I’m anxious. We’re all anxious. Headlines this week declared we’re in the middle of an epidemic of the cursed condition. Women, in particular, are overwhelmed by anxiety. Scientists hypothesise that this might be to do with female brain chemistry. Men, it seems, just don’t suffer from it to the same extent.
Too right they don’t. Any woman who has lain awake, mind whirring, next to a blithely snoring spouse at 3 am, will testify to that. Mr Mutton announced many years ago that his practice is to stop worrying about anything after 10pm, “because after that you can’t do anything about it until morning anyway”. If only he would share his secret, there’s a whole population of worry warts who would love to learn – one of them, by the way, lying right next to him.
The older I get, the more prey I am to horrible, occasionally debilitating anxiety. It happens at night, when I am often awoken by sleep wrecking goblins grinning from the end of the bed. During the day any slight mishap can send my mind hurtling to some doomsday scenario. I live in a state of constant fire drill, ears pricked like a dog at a door bell.
There are, of course, plenty of actual reasons why a woman in her 50s might feel anxious. Here are some things which cause me anxiety. My kids. Their employment prospects. My husband’s health. My health. My job. Getting older. My pension. My parents’ declining health. Global warming. My lack of exercise. The NHS. What I eat. Whether what I said to X could be read the wrong way. What I shouldn’t eat. Why so and so sent me that email. That I don’t see my friends. That I don’t have any friends. My employment prospects. Drinking. Sugar. How much I spend. My encounter with that bad tempered GP. Holidays. My kids travelling. Money. My kids’ whereabouts whenever they’re back home and not under my roof. Donald Trump. And did I mention my kids?
I have never exactly been PollyAnna, but now I’m almost full on Cassandra. It began when my kids were small and precarious and I was terrified of them coming to harm. Then I used to allow myself to imagine the worst case as a way of tricking the cosmos by spoiling any dastardly plans it might have. (Haha. Thought of that. You don’t get me that way.) Now it seems to have become a habit. I’ve turned into Woody Allen and it isn’t even funny.
Even when all the trajectories on my maternal air traffic control screen are just as they should be, no collisions likely, my anxiety levels remain worryingly high (Another darn thing – I worry I’m growing a tumour from all this worry). Why? Is it a menopause thing? A mum thing? A middle-aged thing?
Most mornings I wake up to the Today Programme and a feeling of creeping dread. In that frame of mind, even the smallest mishaps assumes gigantic proportions. An unexpected phone call or a text? It’s like a stab in the chest. Sound the alarm! There’s a tsunami of panic about to land. Something terrible is going to happen! Get onto it Mrs Mutton! Save us all!
It doesn’t half mess with your day, waking up like this. I know from casual conversations with my friends that I’m not the only one that feels these things. And, oh how I wish I could tell you how to avoid them. Fact is I’m just figuring it out myself. There are some things I’ve discovered that help.
Let’s not get carried away here. Unless you’re in an actual ashram when you probably aren’t beset by nameless anxieties anyway, this won’t help if you’re in a complete blue funk.
Use it as a precaution rather than a cure. I use Headspace (I downloaded the app). “Andy” (yes, on first name terms, we are) the bloke who talks you through the meditation has a new agey, calm voice, just the right side of creepy. I find this reassuring and 10 minutes of deep breathing is often enough to bring me back to normality. Breathe is another good app but the voice is a bit robotic and American for times when I feel like screaming with panic.
I am definitely calmer in every way when I’m exercising regularly. Physical exhaustion seems to counteract mental angst. That said, if my thoughts are racing, I can’t rely on myself to get out the door. That’s where classes help me calm the f down. I like the classes at Frame – dance cardio with Lisanne at Kings Cross on Friday lunchtime is a great way to start the weekend. Boxing – that works off the excess anxiety and tones you up like nothing else. And the rhythm of a good, long walk deadens the drumming of almost any demon.
Drink in Moderation
It pains me to say it since I am a complete booze hound, but my mornings start better without too much wine the night before. More than two glasses and I notice the difference to my anxiety level. Seems like that creeping dread feeds on grapes.
Drugs can Help
I mean the prescription kind. They do help. If you feel your level of anxiety is getting in the way of your lovely, happy life, please don’t be brave. You don’t have to take medicine forever, but it may help you over a hump until you can regain your perspective.
Sometimes you need something distracting. Some dance. Some do crafts. I do jigsaws. Not very rock and roll but there you are.
Find a Dog to Love
I love dogs. My happiest times in life have either been with my children or dogs. I don’t have a dog in my life at the moment since Kit the little rescue terrier cross took to biting everyone out of the blue. (We’re not talking just a nip, we’re talking “I think you may need stitches, let’s go to A&E”).
It made me sadder than anything when we had to part ways because when he wasn’t biting he was a little furry firework of happiness. (Kit, by the way, is happily living in the kindest kennels in the world who are working on his issues and nothing bad will happen to him. Turns out he had separation and resource guarding anxiety. So even my DOG was anxious.) If you can’t commit to a hound yourself, try Borrow my doggy, a network which matches busy dog owners and eager dog walkers. Or a kitten. No one can be anxious with a kitten in the house.
Don’t Forget your Friends
I realised a while ago that child rearing and an international job had cut a swathe through my social life and decimated the number of people I saw. All my life I realised, I had come to rely on a more or less permanent group of other women – at school, at college, at work, at the NCT, at the school gate friends. Suddenly that had all but gone. I’d taken it for granted and thought it would still be there when I looked round, but it wasn’t. That’s why I started the Mrs Mutton Salons – because I don’t see enough of my friends. Another thing to worry about.