I struggled with anxiety for many years.
In some ways, I'm still coping with anxiety— it's simply not winning anymore. It never really goes away, though. It's still there, in the back of my head, the worries and panic a little quieter now.
On another day, I'll share my anxiety story (because I know that when I was first experiencing how terrible and alienated anxiety and panic disorders could be, I would have given anything to know that so many other people were experiencing the same thing— that I wasn't some kind of freak), but today I wanted to share a few things that helped me cope.
A caveat? This is what worked for me. I'm not suggesting that this will work for everyone, and I'm certainly not offering medical advice. This is what helped me, after many years of suffering and depression, begin to live with anxiety, and not merely exist with it.
We all feel stuck sometimes.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a wonderful book called Outliers, examining what exactly goes into the making of experts. It’s a wonderful book, and I highly recommend giving it a read. A major theme in the book is the 10,000 Hour Rule. Based on some scientific studies (which have recently been questioned), it states that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. While the research is more subtle than the 10,000 Hour Rule makes it sound like expertise is simply a matter of putting in the time. If you’re patient and disciplined enough, you will become an expert.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably read up on just what it is that makes people successful.
You see people who seem to be able to do it all, and wonder what makes them so special. The first person that comes to my mind is Richard Feynman. Feynman was a Nobel prize winning physicist, who worked on the Manhattan project, investigated the Challenger crash, and invented (link) Feynman diagrams to facilitate calculations in his co-discovered theory of quantum electrodynamics. In his spare time, he travelled the world, wrote six popular novels, and put together what many still consider to be the definitive set of textbooks for undergraduate physicists. He was also an exceptional teacher and masterful orator. He was funny and charismatic, though known to be a bit of a womanizer (I don’t endorse this last trait).
Change is a scary thing. I’ve spent all my life trying to avoid any major— nested in my own comfort zone, surrounded by the same people, same places, and if I could help it, same situations.
I changed schools when I moved on to high-school, but spent the next four years stuck in that bubble.
Some teachers and classmates have gone and passed, but everything else stayed the same. I got a new dog and a couple of new friends. I visited some new places and tried out new food rarely— but enough to say I did.
I’m a graduate student. All around me I hear people talk about how burnt out they are:
“Sorry, I had to pull an all-nighter. I can’t function this morning.”
“I was in the office all weekend trying to finish that term paper. I must’ve worked for 35 hours straight.”
“I feel SO underprepared for my comprehensive exam. I’m going to lock myself in my room and go through all the readings this week. Hopefully I can survive!”
We've all had those moments nearing the end of the semester when suddenly you have a paper to write for a class where you've done exactly zero of the required reading, plus looming finals, plus your side-job... You get it.
All of a sudden it seems like an entire semester's worth of work has crept up on you, and you have three days to do everything— and that's if you somehow manage to not sleep.
This sucks, and you often think never again, like on those nights when too much red wine gets swigged and you wake up with your head feeling like it's been replaced by a cement block. Well, luckily it's just about the beginning of a new semester and there are a few things you can do to make sure this full-scale meltdown disaster situation doesn't happen again.
Yeah, like I don't have enough to be doing already, right?
Some thoughts you may be having on blogging:
- aren't there like, 153 million of them?
- Doesn't my mum's friend from the gym have one?
- Do people even still do this?
They do, and for good reason! I started my first blog years ago now, when I was heading towards the end of my undergraduate degree. I was stressed, scared of being stuck in a dead-end job, and generally curious what might happen (more than likely I would simply join the millions of dead blogs out there within a few months). I was looking for a way out.
I've been there too— after an English Lit degree and 7/8ths of a Library Science masters (isn't that a story for another time), I didn't feel like reading much anymore.
For me, that's serious business. I was always that girl with my face buried in a book, the girl who would rather read than go to a party or go to an amusement park. Reading is so important in my life; I felt like an essential part of me had shrivelled up, like the well of reading motivation was so far beyond dried up I wasn't sure it would ever recover.
But it did, once I took a step back and looked at the approach I was taking.
There's this new thing that's totally transforming my day.
It's so simple, yet the action of merely using this tool works motivation and productivity magic.
It's a timer. That's it. A plain ol' timer— Google Timer, in fact, because it doesn't kill the battery on my iPod, which I need for my morning run (C25K anyone?).
I use this timer to get all sorts of things done. I'm not quite sure why it works so well, but I'm definitely not the only one who does— the famous Pomodoro Method advocates using timers (tomato-shaped, if you want to be really specific) to work in short bursts.
Yes, the frog.
I heard this term for the first time several days ago (despite it's being 100 years old) and realized it applies beautifully to what I've been working on lately.
"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first."
— Mark twain
Being a Mark Twain quote, there are many versions of this kicking around out there on the internet, but I like this one best. Okay, so this frog thing? An eccentric way of saying "do the shittiest thing on your list first."