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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

Controlling Anxiety in a Complex World

I was talking with a friend today about the strategies I’ve developed to help control my anxiety when the world feels too large and scary. Here, I’ve boiled down what I was trying to describe to him in a few bullet points that might prove useful if you too find life in this era anxiety-inducing at times.

  • Limit information input. I do this by unfollowing and muting sources on social media that are key to increasing my anxiety. I may love you personally, but if your tweets are constantly gloomy and scary, I’ve probably had to mute you in my daily reads. It’s not personal.
  • Focus on what I can do. Anxiety is my brain’s way of feeling like it is contributing to a problem, real or not, and sometimes I can dispell it by doing something concrete, or acknowledging that there’s literally nothing I can do about the problem. So if I’m worried about something political, it helps to recognize maybe all I can do is send a letter to my congresspeople and make a donation to an organization. I can then put that anxiety to bed, sometimes.
  • Limit my time on websites that drive anxiety. Because so much of my day is spent at a keyboard working, I find myself drifting toward news sites and social media even when I know they’re bad for my heightened state of anxiety. I use Stay Focusd, a Chrome extension, to limit my ability to do this, especially during work hours.
  • Give my brain some work. I have in the past found myself worrying about things simply because my brain was bored. Even something as simple as doing powers of two or counting in my head can be effective in reducing extreme anxiety.
  • Take my meds. I’m a proud user of Prozac these days. My brain malfunctions and produces the wrong chemicals. There’s nothing wrong with my mind. It’s a problem with my meat brain.

Taking my medicine helps me a lot, and possibly even the most, but it’s not a 100% solution. The above tricks are also helpful in giving me some control over how my body produces stress chemicals and will hopefully help me live a longer life. The general approach that has worked for me makes my world smaller and more concrete. Anxiety brain wants to deal in what-ifs and outlandish scenarios. Forcing myself to focus on the concrete is good for soothing it.

How about you? Got any tips? Let’s hear them.

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The Jeremiah Tolbert Method of Being Present

I am a scatter-brained type person – I have a tendency to live up in my own head more than some, and more than I should. Being “present” is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time. My wife constantly asks me “where are you?” At least, I assume she constantly asks me that, because I only notice the question about one time in five.

I have been refining a mental technique for getting myself to remain more present in my life. A “life hack” if you will, that reminds me that I need to stay focused and attentive to those around me, because this moment will soon be gone, never to be lived again. With my young child, it’s especially important to me.  My son is only four, and I already feel like I’m losing my grasp on some of the wonderful moments of the early days.  I look at this little person and sometimes, I miss the baby he was.

So this mental hack probably mostly works for science fiction fans more than ordinary people, but the way it works is, I try and pretend that I’m not living the moment for the first time. Instead, I’m revisiting it from the future.

The explanation varies – sometimes I pretend I’m dead, and in my version of the afterlife, I get to relive and witness my life again.  Other times, it’s a bit of a Quantum Leap form of time travel – I’m elderly and hooked up to a machine that lets me re-live the past as a passenger in my own self.  Doesn’t really matter.  It’s all pretend.

The key is pretending that, no matter how mundane or ordinary the moment is to me now, one day, I may look back on it so fondly that I would wish with all my heart to go back to it. Because even at forty years, I know that the things we remember most and the things we think are important at the time rarely align – or at least personally, I’m more wrong than I am right.

Weirdly, this works for me. It grounds me in the moment by causing me to perceive things more sharply.  I fix the moment in my memory better because of this too. It’s all nonsense, but it works.  I see the world more sharply when I pretend this, and my busy brain quiets and lets me be there, with my family.

Something that has grown out of this as a coping strategy for stress and anxiety is a realization that, looking back on particularly anxious or troubled times, I somehow managed to muddle through. One of the worst things about anxiety for me is that it tends to make small problems seem enormous.  Even when I’m in a moment now where a problem or worry seems insurmountable, the future-traveler me says “you’ve been through this before, you’ve been through similar, and you always made it out okay.” And a lot of times, that thought makes me feel some relief. Some problems seem big close up, but we rarely think about them once they’re receding into the distance in the rear view mirror of time.

That’s not to say that I don’t still need to do the work of addressing the problems I’m tackling now – certainly not. They don’t resolve themselves. But what I can do is spare myself the anguish of it all. I can take my problems seriously and not freak out about them.  Sometimes, anyway.

My coping strategies are my own, and they may or may not be useful to others. But I thought that I’d share a couple of them just in case someone else can get some use from what it’s taken me so long to start figuring out.

 

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