So You Had a Bad Day …

^^ Art by Alessandra Olanow. ^^

On Tuesday I woke up knowing it was an anxiety day. Perhaps the emotions from my nightmare were trying to creep their way into the daylight or maybe my subconscious was further processing the fact I am fully living in the altered-now-normal reality of the pandemic, but I recognized the sensations immediately. The tight chest, the sudden feeling of fragility, the inability to find a root cause, the overwhelm — an anxiety day was here to stay whether I knew the reason or not. And rather than pretending the anxiety didn’t’t exist and pushing through, I’m learning how to care for myself instead, a habit that’s becoming more and more important during this time.

^^ Art by WeepinginPublic. ^^

Have you found yourself having these types of days more during the pandemic? Those days where it feels like a very large elephant has taken up residency on your chest and everything feels just a little bit harder? Emails a little harsher, feedback suddenly more personal, your cat scratching at your couch suddenly the most unbearably annoying thing in the entire world?

On Tuesday, as I started my morning routine of putting away dishes and feeding two seemingly starving cats, I found myself falling into my old habit of trying to out-productive the anxiety day away. Maybe if I made a to do list of everything I needed to get done and just focused on checking all the tasks off, I’d begin to feel better. Sometimes this works, getting the hard work done, but many times, especially during the pandemic, my anxiety needs care rather than checklists, slowness rather than sprinting. And the reminder to focus on what I can control in these moments and what I cannot.

^^ Art by Liz and Mollie. ^^

Because right now, there are many, many overwhelming things I cannot fix. I cannot fix the pandemic. I cannot eliminate the racial inequality and daily acts of police brutality so deeply rooted in this country. I cannot fix the unemployment rate or the fact I don’t know when I’ll see my family in-person. I can’t change the writing market for freelancers. I cannot change the pitch letter rejections or the overwhelm that comes from thinking about it all at once. But I have learned the power of focusing on the elements I can control.

I cannot control the pandemic but I can wear my mask to keep others safe. I can’t stop racial inequality but I can advocate for change within my community, my workplace, and continue learning about anti-racism on my own. I cannot fix the unemployment rate but I can donate to organizations helping those currently in need. I can check in with friends, send them care packages as they take on the job hunt. I can’t control the acceptance or rejection from editors but I can keep writing, here or in private, just for the sake of writing.

Because let’s all be honest, adulting is hard. It’s especially hard right now. While the pandemic might not be the top of mind at every moment, it’s forever lurking in the background, leading to more anxious than stress-free mornings. If this is where you are right now, be kind to yourself. Be celebratory of the many small actions you are accomplishing, and forgiving of the ones that are just not in the cards right now. While these change day to day, here are a few things I’ve been leaning into for comfort during anxiety-heavy days and while not revolutionary, sometimes I just needed to be reminded to drink water, to wear yoga pants, and get outside in order to find my balance again.

Simple Self-Care Tips for an Anxiety-Heavy Day

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I can be so forgetful when it comes to drinking water  (tea, another story) but have been making it a daily intentional habit to drink more throughout the day. It continues to amaze me the calmness a glass of water (or six) can bring.
  • Learn what is working and what is not. This is forever in flux but my anxiety heavy days tend to highlight for me the things that are working (meditating, going outside, taking lunch breaks, realistic time expectations) and the habits that aren’t (saying yes when I mean no). Sometimes these days prove to be a very honest life audit.
  • Eating on time. I’ve been working to correct a bad habit of putting off cooking until I’m absolutely starving.  On anxiety-heavy days, it’s especially important for me to start cooking at noon and 5pm, whether I’m hungry or not, and taking my entire lunch break away from my computer.
  • Get into yoga or comfy clothes ASAP. It’s a visceral softness when the world feels harsh.
  • Go on a walk. Or stretch or move your body in a way that feels nourishing. When I’m feeling anxious I often find myself wanting to curl up into a ball, but the act of taking myself outside, for a short or long walk, has a 99% rate of helping me breath easier.
  • Tell people. Something that has been really important for me to learn is relying on other people. For most of my life, I worried about worrying the people I loved with my problems. But through therapy (bless it), I learned the importance of showing up in my relationships, not only in the good moments, but being honest with the struggles as well. Sometimes it’s just a text, sometimes it’s through Facetime or phone calls, but talking through it with others makes it feel a little lighter on my own shoulders. And hearing someone say, “I am feeling the same way through this,” can often be the validation I didn’t even know I was looking for.
  • Pare down the to do list to one highlight. What is the one thing that would make you feel good to do today? Call your family? Organize your shoe collection? Plant a bunch of plants on your fire escape? Host a reading night for yourself — complete with snacks, homemade pizza, and wine? Narrow in on what would give you the biggest feeling of relief or satisfaction today, write out the steps needed to do it, and encourage yourself to take just the first one. Sometimes you’ll complete the entire task, sometimes you’ll finish only the first step, but it always feels better to start than not.
  • Get offline. I have been guilty of this a lot during lockdown. I’ll sign online first thing when I wake up to read all the news. But then this sudden onslaught of the state of the world leaves me frazzled throughout the rest of the day yet craving more? What even is that? Get offline — I say mostly to myself. Stay informed but set boundaries around news consumption, sources, and social media in order to keep your brain afloat.
  • Create a mantra and chant the hell out of it. I’ve taken to meditating quite regularly these days. I find Headspace to be really helpful in getting myself off to a good start in the morning and as part of that, I’ve create a little mantra for myself to return to throughout the day. Feel free to steal should it speak to you too. My current favorite (please yell with emphasis like myself):
    I am strong.
    I am powerful.
    I am resilient as hell.
    I am loved.
    And I am kind.
  • Write yourself a permission slip. The most important habit of all, give yourself permission to do what you need. For a long time I would needlessly shame myself for needing to slow down. But the minute I started being on my own team and checking in on what would actually help me feel better, I found that anxiety days went from being black wormholes of time to days where I narrowed my focus to caring for myself. And after that, I’d be back on my feet, continuing to plant myself and bloom rather than burn out indefinitely.On my anxiety-heavy days, I give myself permission to reschedule plans with friends or order takeout. To get into pajamas at 8pm and read until I’m ready to go to bed. On these days I congratulate myself for doing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom, and try to take the time to be present and cherish the habitual actions I tend to rush through on other days.
  • Know when it’s time to turn off. Everyone has a different wind down activity. Sometimes I love to go around my Animal Crossing island and pick all the fruit to sell. Sometimes I like to Passion plan until my eyes are crossed. And sometimes I like to light all the candles, stare at my plants, and cuddle my cats. Do what makes your heart feel safe and loved in this moment.

Some of these feel so basic to write, but I’ll be honest, on anxiety days I often need these basic reminders of self-care. If you’re having a hard time starting with any of these things, then let me write you the permission slip you might be hesitant to write yourself.

Dear [insert name here],

Today and for however long you need it, I give you permission (hell, I insist!) to take the time to care for yourself. You’re not lazy or selfish for taking care of your mental health so please stop focusing on all your should be doing. I’ll help you out here, what I demand you should do right now is whatever you’re craving most. Take a shower, play with a pup, drive  around the block blasting your music — just give yourself the space to be. The spunk and determination and gumption is not gone from you, it just needs more fuel to burn brighter. A fuel that comes from self-care, slowing down, and reseting. Should you need me again, I’ll be here tomorrow, happy to write this slip up again or cheer loudly in celebration if the elephant on your chest left during the night. 

Either way, you’re brilliant, you are loved, and you deserve rest. 

With love,

A Fellow Anxious Anteater

PS. This was my horoscope for the week and could it be anymore in line with this POST?! 😳 You may adopt it as your own if you’d like.

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