Coping with Anxiety Today

Well. Today is... it's not good, is it? I don't know how to make the world less horrifying right now, but I do know a thing or three about anxiety. And if this isn't an anxiety-provoking situation, I don't know what is.

So here's what I can offer. Some tried-and-tested anxiety-fighting techniques to keep us going in the face of whatever's to come.

  1. Take What Action You Can

First, tackle this on a personal level. Is there anything specific you're worried about facing, and if so, is there anything you can do about it? Honestly, the answer may well be "not much." But there may be small things. Perhaps you can think up a "worst case scenario" plan. Perhaps you can practice a script for if a dreaded encounter happens. Perhaps you can reach out to someone you know you can rely on, or put a list of important phone numbers in your pocket in case you need them. Just doing something will put a sense of control back in your hands, and if you genuinely can't do anything, then knowing that is, in itself, a way to help handle anxiety about it. "I've done all I can. I can't do any more until the thing actually happens." You can acknowledge that you're anxious, and then move on to other things you can do things about.

Then there's the issue of what we can do in a general sense. How do we stop the world going to hell? How do we protect society as a whole, and help people who aren't us? A lot of anxiety comes from the idea that we should be doing things, combined with the belief that we can't do anything. Bad things are going to happen, and we don't know exactly what they are, and we can't stop them, but we should stop them, and... *brain explosion*.

So, listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda. He's a smart guy, right? And he's said this:

Decide how you are going to help. Decide how you are able to help, something you can maintain. Maybe it's being an online crusader, highlighting issues on Twitter or on a blog or on Youtube. Maybe you have professional skills you can lend to a cause. Maybe you're going to get involved in protesting. But it can be smaller. Find somewhere to volunteer and do some good on a regular basis. Commit to donating to your local food bank once a week. Find something concrete that you can do, and do that thing.

This doesn't mean you're washing your hands of every other problem in the world. But one person cannot possibly do everything. We have to keep going, keep living our lives, and we need the energy and mental health to do that as well. But the enemy of anxiety is action, so pick a thing to do, and then whenever your anxiety starts eating at you, tell it no. You've decided what you're doing. You're doing it. End of discussion.

2. Filter the world

This feels like the opposite of the usual mantra of "stay woke," but remember Lin-Manuel Miranda. If you let everything in, you'll drown. Stay up-to-date on the world, but decide how and when you're going to do that, and stick to it. Maybe there are a few really smart activists on social media that you want to follow. Or maybe you're like me, and the constant flow of social media makes you more anxious. In which case, pick a time of day to read the news, from a couple of sources that you've decided you trust. Get the information. Take whatever action you've decided you're going to take. And then step the hell away from the flood. You've figured out how and when you're going to learn things. Letting yourself get overwhelmed with constant updates helps no-one, least of all you.

3. Distract yourself by living your life

You've got to be able to keep living. You've got to take care of yourself. So don't sit with your anxieties. Don't let them be your constant companions. Find distractions.

First, there's the obvious self-care stuff, the kind of things that anxiety might say we shouldn't do when we're so worried about big-picture things. Watching a favourite Youtuber who makes you smile. Checking out a new Netflix series. Playing a video game. Things that make you feel calmer. Embrace those things. It's not selfish to take care of yourself right now. It's more important than ever. You need downtime, and it will help so much, I promise.

Then there's the other distraction stuff. Hobbies. Passions. Maybe you write stories, or review books. Maybe you're a fledgling Youtuber yourself. Maybe you dance, or you love studying languages, or you paint, or play the guitar. And maybe you don't do those things, but you want to. Maybe you think you don't have time for them, maybe you think you won't be any good at them, but you want to do them.

Now is the time. It's time to give yourself a sense of control over something in your life, and a sense that you're growing, no matter how dark the world gets. It's time to take care of yourself, and make sure you're paying attention to what you want.

And those things, those 'distractions'? They help the world too. Writing things that may one day enlighten or comfort or entertain others. Making people smile with music. Learning new ways to communicate with people and make friends where you otherwise would not. Reading books that broaden your view and understanding of the world and the people in it. Making yourself healthy and strong, so you can keep going, and do more in the future.