Sunday, December 08, 2013

scaling back

I've been doing a bit of thinking lately. A bit of thinking about anxiety. I've been an over-worrier my whole life, but I really feel like my anxiety has gotten worse in the past year or so. Or at any rate, I feel physical symptoms of anxiety more readily and more pronouncedly (that's a word, right?)

Three out of my five immediate family members are currently or have been in the recent past on medication for anxiety. I've been thinking lately about what I can do, short of medication, to change my symptoms and learn how to chill out.

My new job has forced me to think about this a bit more. For the past year, especially after reading The Happiness Project, I've been trying to fit more into my day by being more efficient. I've renewed my commitment to writing letters, I bought an entry-a-day journal, I've started learning to sew, I've decided to move forward with trying to start an Etsy hand knits store, I want to post at least one good photo a day to Instagram, and make new friends in this newish city by attending knitting groups and playing softball three times a week. Not to mention making a list of topics to follow up related to global health, in an effort to improve my research career prospects. Oh, and trying to design and secure a phd.

I'll try to be clear here: I was failing miserably at everything on that list before I started this new job (especially the letter writing. I don't think I've written a letter in two months). Those of you who have had a birthday in the past few months will know that I haven't been acknowledging every birthday with a hand-written note. You're lucky if you get an email! Now with the new job, I spend a lot of time in transit and have much less downtime at home than I'm used to. "I'll just bring my work and my reading books and my knitting and my sewing projects and my letter writing paper and my journal on the train!" And then I get on the train and...fall asleep.

What I've realised is that trying to make myself more efficient in order to accomplish more isn't making me happier. It's increasing my levels of anxiety. Surprise surprise, right? If I stop expecting myself to be an amazing knitter and seamstress and letter-writer and photographer and book-devouring intellectual, I'll be able to stop beating myself up for failing miserably at all of it. I might still try to have 15 different hobbies, but I have to stop holding myself up to unreasonable expectations.

I'm just gonna knit. For fun, when I have time. And post photos on Instagram when I see something worth sharing with the world. And journal as often as possible. I'll try to start writing letters again, but I make no promises. And that's plenty enough for the time being.

Now, to write all my Christmas cards and start on my Christmas decorations. :-S


  1. Hahaha, oh, I so feel your pain! Lately it seems all I can handle is one project or hobby at a time. I have a million things I'd love to do, but I've come to the realization that I can really only have two or three things in my "top priorities" list before I run out of hours in the day. At the moment, I am focusing on yoga.

    I remember reading once that a person's powers of motivation and discipline have been shown to decrease throughout the day. And that has led people to theorize it might be related to some chemical we deplete by self-denial. Once we use it all up, it's gone until we make more. Well, whether or not that's true, when I heard this it made me think that it still makes sense to treat self-discipline as a scarce resource. If I really want to succeed at one thing, I have to prioritize and also allow myself to enjoy some time where I'm not straining my self-denial muscles... which is my excuse for working, spending time with the people I care about, doing yoga... and playing absurd amounts of minecraft... lol!;) Haha... ok, so maybe I'm not the greatest role model. But still thought I'd share some food for thought!;)

  2. Good post! My meds, which are slow-acting and non-addictive, help me stop persevarating. They don't prevent all anxiety but they reset the chemicals in my brain that get stuck in a thinking rut. I also meet a therapist regularly, who points out patterns of thought that are destructive or illogical. She reminds me that I actually have to do some hard work of changing the way I avoid confrontation--99% of the time, my anxiety is a result of avoidance.

    As for creativity and productivity (or efficiency, as you put it), I'm in a better head-space to be creative when I'm not anxious/depressed. However, that still doesn't mean I'm going to come home from work and get a ton done! The big factor affecting my productivity (and my sleep) is when hubby and I force each other not to watch TV. If we make goals together, we're likely to make each other complete the goals, so we write down plans for each evening. And we try to forgive ourselves if items don't get done.

  3. At first read, it sounds like you've placed such importance on getting your hobbies done that they have now become chores instead. I'm also inclined to think that, if you get on the bus and fall asleep, how lovely! You've given your mind a break! I do the same thing every night by taking a hot bath - can you imagine if I tried to knit or write letters while doing THAT?

    There are as many ways of dealing with anxiety as there are forms of this life-crippling disorder. I have both slow- and fast-acting meds for it, and I prefer to take neither. But it's taken me years to get to the point where I can substitute some other form of therapy (including counseling, behavioral cognitive training, and learning to be more self-aware) with any degree of success 90% of the time.

    And I would rather have you sit quietly and knit if it gives you peace of mind and the end of a busy day, than write me a letter. Remember the last time I wrote you one? Exactly...neither do I :-)