I’m feeling a bit anxious today, for a variety of reasons — not least of which is that my parents are in a tizz about my mother’s bookclub and not being able to serve her guests tea since the kettle is broken. My father is dispatched to the local store to buy a new kettle and to prove my mother wrong when she says that he is “totally useless”. I hate being put in a position to have to defend my dad. “No, he’s not useless,” I say. “He’s just a bit slow sometimes.” That makes him sound like he has a learning disability or that he’s an old dog who doesn’t learn new tricks (such as springing into action the moment my mother clicks her fingers).
So I decide to turn to the Internet to soothe my anxiety. My usual strategy is to drink some tea, glance through the papers, catch up on some emails and then get down to work. But this morning, making tea would mean running the gauntlet of bookclub introductions. I can sense the trill of nervous laughter from this distance – and the joys of caffeine are not worth it.
So I turn to the Internet instead. Calling up Google, I type in the phrase, “how to soothe yourself”. I’m delighted to find that the very first site is called “soothingyourself.com” but my joy dissipates a little when I find that the trick to self-soothing is to buy various products: “Soothing Chamomile Cleanser, Soothing Apricot Toner, After Sun Soothing Milk, Skin Rescue Oil, Organic Face Cream, Acne Skin Care Remedies” and so on. Maybe there’s a gripping book on the subject. I find “The Worrywart’s Companion: Twenty-One Ways to Soothe Yourself and Worry Smart” by Dr Beverly Potter. The blurb is upbeat:
Brimming with practical ideas you can try today, The Worrywart’s Companion includes twenty-one simple things you can do when you feel a worry coming on. Instead of worrying yourself sick, The Worrywart’s Companion shows how to soothe yourself so that you can think more clearly, deal with the worry at hand, and then let it go. Positive, easy to understand, and fun to read, this revolutionary little book explores the roots of worry and explains that worry is a behaviour that is learned. The good news is that it can also be unlearned.
Of course. Good old CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). Thanks to Amazon I can read inside the book and discover what these worry-tackling strategies might be. Here they are:
1. Evaluate the cost of the worry. 2. Take a deep breath. 3. Relax your muscles. 4. Distract yourself. 5. Take a walk. 6. Smile and laugh. 7. Say a little prayer. 8. Find the Joy. 9. Avoid drinking coffee. 10. Change should to preferences. 11. Count worry beads. 12. Eat a sweet. 13. Take a warm bath. 14. Imagine a happy ending. 15. Do a good deed. 16. Joke about the worry. 17. Rock yourself. 18. Count your blessings. 19. Make a list. 20. Practice under-reacting. 21. Watch a funny movie.
Now I don’t know about you but I feel like saying a little prayer for the joys of the Internet while counting my blessings (and my worry beads), avoiding drinking coffee and doing some smiling and laughing – not to mention some self-rocking. Actually there’s a whole string of active verbs here which are quite helpful: evaluating, breathing, relaxing, distracting, walking, smiling, laughing, praying, finding joy, drinking (and not drinking), changing thoughts, counting, eating, bathing, imagining, doing good deeds, joking, rocking, counting again, list-making, practising, under-reacting and watching.
Now I think these strategies will definitely make a difference, and they certainly made me laugh, but I find them limiting. It’s as if the answer is to try and avoid thinking too much about what caused the worry in the first place because thinking is associated with anxiety, which is pretty uncomfortable. A few weeks ago I blogged about Robet Gurzon’s take on anxiety. He distinguishes between three types of anxiety: natural anxiety, toxic anxiety and sacred anxiety. It helps to know that anxiety is a normal (and important) part of life but that the fear of anxiety itself (so-called toxic anxiety) is the problem here. Gurzon talks about unravelling the knot of anxiety, so that we can use anxiety as a tool for personal growth.
So I hope that Dr Potter won’t mind too much that one of my good deeds for the day was to share her tips (and a critique thereof) with a small corner of the blogosphere. The happy ending I’m imaging is that the bookclubbers leave enough cake for me to enjoy with my now introduction-free tea. I’ll spare you the self-analysis of the causes of anxiety. But I think the Friday fessing (or lack thereof) is reminding me that I’m a bit behind on my writing quotient for this week. Enjoy the weekend.