A blog post inspired by: The Belle Jar on Anxiety and Never-Not
It’s a very annoying oxymoron to start with, I know. But it could be your truth – anxiety could be nothing to worry about. And if it was possible to believe such a thing, we could just shake it off (Taylor Swift style). And that’s what’s so annoying – because anxiety is a self-sustaining loop of stress, of worry about worrying. It’s a damn difficult circle to escape.
So how can we be positive about this? Where does hope come into it? The Belle Jar’s ‘Never-Not’ principle was a touching tribute to the suffering caused by anxiety and after reading, all I wanted was to whisk this tortured soul under a wing and save the day. So I started stewing on the topic and decided that, sometimes, when I don’t understand something about myself, a bit of evolutionary context can make me feel hella more confident. It’s easy to forget that we’re animals with instincts and not everything in our bodies is rational. When we were cave people, we needed anxiety to help us plan ahead, avoid being eaten and to provide the adrenaline needed to run at a huge-ass mammoth, to climb a cliff face for the sake of shelter, to outrun a leopard through the forests of Africa. So that shitty feeling in your lower intestines? It’s not there for nothing. Don’t think of it as your enemy. I watched a TED talk about stress that presented research suggesting that stress only reduced life expectancy when subjects believed the stress was harmful. Otherwise, the levels of stress had no effect on health whatsoever. So my advice – use the energy. Run it off in the London Marathon, take it with you when you ask out the sexy new barista in Pret – whatever it is, use that energy, because biology gave it to us for a reason.
You’re not stupid, I know you’ve probably heard it all before, you’re worriers so you’ve thought everything over at least a hundred times. And you’ve never been able to think yourself out of it so far, so why should this time be different? Well, maybe it won’t. But I feel like this nugget of information is enough to lift us out of our funks. It psyches me up. I’m a worrier too – sweaty palms, ‘what if’s and the ultimate worst-case-scenarios are my thing. If I’m carrying a tray of wine glasses, a daydream about tripping and spearing myself in the eye with a glass stork is inevitable. When I was little, I would panic that my mum would be in a car crash on the way home from her dance class and I would never see her again. I’ve scraped varnish away from many a tabletop to touch pure wood for good luck and I made many a pact with God as a youngster to ensure mine and my family’s safety. I wish I still had that religious security, because now? It can feel like you’re a single zero in a world of binary code and no one will ever find you again. It can feel like you’re a blade of grass, half of you trapped and buried in a ton of soil while your top half suffers and struggles in the tidal winds.
Anyway, I was trying to be positive… I just wanted to make one thing very clear: we’ve come so far as a race because we worry. Anxiety may feel like a weakness, it may feel like a bulldozer or a rot eating away at our bones, but it’s the very thing that launches us forward. This anxiety, it’s left to stew, because we have no lions, no polar bears to chase us, we have no prey to hunt. We just have bold red-lettered bank statements and tax forms. A long traffic jam. But what if we find our antelope to chase, our mountains to climb? Could we climb a mountain and a wall at the same time?
So when you feel yourself shaking at the fingertips, clenching your fists into sweaty little balls and getting hot under the collar, just remember that it’s because you’re human, it’s what got your ancestors so far and it’s the bridge between what you are and what you could be. So walk across it. One trembling step at a time.