Is everything starting to get to you? Do you feel anxious, overwhelmed, irritable, depressed or perhaps you are simply suffering from a lack of motivation?
I know, I know, I’ve felt all of those things over the last year or so. Some all at the same time!
Never thought of myself as an anxious person but after Steve died, within a year my anxiety levels had weirdly dropped dramatically and it was only the absence of them that made me aware of their former presence. Similar to having a bad cold or food poisoning, then you get better and you look back and realise how ill you felt at the time.
While still grieving, I suddenly realised how anxious I had been for the previous forty-odd years. What did that look like?
Well, apart from my constant fear of eight-legged insects, are you, like me, the kind of person who felt that I was the one whose willpower alone was holding up the aeroplane I was on? What about driving? Always pushing away thoughts of horrid crashes on the motorway?
Worried about everything that could go wrong with a trip, even while excitedly planning the same. Here’s an example…
In 2016 I was invited to drive across the USA in a convoy of open-top Mustangs, something I’d always wanted to do (well, the driving across America bit, I wasn’t bothered about the type of car, so much!).
I worried about driving on the other side of the road, being arrested by brutal police, finding Brown Recluse spiders in the wardrobes and dodging serial killers along the route. We had a hilarious ‘Own It!’ podcast episode where Judith attempted to talk me down on my anxieties and encourage me to go for it and I’m so glad she did.
The trip was a blast and while some odd things happened, none of my actual fears came to pass and I had the trip of a lifetime!
Taken aback by that sudden departure of anxiety in the year after bereavement, I’ve thought about it quite a lot since trying to puzzle it out and why it manifested itself like that.
Of course, the worst had happened now – someone I loved very much had died suddenly and way too young – and I didn’t have to try and ‘control’ that particular circumstance or outcome anymore. Furthermore, and being quite honest, I really didn’t care what happened to me for quite a long time, so all the usual day to day worries didn’t intrude so much anymore.
But the ‘pandemic’ and our Global Governments’ collectively heinous behaviour, not to mention concerns about my wonderful young adults being injected with experimental gene therapy (and the possible future ramifications of that) have brought all my anxiety flooding back. Not to mention the almost inevitable lockdowns next Autumn/Winter. Oh yes, and if you think they are not coming, you are deluding yourself.
So how to handle that?
First up, I’ve done some practical stuff (having identified what I was most anxious about). My son was planning to go travelling towards the end of the summer, my daughter wanted to move to Brighton but her potential flatmate was a bit job-insecure in the event of another lockdown. I was concerned about either being left in the existing flat, or having to find somewhere else to live in Shoreham, alone.
So after a few long conversations and a bit of a revelation about being too young to retire somewhere quiet, I’ve moved with my daughter to central Brighton, somewhere that is so nice that I could, at a push, handle being locked down overwinter here. In the event that I don’t stay and move somewhere else while this country sorts itself out, my daughter is sorted with somewhere to live as she won’t leave (and I have somewhere to come back to eventually).
Then I use a technique suggested by my youngest sister Sarah. I ask myself, when things are getting bad, am I ok right now? Are the kids ok right now? Are we ok today? Do we have a roof over our heads, food for dinner, a hot shower, a bed to sleep in?
I remind myself that they are 24 and 26 and will make their own decisions and even though I might disagree with those, I am not about to cut them off and never speak to them. I will support them, whatever they decide and whatever happens.
Finally, I journal in my Moleskine Diary and now I’m blogging daily. The latter has alleviated my feelings of not being creative and being invisible and it’s reconnecting me with some wonderful people from my past. I’ve been amazed at the emails and the comments on the blog.
I’ve read some of the relevant chapters of Andy Shaw’s book “Creating A Bug Free Mind” which always helps.
But the main thing that helps me is meditation.
I’m new to it relatively, and I pooh-poohed it for most of my life, but then I heard that it increased the size of the front of your brain (great for success thinking and good decision making) and it decreased the size of your amygdala, which controls your flight or fight reflexes and floods your body with adrenaline.
A study in Scientific Reports has helped reinforce our understanding of how meditation and mindfulness affect change in the structure and functioning of certain brain areas, and how these changes lead to increased wellness.
In the study, fourteen university students participated in a 40-day meditation training course. None of the students had any prior training in meditation, which allowed the researchers to evaluate changes in the function and structure of a number of brain regions. In addition, subjects were given self-assessment questionnaires before and after the meditation course to monitor any changes in mood and wellbeing.
After 40 days of mindfulness training, imaging techniques revealed alterations in the precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex. These two brain regions are thought to be involved at various levels in self-awareness and consciousness. They also play critical roles in the Default Mode Network, a vast network of interconnected structures that contributes to certain fundamental aspects of personhood, including the perception of one’s own emotional state, understanding others’ thoughts and emotions, and moral reasoning.
In addition to these neurological changes, participants also showed a marked decrease in both depressive and anxious tendencies, as evaluated by the self-assessment questionnaires. More significant reductions in depression and anxiety scores correlated with greater structural changes in the aforementioned brain regions, lending support to previous research in the same domain.
So I gave it a go.
As I found it hard to concentrate, I started with guided meditation (I really like Paul McKenna’s ‘7 Days’ recordings and Vishen Lakhani’s ‘7 Phase’ meditation available free with the Mindvalley app).
I’ve now graduated onto the old ‘get somewhere comfortable, take three deep breaths and just concentrate on your breathing’ version.
I can do 15-30 minutes easily now. Today I woke up way too early, and it was daylight already, so I just concentrated on my breathing until I went back to sleep. I felt much better overall, yesterday having been a very trying day.
Try it, it really works.