I of course know that everyone’s mental health issues and triggers are entirely unique and what’s worked for me won’t necessarily do it for you. But in the hope that maybe it will, I thought I’d share some of the most obvious panic-dampeners that have really helped me to live a more ‘normal’ life (i.e. not to look for the loo in case I have to make a dash to be sick – even though I’m rarely sick – EVERY TIME I go into a new space, or to triple check I have an anti-nausea pill before I leave the house, and to be able to take the tube all the sodding way to Canary Wharf – so far from West London! – to the office without feeling bubbling hysteria)… //
Routine / A good routine that services your physical and mental needs is so very important; it’s no good having a massage once a month in the hope that it will undo all that accrued stress – it won’t. Find whatever opens that valve and lets a little pressure out then do it often enough to feel the difference. For me, that involves seeing a psychoanalyst almost weekly (so expensive, but she essentially keeps me sane and so I willingly hand over a painfully large percentage of my earnings to her), doing a little yoga most mornings, going on as many dog walks as I can fit in during the week, and spending at least half an hour a day wasting time in stroking Monty beagle. Jointly, that’s just enough of a release for me.
Not listening to pumping music on my commute / I used to be one of those people for whom no tube journey would be unaccompanied by obnoxiously-loud music (obviously playing through headphones – I’m not that sort of commuter), but I am a reformed woman for several reasons. Primarily, I wanted to turn travel time into something useful, so either listen to podcasts or an app called BW Studio, which plays isochronic tones that supposedly have a soothing effect on the brain and which I find really makes me feel more mellow and less on edge. And that’s really the other reason for my switching off the loud music – I was feeling pretty panicked when I travelled and someone suggested to me that it may have been overstimulating my senses. Given that I now definitely feel less stressed on the tube, perhaps they were right.
Banning sugar / Okay the word banning is a bit extreme – I of course still eat sugar and sometimes in rather large quantities too. But the constant drip drip of sugar into your bloodstream does really up your heart rate and make everything a bit topsy turvy on the insulin front. I cannot be emphatic enough that of course I am aware that most carbs turn into sugar and even vegetables contain carbs that become sugar, but large quantities of the pure stuff, i.e. inhaling a large Dairy Milk without anything like nuts to slow down the big whoosh of sugar, is bad news for your anxiety because it will make your body feel like it’s a little bit nervous even though your brain isn’t. Furthermore, sugar is hideous news for your gut, where loads of lovely microbiomes of bacteria live, and as there is now a whole lot to suggest that the relationship between said gut and mental health is extraordinarily closely linked, the idea of ditching an excess of sugar in order to reduce anxiety should not be poo-pooed.
N.B. Alcohol is basically sugar. Sorry.
Sleep and exercise / This could’ve gone into routine, but it’s so very important that I thought I’d highlight it. Having wobbles on the mental front does funny things to sleep, either making you feel drowsy all the time or causing anxiety at night right when you want to be going to sleep. For me, sleeping well and exercise go hand in hand – if I get the balance between the two just right, I feel great. If one starts to suffer, so too does the other. They hold hands, as it were, bobbing along nicely together in a lovely even relationship. And they do a marvellous job of reducing anxiety, so if one is suffering and you feel anxious a lot, perhaps address the missing link to see if it makes a difference.
Your environment / By this, I mean both your home and your bod. It was my clever psychoanalyst who pointed this out to me, and since she highlighted it, I’ve realised how terribly important it is. Basically, every time you make your surroundings nice, or have a lovely bath full of something that smells delicious, or make time to moisturise, you send a signal to your brain that is a bit like a mental hug. It balances out all those times you push yourself at work when you feel like cr*p and your heart is racing because you’re trying to get five things done at once. So embrace hygge, if that’s your thing. Buy the ludicrously expensive moisturiser if it will make you feel good (FYI I’m currently using Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur body butter and it makes me feel like a goddess). Just indulge in an act of self care.
Connect to something / Before I had this blog, I was a bit of a panicky blob because I wasn’t hugely excited by life. Writing here and sending words and thoughts out into the world and then hearing back from people about make-up and travel and even just about blogging itself really made me feel a part of the whirling machine of life. Equally, going outside with Monty for walks made me a part of a community in London; where I’d previously avoided eye contact with anyone at all costs, I found myself talking to fellow dog owners because leads had become tangled or bums were being sniffed (the dogs to one another – obviously any other interpretation of that line is not what I do in the local park). Being swept up in life and having forward motion has had a really positive effect on my mental health, and if you feel divorced from society, try getting involved – people are really quite nice on the whole, I’ve found.