The problem with anxiety is that it acts as a key to open a treasure chest filled with past wrong decisions and mistakes – usually at about 3 AM. Economic and professional stress offers some fertile ground for those thoughts. And the response to that is usually to get up in the middle of the night, snack on some cereal, open a screen, and settle in for some distraction. Or, putting it in another context, determine to get up in the morning and “hit the ground running”.
Which maybe isn’t what we should be doing.
Kate Murphy, in the essay No Time To Think, offers some daylight:
“…you can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.”
The ramped up speed of anxious thinking can also lead to any number of physical issues such as “obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and panic attacks, not to mention a range of addictions. It is also associated with various somatic problems like eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, inflammation, impaired immunity and headaches.”
How’s that for increasing your anxiety?
The more I resist thinking about my issues, the more I increase my distractions and the less time I have to daydream or just wander. Which isn’t that difficult to accomplish. I agree that it isn’t easy to force yourself to relax – there’s something a bit oxymoronic about that. We can’t avoid issues and problems – but we can get up from the table now and then and return to them later.
Putting down my thoughts on paper is a great salve for me – when I don’t write, I start to wring my proverbial hands. Even a letter to a friend or just simple paragraphs and prose sketching.
Or, after a few hours at the screen – either in the office or at home – I’ll pick up a camera and wander outside. I’ll walk towards something that catches my eye since that’s where your imagination exists. Capture some images, some shape, some color. Wonder about other things.
Changing your physical landscape often changes your emotional one as well.
Some years ago I read a story about a housing contractor who had to deal with the daily frustrations of getting the work done and clients who constantly changed direction in the midst of a project. But when he went home at night, he paused in front of the tree near his front door and reached up to touch one of the branches. When asked why he did that he explained that it was his “trouble tree” – where he would hang all his troubles at the end the day so he could go inside and enjoy time with his family. In the morning he would come back out and pick them up again.
Maybe that’s not the entire answer. But it’s certainly a start…
photo © Janet Kopito
[Note - I originally labeled the above photo as one of my own in error. Turned out to be The Brunette's. My apologies to the artist...]