Although this post isn’t specifically about multipotentiality, it’s been my observation that many multipotentialites suffer from anxiety. Mental illness is also one of those things that can really get in the way of pursuing your many passions. I thought it might be helpful to share my experience, as well as some of the strategies I use to manage my anxiety.
I experience anxiety; frequent anxiety.
Let me first distinguish anxiety from stress. I don’t typically have a lot of stressful events in my life. Yet, the anxiety is a regular visitor.
It most frequently manifests as worry. I worry about being late. I worry about being misunderstood. I worry about being glutened while eating out. I worry that the truck turning the corner will hit me. I’ll be walking Grendel, hear a bark, and worry that the neighbor’s dog will get loose and attack her. I worry that armed men will break into the house. I worry about misogyny. I worry that I have snot on my face or food in my teeth. I worry that I’m worrying too much.
You get the picture.
Anxiety is a generalized disorder: it can be applied to anything and everything. If you’re prone to having anxious thoughts, you can have those thoughts about the most mundane or extreme scenarios.
For me, anxiety is present regardless of what is going on in my life. I’ve found ways of managing it. But when actual stressful events appear in my life, it’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. Stressful events make my anxiety feel justified (you’ll notice that I tend to talk about my anxiety as though it is a separate entity or voice. I try not to identify with it personally), and when anxiety feels justified, its voice becomes louder and more frequent.
Recently, some stressful events appeared in my life. Most of them were actually amazing opportunities. But they were big, new, and scary. Here are the highlights:
I was invited to fly to Romania to deliver a keynote, and didn’t have much time to prepare. I had no idea what the food situation would be like, and whether I would be able to find food that wouldn’t make me sick. I didn’t speak the language. I had to prepare my speech quickly, and it was on a subject that I hadn’t spoken about before. I wanted to do a great job, and I wanted the company who hired me to be happy.
Over these last few months, I’ve been adjusting to the massive increase in engagement, activity, and exposure, here at Puttylike. I’ve felt chronically behind in my work: guilty for not replying to emails when I was working on the talk, and guilty for not working on the talk when replying to emails. I was drowning in heartfelt emails and comments, and felt guilty for not appreciating them as much as they deserved to be appreciated.
Then the Paris attacks happened, and my anxiety went haywire. To illustrate how bad it got, here’s something that happened about three weeks ago:
My fiancé and I went over to her grandfather’s house to have dinner with her extended family. Before dinner, we were sitting in the living room and someone turned on the TV and flipped to the nightly news program.
As the wretched American news program blared sensationalistic headlines, showing clips from the latest ISIS propaganda video (which suggested they would be targeting New York, where I’m scheduled to be in late January…), my heart began to race. I knew that the video was a scare tactic intended to build anti-muslim sentiments and strengthen their numbers. I knew about the statistical chances of being the victim of a terrorist attack. I knew all that, intellectually. It didn’t stop my anxiety. Rationalizing rarely does.
Valerie kept telling me to ignore the TV and focus on the conversation in the room, like everyone else was doing. But I couldn’t. The TV was all I could hear, and I couldn’t look away. The rest of the room seemed totally relaxed and this contrast between my inner state and the casual chatting around me made me feel self-conscious and even more anxious.
Finally, I forced myself to get up and go to the bathroom to breath, meditate, and calm myself down.
None of this is anybody’s fault. Not mine, not our hosts, who are great. My anxiety was already heightened from everything else going on in my life, and I had an extreme reaction to something that was disturbing, but not an imminent threat. This is what anxiety does.
(As a side note, with all of the political discourse going on right now, I don’t see much being written about mental health. That’s part of the reason I wanted to write this post. I doubt I’m the only one feeling this way.)
It’s three weeks later, and I’ve made it to the other side. Although my anxiety is still with me, it has returned to its “normal” level. I’m still in Romania, but my talk is over (it went well). I’ve been eating out at almost every meal, and haven’t felt sick at all. There were a few mix ups and close calls, but everything has worked out okay.
How to manage anxiety
Coming out of this period of stress and heightened anxiety, I thought I would share some of the techniques that I use to manage my anxiety. I’ll admit that I could use more strategies, particularly in times of stress, so please share your suggestions in the comments.
1. Daily meditation
Every morning, I meditate for 20 minutes using the Headspace app. I started this practice before the recent stressful events hit, so my habit was already pretty well established. After years of on and off meditation, I’m finally on my longest streak ever: about 90 days. I don’t consider myself to be good at meditation, but Headspace helps because it’s guided and it goes in sequence.
This isn’t intended to be an ad for Headspace, but they also have a few three minute “S.O.S.” meditations, which are hugely helpful in moments when you’re freaking out.
Ultimately, changing my focus is what’s important. If I’m feeling anxious, but don’t have time to meditate, I’ll sometimes just focus on the feeling of my feet against the ground. Focusing on any physical sensation like that will help me calm down.
2. Nutritional supplements
After reading this book a few years ago, I began supplementing with herbs and vitamins that increase levels of GABA in the brain (GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it quiets brain activity). The effectiveness of these herbs have made it really clear to me that I have a GABA imbalance. I take them on a daily basis, and when I miss a dose, I notice a far greater number of anxious thoughts.
I’ve done a lot of research on health and diet (it’s one of my interests), and I’m fairly certain that my GABA imbalance has to do with a bad gut infection I had a few years back, and the antibiotics I took to clear it up. I’m working on healing my gut, with the help of an excellent functional medicine doctor. But until then, supplementation provides some much needed relief.
Noting is another really effective technique that I use to lessen my anxiety, though I didn’t know it had a name until I listened to the Headspace sessions on anxiety. In any case, this is how it works:
Anxious thought pops up in my head.
Instead of getting wrapped up in the thought or identifying with it, I think “Hm, there’s anxiety. Interesting.” and then I refocus my attention on whatever I’m doing.
Sometimes the anxiety is so frequent that I can’t not get involved with it. But normally, this technique works like a charm.
e.g. AHHH I’M TAKING TOO LONG TO FINISH THIS BLOG POST.
“Oh, hey look, it’s anxiety. Hi there.” Now let’s get back to writing the post.
4. Asking for help
When I say “asking for help,” I don’t mean going to therapy (though I am a fan of therapy), I mean asking the people in your life for help with the little things that need to get done, that you don’t really have time to do right now.
When our community was buzzing with activity, and I needed to focus on my talk, I hired my team to do some extra work and help me with my inbox and other maintenance tasks that I would normally do myself.
Valerie helped tremendously by cooking more meals, and taking care of things around the house, so I didn’t have to worry about that stuff as much (she also helped with my inbox).
It’s amazing how much delegation, outsourcing, and a little external support can help you get through a particularly stressful period. It’s also nice to be able to reciprocate when your loved ones are going through hard times themselves.
5. Eat and/or sleep
That news program incident happened right before dinner. In fact, dinner was delayed by about an hour because one of the guests was stuck in traffic. In other words, I was starving.
I’ve noticed that, almost without fail, my worst bouts of anxiety happen when I’m hungry and/or tired.
Remembering this can help me come up with an action to take (eat/sleep), or if that isn’t possible, it can at least remind me that there’s something physiological going on.
That’s all I got, but I would love to hear from you.
Do you experience anxiety? What strategies do you use to manage/reduce your anxiety?