I have a very personal story with stress that I want to share and have tried many things over the years, but first I want to open up. About five years ago I was trying to go to sleep and as I was on my way towards snooze town I imagine that I am riding a bike. Before I know it, my legs start jerking in all sorts of directions violently and I wake up. I try to go back to sleep, but this time I imagine that I’m doing pushups and I thrust my arms out at maximum velocity, hitting a nearby wall, and waking myself up. This happens one more time.
Obviously, I immediately go to the bathroom and google what the fuck is going on with my body. It turns out that I had been having myoclonic jerks. At two AM with the blue light of my phone glazing my tweaking, blood-filled eyes, I started reading a myoclonic jerk forum of people who have had it for days, weeks, and years. Some of the people that had the jerks for years said that they never go away. That they hadn’t had a normal nights sleep in ten years.
That was the first night in my life that I couldn’t fall asleep. I went immediately downstairs, grabbed a bottle of my parents’ whiskey, and tried to chug it in order to fall asleep. No such luck. My parents found me wide awake on the couch in the morning, half scared to death.
At this point, though, something else was happening to my body. I noticed little involuntary muscle pulses all through my legs and arms as if little electrical pulses were passing through my body. Obviously I freaked the fuck out even more. We ended up going to the doctor who had no clue in hell what was happening to me and gave me Klonopin which didn’t help my panic or sleep. Plus I found out it is incredibly addicting and I am very averse to putting drugs in my body.
Segway to the next four years of sleepless nights and thinking that I am never going to sleep well again, that I have some combination of Lou-Gehrig’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and a bunch of weird, rare diseases.
Now, I’m pretty sure that I only have Benign Fasciculation Syndrome, which is not really well known in the medical community. But the overarching point of these last few hundred words is that I’m anxious. I’m more anxious than the average person. And I’ve tried a lot of things to stop the anxiety. A lot of things have worked, and a lot haven’t. Here are some that worked for me.
1. Breathe (through your pelvis)
The nuts and bolts of yoga/meditating. Imagine that your balls or your vagina is actually your lungs. Feeling your breath through here (while also having good posture, ideally) gives you a head high and you feel calm after a few minutes. You can also “feel” your body, and try to let whatever stress you have in your shoulders and chest (you are probably breathing through your chest if you are stressed) drop to your pelvis. You will know if you’re doing it right if you feel a head buzz, if your voice gets more resonant, and if your body feels more elastic. You will know what I’m talking about if and when this happens to you. The goal is to essentially do this for a few minutes while focusing on your breath. Then you might be meditating on accident.
2. Go on a gratitude walk
You need to get outside. Go on a walk with no direction. Don’t plan it. If you usually go on a walk, take a different route. You want to be surprised by your environment. Go for half an hour minimum. Music is okay, but sometimes it is nice to escape from music as well. The goal here is to think about people you are grateful for. Don’t just think about them, though. Think about how they make you feel. Try to feel the emotion. Keep thinking about them. Ask yourself “what can I be grateful for” in addition to people. I guarantee you, the more you ask this question to yourself, the more answers will pop in your head, and the more grateful you will feel (side thought – gratitude is the most powerful, filling emotion). Sometimes you will notice that you’re just simply grateful for the tree in front of you.
3. Clean your living space immediately
Your living space is usually a reflection of your mind right now. At least for me, whenever my room is trashed I always have a baseline anxiety. I feel like I’m physically lost in my thoughts. My room is very minimalist with decorations and furniture, so it is very easy to notice when it’s messy as opposed to crowded. Also, cleaning is always a momentum builder to do anything else productive or good for you for the day.
4. I love myself
This one is a little different. Stand in the mirror and repeat “I love myself” for a few minutes. If you’ve never done it (so 99% of you), do it. I know, I know it’s silly. But keep saying it. You start to feel different about yourself. You stop caring what people think and focusing more on yourself and doing what is good for you. Since doing this I have literally felt more in control of my life and have stopped listening so much to other people’s opinions (I’ve historically been a big people pleaser). After a minute of doing this, you literally have a higher opinion of yourself and feel more accepting of yourself.
I actually have a theory for this one. Everything, or at least most things we do is ultimately for self-love. I try to talk to and go on dates with girls on the streets here in the lovely city of Madrid. It’s something that scares me, but I do it because I want to expand my comfort zone. I want to expand my comfort zone because I want to be able to accept myself and think highly of myself. I essentially want to love myself. I think that everything we do in some way is related to this – this activity is simply a fast track to experiencing the same emotions that we want to feel the most.
5. Catch up with an old friend
Write an email, call, or facebook message someone that you haven’t spoken to in a long time that you used to be close to. If writing a message, write an exceptionally curious, long-winded message that the person is sure to be excited and surprised about when he or she opens it. Surprises in general add to the spice of life, and giving them is always more fun than receiving. Don’t get me wrong, this activity is nice to share, but for you it’s going to be purely selfish. I’ve already done this with about five people in the last week and every time I open my email to find messages from old college and high school friends, I smile. The trouble is responding to the emails of the emails…
6. Have sex
7. Watch yourself
When you are having troubling thoughts, pretend that you are your roommate or housemate. If you don’t have one, imagine that you do. Now imagine your thoughts from the perspective of this outside person. How does it feel? In my experience, I usually have more room to be critical and analytical of my thoughts. Are these thoughts ridiculous or far-fetched? Is what you are worrying about really that important? This distance allows you to create some perspective with your thoughts, even if it is imaginary, and helps you not get caught in the terrifying loop of anxiety, and then being anxious because of your anxiety, etc.
8. Buy a dog
This solves all of your problems at the cost of a few hundred dollars and some poop.
9. Do everything earlier
Waking up earlier to appreciate the morning sun, preferably in a tranquil way, is one of the most relaxing things of all. It’s cathartic and incredibly humbling at the same time. The sun gets up every morning. It is a true miracle that somehow, we are alive and get to experience anything that we experience. Including anxiety. It is a goddamn miracle. In fact, seeing the sunrise regularly can pique your curiosity for life, the universe, how things work, etc. Curiosity is one antidote to anxiety. Also, humans were meant to go to bed at dark. You’re probably going to bed too late. Go to bed earlier. Get up earlier. It’s good for you.
10. Get rid of wifi
For the past two years, the house and apartment that I have lived in haven’t had internet. I simply can’t browse the internet in my house. I know this is crazy. I know this will not work for a lot of people, but it has worked very, very well. People are more social when they come over. My roommates and I have become best friends each time. I read tons of books. Tons and tons of books. I sleep better. And I batch all of the work that requires me to use the internet for when I go to a library or a café. I forget what websites I used to spend hours looking at (besides quora and ESPNFC). I’ve become a much healthier consumer of all the information that is out there. By doing this, I feel I have also become a more curious person, and appreciate what is right in front of me. Maybe this, more than anything in the last few years, has been a keystone to my feeling great.
Some of these were general and some very personal. What I can say is that all have worked wonders for me. As a recap, though I’d like to highlight some themes. Firstly, curiosity, gratitude, and self-love kill anxiety. They annihilate that shit. Find ways to be more curious, grateful, and to love yourself everyday. Ask questions. Be shameless about asking questions. Ask how you can be more grateful. Ask how you can love yourself more. Get a dog. Have some sex.
And somewhere, deep in the void of despair, after lots of reading and sex and walks, an answer will come to you. And you’ll still always be a little anxious because you’re human. But your life will be full of meaning. You’ll wake up and wonder, “How the hell am I lucky enough to be alive?”