While sleepless nights, tight throats and unsettled stomachs may be common in the arts, they aren’t insurmountable. Our resident nervous Nelly has some basic tips on wrestling your worries…
Show me a creative person who doesn’t suffer from anxiety and I’ll show you Johnny 5 – the microwave meal-making robot from Short Circuit. Whether you’re knees-deep in creative block, wading through a break up, staring down the barrel of a huge commission, moving house or just suffering from a free-floating anxiety, here are some things that might make you feel better...
Don’t worry about why you’re anxious
The time for self-reflection, emotional excavation and analysis is later. When you feel better. When you’re wrestling with anxiety, it really doesn’t help to wonder from where that anxiety has sprung. Actual panic attacks are often a delayed response to stress, so the trigger may well have already passed. But, more often than not, anxiety is a very natural response to a whole mix of things that you can’t solve anyway. So, just accept that you’re anxious – don’t question it, don’t try to solve it and try not to resent it, just try to get through it.
Keep eating and sleeping
I’m aware that this advice is about as sexy as a pair of long johns but, frankly, who gives a rat’s ass? One of the symptoms of anxiety is an excess of adrenaline – your body is, for some reason, preparing itself for fight or flight. This will mean you probably don’t feel at all hungry; you might well feel actively sick. But you must eat. Whatever you can – eat it. Carbohydrates are best, particularly at night, as they’ll help you sleep. Toast, mashed potato, bananas, porridge, cake and soup are all good. Tea and coffee (it actually pains me to write this, but it’s true) are not good. Try to cut down on caffeine – it will only make you more anxious.
As for sleeping, you may find it hard to fall asleep and you might wake up ridiculously early with your mind racing. You might even do both. Either way, just try to get as much sleep as possible, but do not worry that you’re not getting enough. Anxiety and insomnia are a self-perpetuating cycle of pure misery, so try not to worry about being awake.
Be open about feeling anxious
I feel about talking through my feelings the way most people feel about STD tests. But I’ve learned from experience that even the simple act of telling someone you’re feeling anxious can mitigate that anxiety – however slightly. No one will think less of you for feeling anxious. Honestly, no one. And they might even be able to help.
Do some exercise
A wise man once told me that “It’s hard to worry when you’re already sweating.” When you’re suffering from anxiety it’s like the activity inside your mind and heart is at odds with your body, so bring your physical activity up to the same level. Running, swimming, cycling, spinning, aerobics – anything that will raise your heart-rate and get you sweating. Not only will this release endorphins and burn off some of that annoying adrenaline, it will also hopefully tire you out so you can sleep better.
Take time to do nice things
When you’re up against a deadline, trying to sort your life out, working on an important job or going through a period of great change, it is very easy to just keep pushing through life with a joyless and grim determination. Stop. Go to a gallery, have a long bath, take a walk somewhere peaceful, cook some comfort food, watch a favourite film, hang out with a pet, make something totally unrelated to your work: just take an hour to do something you associate with feeling better.
And here are a few more for free…
Be careful of smoking and drinking – smoking can make you more anxious and anxiety + hangover = ungodly misery.
Get a change of scene – getting out of the house or your workplace, even if it’s just for a day, can help to put your anxiety in perspective.
Talk to a professional. There are lots of good, cheap or free counselling services out there and they can really help.
head in hands 2 by emilyvalenza via Flickr under a (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.