All that fear and all that pressure…

I’m thinking we probably have some newcomers to the world of overwhelming anxiety. Panic is a no win kind of game, but there a few cheat codes. Since I’m an old pro and a real darling, I’m going to clue you in.

Full disclosure, none of these are a cure. Anxiety is a fucker and you should definitely seek professional advice if you are worried about your mental health. However, none of these calming hacks will do you any harm & so you can totally give them a bash. They might buy you a little temporary peace or even just knock the steam off your panic attack.

Gratitude Lists

I know that sounds wanky, but bear with me. Sometimes when I’m dealing with that grinding, slow burn type of anxiety this can be helpful. I go through things I’m grateful for in my head. It can be anything. Often I’ll do the simple I have a warm house, comfy bed, not being pursued by the mob type of thanks giving. Other times I’ll get specific about factors that mitigate whatever I’m worrying about. Either way it switches my head away from catastrophising for a minute & lets me catch a breath.

Slow Sips

If you’re wholesale panicking, slowly taking small sips from a bottle can help. It forces you to regulate your breathing, which can ease the physical symptoms of a panic attack. Thus giving you an opportunity to stave off a really bad episode.

Waves of Sound

Get yourself a sound machine app. Lying awake all night feeling scared is awful. Waves, thunder storms, pouring rain are all rather soothing. This can also be helpful via earphones if you’re feeling freaked out in a public space.

Waves on Scottish beach

Play it Out

On a similar note I like to prepare playlists of songs that I know will be good for certain situations. For instance I have calming bedtime tunes, waiting somewhere stressful songs, help me do these things that need to be done lists and so on.

Child’s Pose

I know yoga isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it does work for me. Child’s pose in particular is very helpful for chilling my body out and making my brain stop for a minute. You can access loads of good yoga vids on YouTube. It’s worth a try to see if anything helps you feel more ok.

Repeat Yourself

This probably sounds a little dumb, but it can be surprisingly effective. In moments of panic/fear simply repeating a reassuring phrase can help. I usually go for ‘you’re ok’. The repetition and saying the words out loud has an impact.

Text ‘you’re ok’ repeated on pink & green swirly background

Hide

This probably sounds even more daft. Again, it can work. Taking yourself to a small, safe space can reduce your body’s desire to flip out. I’ve taken myself into my tiny home office & given myself a minute many a time. Being somewhere that I know no one can see me or even know I am there is great for combatting rising panic.

Dark & Loud

When the world is really too much, blocking it out us the way to go. Find yourself a dark room, get comfortable and turn some beloved music up really loud. Assaulting the senses like this aids a positive disconnect from whatever is distressing you.

Write

This one obviously works for me. Getting the terror out of your head and onto the paper/screen is a lifesaver. Something about making those words concrete rather ever growing worries is hugely cathartic. Give it a try.

It’s later than you think…

I think it’s universally acknowledged that getting older is a wee bit scary. As one approaches those big milestone ages it is hard not to ponder the big questions. 39 is frightening mainly because of its proximity to 40 & all that entails.

I remember being worried in the run up to the big 30 too. Mainly because I felt like I wasn’t where I had imagined I would be at that stage of my life. That little measure of fear probably helped in the long run. It helped me make some needed changes. My thirties have been far happier than the preceding years. I believe what made that possible was time. I had time to think and plan and manoeuvre.

Ultimately, though, I’m approaching 40 still missing the crucial piece of my puzzle. However, this time I am very nearly out of time. My options are ever shrinking. That is frightening on a whole other level.

I sometimes feel like the proverbial guilty feminist when I have this conversation. Fear of ageing is often assumed to be about vanity. It’s thought silly to worry about grey hairs or crows feet. It’s assumed the desire to stay young is about adherence to sexist beauty standards. Or if it runs deeper the biological clock is referenced in demeaning tones. Ageing childless and/or single women are often perceived as desperate or pathetic. I suspect much of this is internalised, but I had to get these messages somewhere!

Balloon with sorry about my internalised misogyny

Where am I going with this? I suppose I just want to say it is ok. Things become a cliche for a reason. Ageing is scary. Whether that is because you are worried about physical changes, not achieving goals, your own mortality or a all of the above. It’s ok. Most folk struggle a little with change. It’s perfectly understandable to feel uncomfortable with the alterations you see on the mirror. It’s fine to be concerned about the irrevocable biological changes that age brings. Knowing that some opportunities have passed you by can be hard to accept. The unstoppable nature of the passage of time can be alarming.

In many ways age is just a number. Nevertheless, ageing does have concrete ramifications. It isn’t anti feminist to accept or care about them. A big part of the significance of our appearances is routed in living in a patriarchal society. It isn’t merely a shallow obsession with attractiveness; women’s ageing is not as viewed sympathetically. There are real life implications beyond aesthetics. Career prospects, financial considerations, medical and fertility issues are a big deal. Even if you just really lovely your hair and don’t want it to go grey, you’re allowed to have a wobble about that.

ly looking in mirror sign towel around body and hair

In the end the thing that makes it so worrisome is also what helps me deal with it. You can’t stop time. It is entirely out with our control. Feel whatever feel. Talk it out. Then carry right on living because it always later than you think.

Don’t worry, my arse…

I worry. Quite a lot actually. I stress over things great, small & possibly non existent. I probably worry much more than is either necessary or prudent. That’s the nature of worrying, though.

So, I while I confess to sometimes wishing I could turn off the worrying I find it incredibly frustrating when people suggest that is possible. There are of course strategies to deal with disquieting situations, merely deciding not to worry about it is not one of them.

I keep seeing this sort of thing offered as some kind of wisdom. This isn’t wise, it isn’t even sensible. It just displays an inability to understand what worry is. If it were possible for a person to decide no to worry, worry wouldn’t be a thing.

Obviously this is abelist. Anxiety is not always rational. Many people struggling with mental illness have spiralling worries. Ranging from the practical (money, employment, relationships) to the irrational & far reaching concerns that mental illness can bring. When you tell someone they can choose to stop, you’re kind of saying their anguish is their own fault. Advising a person to just stop worrying is as pointless as telling them to just not be ill.

Setting aside the ableism it’s still infuriatingly useless advice. Let me break it down,

Do you have a problem?

If I didn’t consider the issue a problem, I wouldn’t be concerned about it. So, yes, regardless of what an outsider might think, I clearly think it’s a problem.

Can you do something about it?

If I can, the solution must still be troubling or uncertain otherwise I wouldn’t be worrying.

If there is nothing I can do ignoring or pretending the issue doesn’t exist will not help me. Plus, lets me face it, if you are facing a problem that you cannot solve it’s unlikely that you can just magically forget it.

Saying this to someone in distress is unkind. It basically translates to I don’t care. Telling someone not to worry is not a suggestion of self care. It’s dismissive. Instead, perhaps try listening. Sometimes just saying it out loud can be helpful. If you can offer practical help, do. If you don’t know what someone needs, ask. A simple ‘what can I do’ can be so valuable. A little bit of time goes a long way.