March 19, 2013

Managing Anxiety, Part One: Force

As many of you will know, last year I released The Little Book of Anxiety; Confessions from a Worried Life.   Since writing the book I have been toying with the idea of releasing an ebook entitled Beating Managing Anxiety; Advice From a Worried Person. However, I don't know the first thing about releasing an ebook, and besides, I don't want to charge anxious people for advice. We all deserve as much help as we can get, and I want to share what I know for free.
And so, without further ado, here is Part One of my new series. Parts Two to Until-I-Finish will follow shortly.

Let me tell you this one little secret - anxiety hates nothing more than company. Anxiety likes to live alone, dwelling in the fertile lush pastures of the empty mind. The very best weapon against anxiety is to keep busy. Anxiety needs to be driven out with force.

When I am anxious, my natural instinct is to fret. I become completely useless to myself and everyone else. I wander around in circles, I pace, I bite my nails. My heart races. My mind goes cloudy and I can't focus. If all I need to do is make the school lunches or write a blog post, I can't function. I can take an hour to put a sandwich together. I can sit at the computer and not make any sense.

Still, I've noticed something strange. If I am in this state and a producer from a radio station calls, and asks me to go on the air in five minutes, I will pull myself together. If an editor calls me and asks me to urgently write a piece, I will manage to do it. And for the entire time I am on task, I am focused and lucid and positive. I feel good. I feel strong. And when I finish the interview or column I feel better. It helps me to find my feet again.

Now, obviously I'm not advocating guest spots on the radio or calls from editors as the cure for all anxiety (but if radio producers or editors read this, please call me, I'm yours). What I am advocating, however, is that you find your own equivalent, something that works to get your mind off yourself and on the other. It is different for everyone, but we all have something, a task that will haul us out of our introspection and focus our attention elsewhere.

So what works for me? Well, my list is varied. It includes:
  • Doing radio or TV;
  • Doing any kind of public speaking;
  • Meeting a close friend for a coffee;
  • Writing to a deadline;
  • Attending a meeting, whether about my children or work;
  • Clearing out a cupboard or sorting through clothes;
  • Going for a walk with hip hop music blaring through my headphones. (It has to be hip hop. No other music calms me);
  • Organizing my handbag;
  • Browsing through online stores to choose something I need. (It doesn't work when I'm window shopping in real life - I can spend hours walking around Westfield in a haze of anxiety. But put me on the net and I immediately concentrate. All hail the online world.)  
Your list may be completely different. The key is to identify what works for you, write it down, and then turn to it when you're feeling anxious. 

Maybe you feel focused when you're cooking, or attending a spin class, or painting your nails. Maybe you are able to concentrate when you're planting tomatoes or running a seminar or drawing up a spreadsheet. Maybe you're about to become immersed in The Bold And The Beautiful or in the works of Dostoyevsky or in the Fifty Shades Trilogy

Whatever it is, use your strategies. When you are feeling anxious, pick one of your activities and do it. Keep busy and drive the anxiety out, even for a half hour or so. And the more respite you get, the stronger you will feel, and the easier it will be to drive it out in the long term.

Let me know how you go, and I'll see you for Part Two.


  1. I am just back from a walk around the hip hop headphones though....I am trying to comcentrate and get things done but just have been flicking thru screens trying to make sense of what I should be doing. This anxiety thing sucks!!! It is so new to me that it is debilitating....seeing the psych tomorrow.
    Maybe I should get a handbag to organise LOL

  2. I totally hear you. I think the key is to find the things that work for you. If I walk without headphones I feel worse. I need the distraction of music. And if I try to blog or do the housework or cook I feel worse. Only certain things work. There will be things that work for you, too, things that demand your focus and take you out of your head. Try to find them. x

  3. Perfect timing for me. Have had a few weeks of panic attacks and did the old trusted thing of running off and hiding at home. Cancelled anything where I would have to think/talk/smile. This worked, sort of. Being away from the demands of people works for me. But you are right with finding something to focus on. I baked, gardened, did some writing, shopped for more books. I feel better and stronger now.

    I will be watching your posts carefully - thank you so much for your generosity and sharing Kerri - as you know, it makes a world of difference when faced with anxiety.

  4. I just came back from the shops, where I had a panic attack. I wish going out and doing things helped me but it makes me worse. Yet I still force myself to do it because I don't want to become house bound. Waiting anxiously for Part Two. *paces*

  5. Great work Kerri. I am coming off the back of a fairly large episode and am keeping myself moving. It works. Music works for me. Turn it up load. 90's Rap mainly. Go figure.

    Look forward to reading this series xx

  6. Amen sister. I am hugely anxious about the impending birth of this baby of mine (am utterly convinced that something is going to go terribly wrong) and the only only way I am coping is by keeping so busy that my mind simply has no time to go there. I have no idea if this is the 'right' or wrong way to deal with things ... but it's working for me right now!

  7. Thankyou so much for your book and this post.I think it is really beautiful that you want to help as many people as you can.
    The thing that I cant accept with my panic attacks and anxiety is the total loss of control that I feel when I have them.I don't understand how I never went through these before and now in the last few years they overpower me.Makes me feel so helpless and weak and disappointed in myself.
    Look forward to more of your helpful words in part two.
    Much appreciated.xx

  8. I am new to the anxiety biz - boy, oh, boy isn't it debilitating. So far, spin classes, music and deadlines are {mostly} working... although not all at the same time. Hmm.. maybe I could try that?

  9. I, too, experience anxiety. Have been for a few years now. In fact around 8 months ago I emailed you to thank you for writing your book, and I was feeling anxious that day and you were brilliant with your reassurance. Thank you :)

    I have a physical toolbox and whenever I find something that helps with my anxiety it goes in the toolbox. They're my tools to combat anxiety!
    I wrote about it here if anyone is interested:

    So my list is a long one:

    1. Watching the news or reading the paper. Anxiety HATES perspective so getting out of my head always helps.

    2. Spending time with a close friend or family - someone I feel really safe and reassured by and IN a place I feel safe and reassured (home, friends house, even a familiar cafe, or cinema).

    3. Watching talks on O.M.G. There is NOTHING like watching Brene Brown on when you're feeling anxious. She's inspirational, especially for us worriers.

    4. Gratitude jar. Get a big jar. Fill it with little notes of what you’re grateful for. Reading them when you feel anxious is reassuring.

    5. Go for a drive just for the fun of it. Put some uplifting music on and drive somewhere pretty. It breaks up the time - and it's manageable even if you're anxious.

    6. Avoid coffee / sugar / preservatives. Stick with raw or whole foods. I find I lose my appetite so home juiced vege /fruit juice is really good if I can't eat. Whole foods / raw foods go down easier.

    7. Also carbs are SUPER important for serotonin production (happy hormones) so CARBO LOAD!

    8. When all else fails I remind myself over and over and over "this will pass, this always passes, and it will pass this time". Repeat.

  10. Kathy www.yinyangmother.comMarch 19, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    I think what your are describing is really 'finding your flow' - because you are absorbed in something you enjoy or know that you are good at, it blocks out everything else, including the anxiety. Its funny because a lot of people would be anxious about speaking on radio but you get your head together and into your flow because you're obviously good at it and like doing it. I used to present the local TV news on the Gold Coast and there were times when I was in the midst of an IVF cycle and obviously very anxious (more than normal) - but a switch would go on and I'd read the news live because I had to. Looking forward to pat two.

  11. You are SO welcome and thanks for your comment Jodie. Sounds like you did exactly what was right for you. Sending love.

  12. It's SO good to push through those things that may give you panic attacks. Avoiding them makes it worse in the long term. But maybe you could find activities that make you feel better for a brief period? TV? A book? A craft? Speaking to a friend? Writing? Listening to music? Doing crosswords? KEEP SEARCHING. And I'm sending love. x

  13. NOTHING wrong with 90's rap, my friend. I do a little of that myself. xxxxxxxx

  14. I think it's exactly right. I also think your baby is going to be 100% perfection. xxxxx

  15. Thanks Deb. Panic attacks are HORRIBLE. Will talk about them soon. Love to you hon x

  16. I would LOVE to know how you pull that off. And yes, anxiety is SO debilitating. But it can be managed. I promise. Love to you x

  17. PERFECT. This is like a guest post, and a brilliant one. THANK YOU xxxx

  18. YES. That's exactly right. Others might find it playing the piano, or jogging or whatever. Thank you so much. Really hit the nail on the head. x

  19. Oh keeps me going. Always have it on at work and home. I found picking up my guitar (which I haven't done for a while) and having a bit of a thrash has been helping.....helps to live in the bush without neighbours nearby LOL
    I am fine if I do have deadlines but have missed a few over the past weeks. I tried writing a list of stuff I have to do so when I feel weird, I can just jump into a project.....thing is the list started getting too big and then THAT sent me off too....ripped that up.
    I have been concentrating on my photography - sorting, naming and printing and framing some for the wall and friends.
    Working on the property and going bush helps but the rain over the past few months have hindered that pursuit.
    Thanks for your blog Kerri x

  20. Oh you're welcome! I feel very passionate about sharing for others going through similar experiences. When I have been very anxious it's often stories of other people that help the most - and I didn't even add that to my list! Your book helped me too, so I'm thanking YOU! :) xxxx

  21. I also struggle with stress / anxiety - a lot - and in some ways (much as I love them) it has worsened with kids. I find that I become overwhelmed quite easily when I cannot think through the logical next steps and priorities (and my sanctuary of home isn't often that anymore, as either I am being constantly interrupted by one or both kids, or distracted by the destruction and mess that they have created while I've been working). What works for me is to carve out time just to think through things - but not do things - either by myself or in the company of friends or husband. Having a day to myself now is helping (now that the kids are both at school and I have one non work day) however I have to resist the urge to fill up that time - there are so many things I think I need to or want to do (particularly to address the mother guilt of not being there as much as other mums), but I have to remember that I can't do everything, as something always falls apart as a result.

  22. ABSOLUTELY. It's so important to take time out and do nice things for yourself. I'm going to write about that next!!!

  23. Thank you - I look forward to reading it!

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  25. i have to shut down the mental 'worry list' and choose THE ONE THING i absolutely have to achieve that day … if i choose more than one i will unhappily vacillate between the two and achieve NOTHING! and if by some happy accident i manage to achieve more than one thing that day … i am an overachiever. looking forward to more dazzling ideas. xt

  26. Seriously Kerry! You Rock! That is all... Well... That is never ALL. Living with and managing GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) can be a friggin nightmare. Thanks to people such as yourself I now feel so much more in control. Not because of the advice necessarily but because of your sharing. You do not encourage wallowing but instead empower. Thank you.

  27. Casey I am SO glad I can help a bit. With love from one GAD sufferer to another x

  28. Music is a definite for me! I love to blare it loud and sing along :)
    Also, an episode of Seinfeld always seems to calm me too - I love that show.

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  30. Loud music and mad dancing. At the moment I play Petula Clark singing Downtown. You can't be anxious when you hear that tune. Also going out into nature helps too, like a bush walk. And writing. I

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