Image via WikipediaLike many aspiring, up-and-coming young people, I have a lot of anxiety. It's actually something I've dealt with pretty much all my life-- I remember going to the nurse's office in grade school for "stomach aches" whenever I was worried about a test or if I was being picked on. In the past I have been able to take that nervous energy and transform it into constructive activity (like writing a story or composing a song), but recently the level of anxiety in my life has reached a tipping point.
I've had a lot on my plate this past year (unemployment, jumping from temp job to temp job, job rejection, unemployment benefit checks stopping, wondering how the hell I'm going to pay rent and buy groceries, contemplating signing up for food stamps, et cetera ad nauseam), and I'm still figuring out this being grown-up thing. Despite my best efforts in channeling that anxiety into something creative (with music, writing, drawing), I still have this horrible weight clinging onto my back for dear life.
Did I tell you that I went to a doctor recently? My neck was incredibly sore for months and I had no clear explanation why it was aching. It found out that I have a TMJ (Temporomandibular joint) disorder, an "acute or chronic inflammation of the temporomandibular joint, which connects the mandible to the skull."
I already knew that I grind my teeth at night while I sleep (I've been doing it since I was 10 years old), which is why I sleep with a mouth guard, but the Ear Nose Throat specialist told me that sitting in front of the computer isn't helping, nor is the clenching and grinding that I'm doing while I'm awake. And he's right-- I've caught myself clenching my jaw at all times of the day. It's a problem.
To treat the symptoms I'm staying away from super chewy foods (like bagels and raw vegetables) and using an ice pack on my neck at night. It's helping, but I need to get to the root of the problem: the anxiety and buried anger. It's crazy that my worries and frustrations are actually causing me physical pain, but it's real. Real scary.
Ben suggesting picking up kickboxing again, as a way to release all of that pent-up energy. I think I will sign up for a class. I also might benefit from a therapist who can help me manage my anger and anxieties, but I don't have the money to start seeing someone like that regularly.
Besides, I've been to therapy before (for anxiety when I was in high-school) and I feel like they never tell me anything I don't already know. I don't want to sit in a room so I tell my problems to a stranger, I want solutions. Answers. Tips. If I want to hear my own voice for an hour I can sit down for a one-on-one with Sookie. She may not give good advice, but she does make me feel instantly better when she nuzzles into my face.
So, with kickboxing a "maybe" and therapy out of the question, I took to the internet to find some simple solutions to controlling my emotional wreck of a self. Here is a list I compiled of stress relievers:
- Relaxing (breathe deeply and think of something pleasant)
- Cognitive restructuring (logic defeats anger: replace irrational thoughts with rational thoughts)
- Problem solving (don't stress on trying to find a solution, instead make a plan and focus on a way to deal with the problem itself)
- Better communication (do I even need to explain this one? be clear, listen, and don't jump to conclusions)
- Using humor (think of something funny when you feel stress start to flare, but don't laugh off the problem-- use it to make sure you're not taking yourself too seriously)
- Changing your environment (give yourself some space, a quiet moment to reflect and cool out)
Okay, so that's a good start. I've written down these little pointers on a sheet of paper that I keep with me, just in case I need to remember how to chill out. I also wanted to get some perspective from my friends, real people, so sometime back in December, I also asked you all at home to chime in with your own methods of controlling anger and anxiety. Here is the list:
- "I'm trying this new thing where I tell myself it really doesn't matter. I try to think about the big picture, I'm only here for 80 or so years, I want to enjoy them and not worry about things that don't truly matter. That doucher who was mean to me at work today, I won't and don't want to remember him later in life, so I try to move on from things quickly." - Jordan of Trailer Gypsy
- "When I'm not sick or recovering from a lame arm injury, I like to play drums. Hitting things with stick is a great stress reliever." - MRanthrope of Jim's Fear
- "When I am stressed, I find this has helped: Grabbing Jen and the kitties, getting under a warm blankie and cuddling with a comfort show on TV. Or laying in bed with Jen, dishing everything. Xanax - or if you'd prefer a natural route: St. John's Wort. Also a natural route, Celestial's Tension Tamer Tea. Taking my notebook, writing down EVERYTHING I want to accomplish and figuring out how I can turn whatever is stressing me out around and for the better. This can be goals, daily accomplishments, even just facts. Distracting myself with good music, a book or magazine or a walk around the backyard." - Angie of Lariats and Lavender
- "When I'm feeling stressed, I like to take a hot shower or bath, drink hot cocoa or tea, and watch sitcoms on Hulu." - Jay of Notes From Undisclosed Location
- "Here are some things to do to avoid having stress cause you to blow your cool at work: Never send a hot email. Sure you can go ahead and type it, and vent by all means. But then you might want to put it in your drafts folder. If, by the next day, you still want to say the same things you put in your email, then, by all means, hit the send button after updating your resume. Another thing: in the office, when you get bad news or a raft of undeserved aggro, just smile. Then mentally count to ten. Then speak calmly ("OK" is a fine response)... Last thing you want to do is blurt out 'Oh yeah? So's your old man.' Best workplace stress reliever is to imagine the day that the offender's shallowness and lack of imagination, creativity (or whatever) is eventually discovered and he/she is fired. Relieving stress at home: I like the shower and bath ideas above, and I like the alcohol thing too. A punching bag might help, or shadow boxing, or jumping jacks (while listening to DEVO) or perhaps a more fun physical activity which shall remain unspecified, but, hopefully, with a partner." - my dad of Rumpletweezers World
- "I don't have one sure-fire method for dealing with my stress and anxiety, but it usually helps to take a walk, talk to a good friend, or put my favorite song on repeat and dance around in my apartment. It also really helps to immerse myself in a project or activity that requires a lot of focus and concentration. For example, I've been editing a few music videos lately and when I really get in the zone with that, I don't really think about all of the stuff that stresses me out so much." - Lauren of Lauren vs. Reality
- "Save it for home. Not in a dump on your spouse/roomie/friends way. J&I like to sit around and vent by Whining 'I'm the booooooooooooooooooooss!' often followed by 'I'm the boss.' (serious nods) [there is an employer that says that a LOT/uses it as an excuse to verbally abuse and debase employees]. Also: 1) Beating the shit out of an inanimate object/heavy bag with feet&fists of fury. Seriously, martial arts/kick box/flailing at something until you are tired and spent is a great way to drain that negative energy. I'm not advocating bare knuckle brawls with people on the street, but a safe outlet (aka exercise to exorcise). 2) Scream yoga, if that's your thing. Alternatively, cranking up some good tunes (be they peppy, ragey etc whatever floats your boat) and cranking up your voice. Don't worry about your pitch or your tone, don't worry if you're off key, the more ridiculous the better. Laugh at yourself, laugh LOUD. Increase the ridiculosity exponentially and embrace the healing powers of laughter. 3) Tea, tea, tea [or comfort drink of choice] and the ear of a good friend. No one wants to be That Person who is constantly complaining about their workplace, but if you really need to get something off your chest there is nothing like the empathy and understanding of a good friend, as long as you don't abuse the privilege." - Martina of Adventures in Building Beauty
- "I've been doing something that's a common thing pop psychologists talk about, but I didn't know it at the time I started doing it (I was doing it while it was still indie, dammit!) They call it "fast-forward." I imagine myself being over something until I am. Er... more like, I imagine myself doing something destructive and then not caring a week later. Then I imagine myself not caring as much as week later... but also having NOT done something destructive. And the idea of that is usually better, even when I'm really freaking out. In the moment, it always feels like that moment will last forever, so I say to myself, Maybe this moment won't last forever? Maybe it will be over and I'll continue to live long after it's over? Also fish oil (or the algae source of EPA & DHA which costs 3 times as much) and L-theanine. I'm not into prescription drugs, but I'm definitely into those." - Benjamin Schuman
- "I mostly just... don't deal with it? I'm not sure, actually. I don't really get anything done until I start getting insanely stressed out -- it's my motivator. When it gets cripplingly bad, though, I bake. The measuring and the stirring and all of that is so mindless as to not be difficult while still requiring enough focus to get my mind off of whatever is inhibiting my ability to function. (My most recent blog post regrettably omitted the essential role that cookies played in getting me through my brother's week in Egyptian custody.) I think it's also helpful to have a good support network. You have to know yourself and the people in your life well enough to know which person is the right one to call for your particular state of OH MY GOD I AM JUST SO FUCKING ANXIOUS, but I have several people -- again, depending on the mood -- that I turn to when I need to be talked off the metaphorical ledge." - Sweeney of Sweeney Says
- "Beer. A shit ton of beer." - Natalie of Awkward Sex and the City
I thank everyone who took the time to share their advice with me. It was really comforting to read your words, and made me feel less alone. I feel a lot more confident that I can kick this anxiety in the behind.
If you feel like I left anything off the list, please don't be shy-- tell me how you deal with stress and anxiety in the comments section below!
[Note: when I started this post, I was still unemployed and feeling a bit hopeless. I just started a new job and it's temp-to-hire, so I'm hoping that I will soon have full-time employment. I'm not completely financially secure, but I can see the light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel.]