How to calm the anxiety monster inside your chest...

By Nikki Michelsen

Oct 3, 2022

How to calm the anxiety monster inside your chest...
At ohne we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can promote aspects of wellness that don’t hurt. Physical wellness recommendations that don’t have a dark underbelly of diet culture; lifestyle tips that don’t shame different choices; and honest stories of our own lives and routines that don’t come across as preaching or, worse, instructions.
We know ‘wellness’ gets a bad rep somethings, for all the reasons stated above, so you can use different words if they sit better with you. But we’ll never shy away from promoting feeling good, being gentle with your body and your mind, and taking care of yourself – which is what 'wellness' means to us. And these things are valuable, worthy, and essential priorities. Always, but especially right now. You probably don’t need me to tell you that anxiety is probably the biggest thing we all have in common right now. Or that it’s physical, emotional, and mental effects can be wide-reaching and different for everyone.
I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist and I’m not a psychologist. I’m just a person who writes a lot about periods and bodies and wellness and is muddling through these wild and unpredictable times as best I can. Just like you are, I imagine. And I don’t want any of us to be suffering more than can be helped right now. So I thought I’d put together a little list of the things that have helped my body and mind feel ‘well’, even in these bizarre and trying times, and you can identify and share the things that make you feel good. And, together, we’ll cobble together a series of coping mechanisms that will carry us through til the doors to the world are flung open for us once again. Deal?
Oh, and in case you’re as bored as I am of reading advice that tells me to go to bed earlier and eat healthier… this list will not include ‘tips’ related to: sleep, diet, exercise, or experiencing nature. These things are likely far beyond your control, at least for right now, and frankly, worrying about these things on top of everything else we’re worrying about is probably the last thing we need.
Become obsessed with something wholesome.
If you spend any time online, you’ll probably have noticed almost everyone else has become obsessed with one of two things: their sourdough starters or TikTok. I’ve become utterly obsessed with my plants – propagating them and watching the little guys grow roots is probably the primary thing keeping me going right now. If you have even one plant friend, I highly recommend this. See also puzzles, ‘pub’ quizzes (which can be held in your living room or over Zoom/Houseparty!), and crocheting. My sister is making daily videos of herself dancing in a dinosaur costume and it’s the single funniest thing on Instagram, in my opinion. To each their own, yadda yadda.
Moving your body is so important!
I know, I know I said this wasn’t going to be about exercise – and it’s not. I really don’t care if you do a daily HIIT workout or do 20 star jumps before collapsing on the sofa – just shake out your limbs. Stretch a bit when you get out of bed. Jump on the spot for a few seconds every time Netflix asks ‘are you still there?’ And for the love of everything good that is left in the world, put on your fave tunes every once in a while and have a good ol’ dance. Obligatory ohne playlist plug.
Keep an eye on the media you’re consuming…
I reached breaking point last week and just couldn’t take in any more bad news – I’d feel faintly ill after going on Twitter, I didn’t want to watch any of the shows we had on the go, and I rejected the news cycle to the point that I got mad at my boyfriend for updating me on COVID-19 statistics because I just couldn’t bear to hear one more painful thing.
Then I realised all the shows we’d been watching were either physically and sexually violent, psychological thrillers, or documentaries about how EVERYTHING IS BAD EVERYWHERE. I’m not a big fan of violent thrillers at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic when what we’re all in need of is things that make everything feel a little lighter and brighter. Of course I’m upset about the state of the world, life, and everyone who is suffering. But heaping more ugliness on top of that? Extremely unhelpful and counterproductive to the goal of ‘feeling at least a little bit of joy daily’. The same goes for following those accounts that make you feel bad about your body/life/job – you don’t need them at the best of times, but their damaging effect on you is going to be felt so much more keenly without the balancing effects of everything else that usually makes you happy.
…and surround yourself with things that make you smile.
So how did I deal with the misery mess I’d made of my days? I refused to watch another episode of The Sinner (I know it’s good, I don’t care) and insisted my flatmates start watching Pose with me (highly-fucking recommend this gem of a show). I also created a new Instagram account where I only follow interior design and plant-care accounts and when I’m in the mood to mindlessly scroll I try to go on that more than my main account (and definitely more than the hellscape that is Twitter). I also told my boyfriend not to give me any stats without warning me first, so I can opt in or out of hearing about them depending on how I’m feeling.
Follow a bunch of accounts (on your social media of choice) that only post pictures of beautiful sunsets or delicious curries or tie-dyed fabric, if that’s your jam. Don’t watch that film or show that you’re having a visceral, negative reaction to. Re-read your favourite book and take a break from the news if that’s what you need. It’s okay to not engage with absolutely everything, all of the time. You don’t owe anyone or anything your attention right now and you certainly don’t owe them your pain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misdirecting their own feelings of anxiety and overwhelm.
Here’s the part where you take over:
I want you to create some rituals for yourself. They will vary depending on what you’re passionate about, what kind of person you are, and what kind of schedule you have, but the basic tenets of this is the same: you’re creating a list of activities, practises, or pockets of time that you will prioritise, every day. Yes, you have responsibilities and demands on your time , but you – your body, mental health, and general feelings of joy/lack thereof – are your responsibility too.
Grab and pen and paper. I’ll accept your phone notes but, for me, something about actively handwriting stuff like this makes it feel more deliberate and intentional.
Now, think about what makes you feel full. Not what distracts you or amuses you for an hour, like your favourite show on Netflix or scrolling through meme accounts on Instagram. Things that bring you back to some essential part of yourself, things that make you feel simply and purely good, things that make you feel a little more kindly towards yourself or your surroundings. For some people, this could be meditation. For others, a long hot bath, working out, reading history books, drawing, knitting, doing crossword puzzles – you name it.
Write a list of as many of these things, both big and small, as you can think of. Here are some of mine:
  • Writing in my journal
  • Cooking with my favourite podcasts playing
  • Bodyweight workouts with lots of feel-good stretches in between
  • Reading a book that genuinely absorbs me (not because I think it’s something I ‘should’ read – once an English student, always an English student)
  • learning how to make macramé planters and cushion covers from youtube tutorials
  • Making my bed
  • Giving myself stick-and-poke tattoos (yes, I’m aware this one is a massive curve-ball)
  • Meditating or just sitting quietly with my face in the sunshine for a few minutes
Making my bed is not an action that feels amazing while doing it – but it is absolutely essential to my sense of calm in my small apartment – if the bed isn’t made, the whole place feels messy and disorganised to me. Writing, on the other hand, is something that does bring me back to some essential part of myself and something I want to get back into the habit of doing every day. Reading and cooking have a similar meditative, calming effect on me. Meditation and working out, on the other hand, are not activities I need to do everyday but are things I want to do a couple times a week each but, crucially, am not allowed to beat myself up for not doing. And, while I can’t dictate whether the sun will be out for ten minutes a day, I can make it a priority to stick my face in it whenever it does peek through the clouds.
If you’re like me, you might be more motivated to do them by writing a little checklist for yourself. How often do you want to do each activity for? How frequently? E.g. if you're an artist, you might want to make sure you’re spending at least 30 mins a session on a painting rather than dabbing your brush over the canvas a few times just so you can ‘check off’ the task. Maybe you just love bubble baths – what’s stopping you from taking one every damn day? Maybe you want to cook something new once a week or reserve time on a friday afternoon for a long nap – literally anything that makes you feel good and forces you to be kind to yourself counts here.
Even if a checklist isn’t for you, write down the list, and keep it somewhere you’ll see it often. Remind yourself that the items on this list are as essential, if not more, than the items on your work-to-do list or the household chores peeling up around you.
What things make you feel like you, comfortable being in your head? What things make your space feel more comfortable for you to exist in? What things make you feel healthy and comfortable in your body? Do them. Prioritise them. You have permission. 
Bella x
Image credit Maria Orlova from Pexels