Many people are affected by anxiety. Most people prefer not to talk about it. The blog update below is based on a bout of anxiety that I experienced after several months of UK lockdown in 2020. I found that focussing directly on how I felt was enormously helpful for managing the disquieting feelings that I experienced.
I believe that coaching is about working with people’s feelings to help them achieve their full potential. The more open we can be about our feelings, the more we can experience life in all its richness. Using creativity in coaching can be a powerful way to transform ourselves in a way that allows us to live life to the full.
Take care and keep well.
I woke up today feeling anxious. Lying in bed under the warm duvet, becoming aware of the cold pale light of dawn, I felt like closing down. Money worries surfaced somewhere between my stomach and my solar plexus, and a feeling of despondency filled my chest and my throat. I felt like a field mouse waking up too early from its hibernation.
Monday morning is often a difficult time. I had felt these same anxieties many times when I was commuting up to London, but over the months of lockdown and Covid-19 I had unlearned some of these habits and patterns. Now they seemed to come back with a bite.
It felt like I had been kicked by a horse.
There is no easy way to deal with feelings of anxiety, but I have learned over the years not to ignore them. So rather than dismiss them, I lay in bed trying to engage with the complexity of what I was feeling.
What was it that I was experiencing? Fear? Resentment? It felt a bit like that. At times, I have felt almost paralysed by anxiety, as if I couldn’t move. But this was milder, a vague feeling that something awful was about to happen.
I scanned what the sources of my anxiety might be. They seemed to come mainly from the fact that I haven’t properly got my head around how much tax I will owe HMRC at the end of the year. That’s not uncommon: money worries are among the most common causes of anxiety. My mind immediately ran to imagining resolutions, ploughing through papers, spreadsheets, getting my head around cashflow, doing sums like a mental gymnast to tot up the worst case scenario. This was followed by a feeling of helpless regret, that I didn’t have the energy to do all this, and that I was somehow unable to cope.
I realised that this was a typical fight or flight pattern. The conscious mind starts to wrestle with the issue by latching on to potential solutions. And then it wants to run away. The urge to fight is followed by a sudden capitulation.
It was still before 7 am. I tried to let my mind go still and to feel the warmth and security of the bedroom, and to enjoy the fact that I was in the warm and outside it seemed cheerless and cold. Gradually I began to feel stronger.
After about half an hour, I felt a strong urge for coffee. My body felt energised by the thought, but as I threw off the covers, the energy drained away. The dullness in the room felt oppressive and unbearable. But then as I walked down the stairs, I could hear the cat miaowing angrily that it had been ignored, and my heart went out to this tetchy old soul, always so demanding, always so loud and insistent that it had not been given the food it wanted, that its bowl had not been refilled.
I made the coffee, put out the rubbish, and as I sat down, the cat hopped up and sat next to me as it always did. Maybe life was not so bad?
I expect that if you are reading this, and you have yourself been feeling anxious, that you may be ready at this stage for me to explain how you should handle the anxiety. But the reality is that I am still feeling anxious, and I don’t have any particular advice.
It is 9.15 a.m. and I am just starting to get to work for the week. I haven’t been generating much cash flow in recent months, but I am hoping to get some work in soon. I look down from the chalet office at the back of the garden, and the house makes me feel tender, but the lights are off in the bedrooms and I feel a pang that the kids are not at home with us. The trees and shrubs in the garden are all the colours of autumn, and the sun has just come out from behind a cloud and is throwing a pale yellow light on the leaves. It still looks cold and dreary, but the glint of sunlight lightens my mood.
In the course of writing the sentence above, my anxiety has shifted. I feel a momentary resolution, and a voice in my head says, Let’s get on with the day. I ponder this. Is it real, or is it just my mind telling me to put on a brave face? Will this more positive feeling last, or will it disappear by the time I reach the full stop at the end of this sentence?
(I note with mild amusement that the sentence has ended with a question-mark rather than a full stop. My inner voice says, I guess that’s life!)
So now I wonder why I am writing this? I’m sorry I don’t have any answers. I still feel anxious, and part of me just wants to share that.
I feel people don’t talk enough about how they are feeling. I am sure that many people start their weeks with these feelings. Most of the time, I put them behind me, I focus on the coffee, or on planning the day, or having a shower. I expect many people do the same thing. But today, I wanted to explore the feeling a bit more. Has this helped? I think so. A little bit.
When I return from the house with a cup of coffee, I can hear the bin men and the wail of the rubbish truck. I reflect back on this odd stream of conscious piece I have just written. My wife has just noted happily that the sun is out again., and the garden looks quite different now. I recall the line in a poem, All things are a flowing, Heraclitus says. It reminds me that my anxiety will pass.
I have an urge to end this piece with the line “the sound of the rubbish truck faded”. But in fact, the sound is still there, its rising and falling making me think of someone breathing.