There are few people alive right now who do not feel the constant creep of anxiety. Constant awareness of what’s not getting done, inability to fully enjoy yourself, trouble sleeping while your mind races, inclination to compare yourself to others and the feelings of inadequacy that result. We have more commitments, greater expectations, and endless ways to schedule and organize them all, but very few ways to make it go away.
By nature I am not an anxious person. In fact the opposite is true—historically friends have come to me to settle their own anxieties. Little do they know it takes a work to stay even keel. The showbiz magic is making it look easy, no?
I’ve chosen(?) a non-standard life trajectory, which brings with it uncertainty and risk. I often don’t know where exactly my next gig is coming from (all I know is that it’s coming!) but what terrifies me exponentially more is to wake up and find that it’s all been a waste. Rationally, I don’t think that’s an actual possibility but anxiety has a way of nestling itself in our deepest insecurities, mine being that my life won’t amount to anything worth noting (even though that’s an extraordinarily relative metric). I’m pretty sure that fear is not unique to me.
Anywho, while traveling the delightfully smooth path of trying to carve out a space for myself in a world built for not-me, there are inevitably moments where I question my direction and involvements and compare myself to other people and their trajectories and timelines. The first part is sort of healthy—the second most certainly is not. In excess these moments are mongers of fear and killers of true exploration and ambition. It’s necessary to keep them at bay.
How? Good question.
Lord knows I’m a big fan of boundaries. Keeping anxiety (which is generally self-cultivated and baseless) in check is essentially just creating boundaries between your rational and emotional self. Regardless of how smart you mom says you are, your self is a fundamentally simple and stupid entity, and easy to trick into submission.
Trick yourself into thinking there’s nothing to be afraid of (because usually fear and unease are manufactured). Remove all (or as many as possible) opportunities for anxious thoughts to disrupt you.
- Prevent intrusions
- Create and indulge in consuming distractions
One of the most simple but profound changes I’ve made: I turned all of my phone sounds off. Phase one was turning off email notifications—I can’t stand email and it will still be there when I get to it so what’s the urgency? Phase two was making my phone entirely silent. No more buzz in my purse or pocket, no more interruptions when I’m focusing on a task, no more feeling like I have to respond immediately to cross it off the running mental to-do, and when my phone is out it's generally face down. Those are the rules. If we recall, phones were created (supposedly) for convenience—not to make us slaves to them. If there are truly important phone calls you’re waiting on, just set it to ring through for those. Everything else can (and should) wait.
Now for the all-consuming distractions, my favorite! For me, it’s usually sports. I am by no means a jock but I love to run around. I identify as a dog sports person—chasing balls or frisbees. The feeling I’m after is what I think it must feel like for dogs when they chase after a ball first thrown: full engagement, full extension, uncontrollable excitement, and pretty much the most distracting thing ever. I can’t focus on anything except the moment I’m in, and that’s exactly what needs to happen.
I’m notably neglecting to mention other people here, because a sense of internal calm has to come from… you guessed it... yourself.
From a calm foundation of self you can sit with your thoughts and think clearly about both the fun ones and the unsavory troubling ones to figure out what the real roots of those are. And of course I don’t mean sitting literally—walking or drawing or bike riding or something you can do on autopilot while your mind delves. I’ll use the word meditation (even though I a little bit resent the inevitable patchouli hippie association), which really just means stopping to practice introspection, to think and examine. Alas, it’s an activity best done alone.
So fine, has silencing my phone and running around and giving myself proper time and space to think about things made me wonderfully anxiety-free? Not exactly. I still wade in uncertainty and self-doubt just like everybody else, but awareness and a few little self-deception tricks are a decent start to managing it. It’s a daily watch, and some days an hourly one, but it's worth it.