makes me hate myself. When my routines don't go as planned, I grill myself for it. The other day, I felt my anxiety reach a crescendo, and for a while I hadn’t a clue what to do about it.
So as my mind was racing and it seemed like nothing would calm me down, I reluctantly decided to go and get some exercise in. At first I thought 'why bother, it’ll just aggravate me more,' but I was gradually reminded of the importance of exercise.
Just a few minutes into some jogging, the positivity began to creep in; the endorphins started flowing, the anxiety began to recede. I heard this quote once about exercise being the most 'under-utilised, yet most effective form of antidepressant’ out there and I have to say, if it was just as easy for us to reach for that as it was to reach for alcohol, cigarettes or any of the accessible, unhealthy devices that temporarily help us in a state of anxiety, our mental health issues wouldn't be as prominent as they are today.
To conclude, I stand by what I said about anxiety being helpful sometimes. To a certain extent, it helps me grow, progress and often stops me from getting too complacent. In a way, it’s a force driving me forward. However, sometimes it builds up to a toxic level, reduces me and fills me with despair. But if this happens, it’s only a case of me taking a deep breath and reminding myself to follow the tools I’ve picked up.