Anxiety of being hyper-connected

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On any given day, I probably get about 20 text messages and just as many Facebook messages. While there’s the odd one containing important information, most are folks asking for favours (including complete strangers) or asking how I’m doing (again, including complete strangers).

It’s nice. I guess. I mean, it’s sort of nice.

But pretty much everyday I feel overwhelmed by the number of messages that really weren’t necessary to send. There’s often someone annoyed with me for not responding quickly and I’ve lost a couple of friends because they completely flipped at my inability to respond to messages (that weren’t time-sensitive) in a timely manner.

I understand. It’s frustrating when you can’t get ahold of someone. But it’s also frustrating to constantly be inundated with demands to communicate for no particular reason. Especially when the sender adds in several extra messages that simply scream the receiver’s name.

The pressure to respond combined with fear of the repercussions if I don’t do so immediately are a huge source of stress and anxiety for me. Once a week, I sit down and go through all the messages I plan on answering, deleting the ones that I don’t have any intention of responding to (winky-faces, people picking fights). About three or four times a week, I sit down planning to go through these messages and then chicken-out because I know that as soon as I respond, I’ll be flooded with responses, some of which will be people getting mad at me for not updating them on how I’m doing quickly enough.

The original message was likely someone reaching out to show they care, but I’d argue that becoming infuriated when someone doesn’t respond to a message is not an act of caring at all.

Here are some ways I electronically receive and give care to folks:

  1. Send a text/private message/email letting friends know they’re being thought of, but without any pressure on them to respond right away, or at all;
  2. Shoot a message with something interesting, such as a GIF, link to an interesting article or funny picture. This let’s them know folks are thinking of them, but also helps improve their day with a little something fun;
  3. Set-up a time to meet in-person; or
  4. Send a postcard or package.

If they don’t respond, chill out. It’s nothing personal. We’re all so hyper-connected, it’s no longer reasonable to expect instant replies or even replies at all, in some cases. Me not responding doesn’t mean I don’t care. It just means I’m too busy taking care of myself to have non-meaningful interactions online.


Illustration by Jean Pierre Gallot.

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Having friends is stressful af

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As much as I pretend that I hate everyone, I actually accumulate a lot of friends. There are the people I’ve known since high school who I sometimes fall in and out with, but who know me so dang well and love me despite all my flaws. There’s my vegans who I met more recently but who I feel totally and completely at home with. And then there are all the folks who I meet through my job, either from planning rad events with them, tabling next to them at sales or becoming fascinated with them during an interview or while editing their writing.

This support system has been invaluable. I have people to get angry with and folks to cry with. When I’m at my lowest point and need a laugh, I know exactly who to call. And, in turn, these people call me when they need something, making me feel useful and like a valuable part of their life.

But these relationships have also been a huge source of stress and anxiety.

Friendships take work. Even when things are going good, it’s rare to have someone who you can go months or even years without speaking to and then pick up exactly where you left off. There are about a dozen people who I’d love to see on a weekly basis and another dozen folks who I’d love to get to sit down with at least monthly. And I can tell the desire to chill is mutual by all the texts, Facebook messages and phone calls I get asking when I’m free.

It’s fucking overwhelming. Especially when I start to give away my workdays to hangout with friends. I’m well aware that I’d be making enough money to get by (relieving a huge amount of stress) if I kept my friend-time to mostly the evenings and weekends, but then I’d miss out on being with my people!

When I was in college, I knew I wouldn’t have time for anyone so I hosted a weekly vegan potluck. Every Sunday, I opened my doors to the people who wanted to see me and the people who I wanted to see. It removed all the guilt I felt about not making enough time for certain people in my life.

So, that’s a thing that’s going to happen again. Right now, I’m in Calgary and I won’t be back in Winnipeg for more than two weeks. But, when I get home, I’m going to plan a weekly hangout with pals. It’ll likely be Sunday morning cartoons, crafts and snacks at my place, but I’ve gotta chat with my new roommate first and see how she feels about a bunch of strange people invading our home weekly.

If you want an invite, let me know! And weekdays are really all that works for you, let’s skip the coffee date and instead run errands, grab a quick lunch near by home, do some crafts (I always have crafts of my work-day to-do lists!) or do something active like snowshoeing or wall climbing.

If I can tie myself to my desk more often, I won’t need to stress about taking a day off to help someone with childcare or drive a friend to the hospital. After all, part of the reason I chose to be a freelancer was so I’d be around to support the people I love, not so I could slack off.

Keeping track of anxiety

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Along with three sobriety apps, I downloaded SAM on New Year’s Day. It has tools for dealing with anxiety and a chat room, and encourages users to track their anxiety.

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The past couple of weeks of tracking my feelings has been something and I learned a few things.

  1. I still don’t have a clear idea of what being anxiety-free feels like, which makes rating my feelings difficult. On the lower days above, I had a small knot in my chest and the higher days I was on the verge of a panic attack, but wasn’t actually having one. On this scale, I’m not sure how I’d ever get too high up there as rating my feelings on this app during a panic attack isn’t something I’d always be capable of doing. Although, I’m sure that could help me feel better.
  2. My levels of anxiety start going up after I check my phone in the morning. I usually stay in bed for 10 minutes or so, cuddling my cats and enjoying the quiet. Then, I pick up my phone to see what I missed overnight. I get overwhelmed by all the messages that need to be answered and work that needs to be done, and then I input how I’m feeling and shit’s already gone downhill.
  3. I’m really fucking stressed out about money. I’ve been scraping by the past two months, but for January rent I was actually transferring $0.17 from here, $1.24 from there, to get enough together. Even on my happiest days, my financial situation is always on the back of my mind.
  4. People doing shitty things deeply impacts me. I’m not so sensitive as I was when I first started dealing with my anxiety, but I spend far too much time wondering if I could have done something different to save a friendship with someone or if I should have been more assertive when someone was being rude to me.

In general, I’ve been doing a lot better. That doesn’t mean a hell of a lot in the long run, though. I could crash tomorrow and be back to working in bed. Tracking my anxiety is probably going to prepare me for when I’m back to freaking the fuck out on a daily basis.

STOP

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Sometimes, life gets to be too much. I’ve never liked to admit that before. Actually, I couldn’t really admit it because I didn’t believe there was a limit to what I could handle. Growing up, I watched my dad work 12 hour days regularly. On weekends, he’d pop into the office and then come home to do work around the house. If he wasn’t visiting clients at their homes, he was putting up new walls in our basement or planning a second bathroom for the house (although, for years the closest we got to the project being finished was an outline of a toilet in sharpie on the cement floor).

Instead of seeing this drive as unhealthy, I admired it and held myself up against my dad. If I grew up to be any less hardworking than him, I knew I’d be disappointed in myself. When I decided to become a freelance writer, I realized I could take productivity to a whole new level. No wasted time commuting to an office, working on evenings and weekends would be easy and I could take trips whenever I wanted without having to book an actual holiday and put an auto-response on my email. That was sort of the dream, for me—travel a lot without being lazy while doing so. Why take time off for vacations when I can take work with me?

There are a few good reasons to step away from the office and leave it behind. For one, because my entire life is an overwhelming swirl of work and helping others and caring for others and struggling to pay bills. Or because “self-care” and “relaxing” are words I use but not actions I take. Mostly because sometimes I’m just going to fucking crack and I need to get my head somewhere else.

Last week, I skipped blogging because work and life was just too much. I was in Montana with a couple of friends from high school and I had every intention of spending the mornings working, afternoons having fun and evenings relaxing. I’d even picked what I was going to blog about and had a work to-do list for every day of the trip.

15781854_10154186572803316_1439979173_n-2And then I just became so fucking weighed down by drama that followed me from home, emails from people I work for who I hadn’t let know I was going away and pressure to try to stay active on social media after my phone went missing. I broke down and stopped doing anything, instead becoming the self-destructive and wild woman I was before I tried to get my life in order.

Old habits die hard. Especially when you’re with the people who you formed them around initially (Love you ladies! Sorry I’m still such a bad influence 😉).

15782709_10154186569953316_1478655649_n.jpgThe trip turned into a drunken mess for me and my lungs are still recovering from the cigarettes and cackling. But it also served as a reminder that I need to just stop and chill more often. Maybe if I hadn’t left for Montana so wound up, it would have been easier to turn down drinks and spend a quiet, relaxing and sober week away from home taking in the scenery and finding inspiration.
With that lesson learned for the 5,000th time, I’m off to go for a walk through Assiniboine Forest with a good friend and then I think I’ll see if my new two-year-old roomie wants to craft with me. And maybe then I’ll plan a do-over trip, which will include no plans to work.

 

How can I deal with morning anxiety??

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Ah, morning anxiety. My old friend.

It’s hard to get a good start on the day when your heart is pounding and you’re overwhelmed with the challenges of life before you even get out of bed. Hell, I feel like that before I wake up from the wild dreams and terrifying nightmares that roll through my sleep.

Morning anxiety—that intense anxiety one wakes up with—is something I’m struggling so hard with, although I didn’t even realize it was an issue until after my anxiety disappeared for a bit, then began returning increasingly aggressively during the night.

Strange. I asked a few friends if they knew what my deal was. Nope. So, I turned to the Internet. A quick Google search and I found that “morning anxiety” is not uncommon at all. With that term, I began to dig up some of the causes behind it.

One is nightmares, something that plagues my sleep. I turned to the private mental health Facebook group I belong to for help and got some stellar advice which the advice-giver kindly gave me permission to publish. Here goes:

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She now adds that adjusting to the new meds might temporarily make nightmares worse. That was actually both of our experiences, but things got better as our bodies adjusted.

With her advice and the meds adjustment, I still have some nightmares, but they’re chilling out a lot and I accidentally stumbled upon some new tips from Tannis Ross of Pinch of Creativity during a vision book workshop I took with some friends at a bachelorette party.

Something I hadn’t heard before is that whatever is on our mind for the 45 minutes or so before we hit the sack is what’s going to slip into our subconscious and influence what we dream about. I haven’t verified this info, but it makes sense, right?

A week before hearing this, I had started putting my phone in another room at 10 p.m. each night and not allowing myself to look at it or think about work until 8 a.m. the next morning. Just this simple change in routine stopped me from waking up in the middle of the night, which has made for more pleasant mornings.

One night, I abandoned my no-phone rule and looked at real estate listings before drifting off. My nightmares were rather wild and convoluted, but I broke them down to being about feeling stuck in a home I don’t love.

Tannis is onto something. Before bed, she said she sets down her phone and opens her vision book in hopes of a night of sweet dreams.

I added nice thoughts before bed by trying to focus on what I want and how I will achieve it, rather than focusing on what’s wrong in my life. I might flip through my own vision book, talk to my partner about our future together or how much I love him now, read a book or just cuddle my cats and enjoy their company.

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The more I talk to people—both IRL and online—the more tools I get to help me sleep better and wake up not feeling like I was battling for my life all night.

If you have morning anxiety, do you know why? How do you deal with it?


podcast artwork4On this week’s episode of Ramblings of an Anxious Mess, I talk about how I’ve been figuring out that things I experience, such as intense and heightened anxiety throughout the night and first thing in the morning, is something others are struggling with, and even overcoming.

Prepping for school

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I’m going to save my ranting about what BS the high level of expectation in university and college is for the podcast and focus on some things you can do to prep for the school year to clear a little space and time for you-time.

Prep two semester’s worth of food

Before my first year of college, I made huge batches of healthy food that freezes well, such as soup and burritos. Single portioned and stored in the freezer, these suckers saved me. On weeks when I had the time and energy to cook, I’d make fresh meals. The weeks in between, it was all leftovers.

I also raided someone’s apple tree and made a ridiculous amount of apple chips and apple sauce to keep around for snacks.

The second year of college, I forgot to prep. That was a Mr. Noodles and empty stomach nightmare.

I’m not in school and am working from home, but this summer I’ve spent a good deal of time foraging and preserving the wild edibles I bring home. The stash of cramp and cold relieving teas and frozen greens ready for stir fry could really help me out when I’m too anxious, exhausted and cold to go to the grocery store.

Schedule every moment of your life

Seriously. Schedule.

At the beginning of each year of university and college, I sat down and wrote out a schedule. First, I started with my classes. If I had a set work schedule, I fit that in. If it was flexible, I’d skip to adding in all the other weekly commitments.

I set a time to go to bed and to wake up , and I stuck to those same times even on the weekend. Good, reliable sleep really does a lot for anxiety.

With that in place, I’d decide how much time I wanted to spend on school work each week. That I’d try to fit before and between classes.

The rest of the time, that was for me. I need a lot of time alone, so I’d write down that I wanted two work-free evenings to myself each week. I’d promise my partner one real date and one solid hang out, and also promise myself time with friends.

One year, I scheduled a vegan potluck brunch for every Sunday. Before the school year, I told my friends I loved the fuck out of them, but would be too busy for much one-on-one time, so if they wanted my company they’d need to drop by then.

To be honest, most years my personal time went out the window and friend time turned into taking care of friends time. However, it was good to at least have that base schedule to work from, especially since it gave me the reminder that I need to have a little time for me and those I love every week.

Clean until it shines

In my life, housework is generally what comes last. And a messy home stresses the fuck out of me.

Before school started, I would spend one or two or even three days de-cluttering, re-arranging and sanitizing every little bit of my home. Linens and towels and all my clothes and jackets would be washed. I’d do the repairs and intense cleaning I’d been putting off. The balcony would be swept and I’d start to prep it for winter.

It’s going to get messy again and probably won’t take terribly long to do so, but at least I was starting at a high level of clean so that it might take a while to become an utterly disgusting mess.

Keep prepping once it starts

Sunday evenings during school was time for prep. I’d actually choose six comfy, weather appropriate outfits and set them in a row in my closet. I’d pull some frozen food from the freezer and make a few decisions about what else I’d be eating. If I had the time and energy, I’d go around and do some basic cleaning. I use shredded paper for cat litter, so I’d end the evening watch a TV show and shredding during commercials.

Early to bed, I’d feel a bit more relaxed knowing I’d set myself up for things to go as smoothly as possible.

My anxiety definitely got out of control while I was in college, so I’m not sure that I would have actually made it through to graduation without these tactics. In fact, even bringing these back for weeks when I’m booked full-time in an office, I can’t make it through a busy week because my mental health just goes to shit.

If you’re in school and struggling with anxiety, what are some things you do for yourself to help get through?


podcast artwork4This week on Ramblings of an Anxious Mess, I’m talking about why I think post-secondary institutions need to restructure how they treat students to reduce stress and encourage healthier work habits.

Wasted time

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I’ve come to accept that no matter what I do, I’m going to have bad days. There are going to be times when the anxiety becomes so bad, I lose my focus and don’t know what to do with myself.

In these moments, I used to walk aimlessly around my apartment. I’d get it in my head that I should make tea and sit down to read, but on the way to setting that up, I’d realize it was more important to get some work done. But what exactly should I do? While contemplating that, I’d come to the realization that I did, indeed, need a break. I’d go to watch television and then decide that would be a massive waste of time, so back to thinking about work. Or cooking! Maybe I should make soup!

This was ridiculous, tiring and frustrating as fuck.

Sometimes, I’d do this in the kitchen when deciding what to eat. Comfort food? Something healthy? A quick snack? A full meal? Something simple to prepare? Something that was more of a time commitment but would be fun?

Inevitably, this would lead to a panic attack. My anxiety would spiral so out of control because of my indecisiveness about how to deal with it, that I’d end up lying in bed, starring at the ceiling.

Through some research on dealing with anxiety, I got a lot of excellent tips. I took some info here and there from different sources and came up with my own game plan. Now, I have steps to go through when I feel myself getting overwhelmed with anxiety.

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1. Do I need to eat or drink something? If yes, I have a box of snacks ready in the cupboard. I’ll randomly grab something from there and have a glass of water. With the hunger and thirst pangs (which I may not have noticed) dissipating, I may calm down and be able to move on with my day. If the answer was no or I don’t feel better after fuelling up, I go onto the next question.

2. Am I freaking out because there’s too much work that needs to be done? If yes, I come up with a manageable to-do list which is often broken down into small steps. For example, if I need to write an article, I break it down as follows: Contact interviewees, schedule interviews, do interviews, outline article, write article, edit article, submit article. While adding these details to my to-do list, I’ll also strike off things that don’t have to be completed that day. On good days I can work 12 or more hours. On bad days, I’m happy just getting the bare minimum done.

3. Am I just really anxious and don’t know why? If the answer is yes, I’m probably at the point where I’d be circling around my apartment in confusion. This is when I bring out my emergency to-do list. I keep a document that outlines all the things that help me feel less anxious when I can’t pinpoint a specific cause for my feelings. Depending on the weather, I choose something from that list and get to chilling out. Once I’m feeling calmer and not on the verge of a panic attack, I’ll revisit my feelings and try to figure out what my problem was. With that information, I can move along to finding a solution.

Ideally, I’d like to stop having bad days. Realistically, that might never happen.

Having this plan in place makes me feel better, during both high and low anxiety times.
Do you have something you do when you’re feeling anxious? I’d love to hear from you!


podcast artwork4

What do you do when you’re an anxious mess? It’s usually difficult to figure it out in the moment, so here are some tips on planning ahead and finding what works for you.

On this week’s episode of Ramblings from an Anxious Mess, I go into more details about the specific things I do with myself when I’m just too darn messed up to do anything.