make, move, read, do: coping with anxiety

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Because I’ve seen articles about pastors and counselors and therapists seeing the same in the people they care for, I feel pretty confident in saying that I’m not the only person feeling anxious as all get-out lately. I had anxiety before it seemed our country went to hell in a handbasket, and it feels like every day there’s a new reason to protest, be outraged, be worried. Advice to unplug from the news may be well-meaning, but it doesn’t really suit my personality. I’d feel even more panicked if I didn’t know what was going on. Still, I probably could do better with my time than spend hours a day reading articles online and freaking out.

So. Since I’m freaking out and you’re probably freaking out, we need some coping strategies.

First of all: I take medicine. I make no secret of the fact that I take anxiety medication, and it helps me function. Before I took medicine, my face and neck and back hurt constantly from being perpetually tense, I had trouble sleeping, I ground my teeth when I did sleep, I was constantly one tiny trigger away from a rage or crying outburst, and I was having panic attacks. Most of that I don’t have to deal with anymore since I take medication.

Now my new thing seems to be avoidance. I do not feel like doing anything. Sleeping. Checking my voicemail. Doing much of anything. I just feel overwhelmed. All the time. And my sleep has been out of whack– I’m in a vicious cycle of sleeplessness, exhaustion, and afternoon napping.

My new strategy? Make. Move. Read. Do.

Make means exercising my creativity. This means writing, sewing, cooking, hand-lettering, and painting for me. It turns out finding time to be creative every day really does make you happier. And it doesn’t have to be a great work of art. I remember hearing Mary Steenburgen speak in college. She talked about creativity, and how when we’re kids we’re dancers, singers, painters, artists, but at some point, we let those creative outlets go, often because we decide we aren’t “good” enough to keep at it. But the point isn’t the product, it’s the producing. I find especially that something that allows my hands to be busy and my rational brain to take a break can refresh and relax me. Some creative pursuits I’ve been up to lately: sewing rainbow felt banners for the girls’ upcoming birthday, watercolor painting, hand lettering, and making complicated food like homemade pasta while sipping wine and listening to music.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Move means literally moving my body, preferably outside in the sunshine. I am not naturally a “move” kind of person. I have observed that my new city of Denver is an outdoorsy place. When people ask you what you “do,” they often mean “outside for fun” not “professionally.” All of my favorite things happen inside. I’m outdoorsy in that I like drinking on patios. However, as we all earned from Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” They also tend not to feel like they’re flipping out all the time. Now, I’m not suddenly going all outdoorsy, but I’ve taken THREE WALKS OUTSIDE WITH MY DOG lately, and I admit they make me feel better. Usually I listen to a podcast that calms and interests me (Fresh Air, On Being, and the Robcast are my favorites). Also, I read somewhere that having an anxious mind is like having a border collie puppy: you have to give it something to do, or it will find something, and you probably won’t like what it finds. I’ve got anxiety AND a border collie mix, so the walks are good for both of us.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

Walks with my dog also give me the opportunity to see cool signs like this.

Read means the news, yes, to stay informed, but it also means reading actual books. Right now I’m re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and making a point to read and post a poem a day by a Black poet for Black History Month (check out my Facebook Page to see today’s poem). Note: I do not watch television news. Television news makes me more anxious and panicky. Even listening to NPR news can make me feel like the world is closing in. I follow a lot of writers I trust on Twitter, so I get a lot of the articles I read there, and I’m a New York Times subscriber. I try to stick to sites like The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, etc. and avoid things that overly stress me out. And then I need to also make a point to walk away from news and the internet and just read stuff that feeds my mind and soul.

Do means taking action on behalf of what I believe in. Ideally all that reading will give me one thing per day that is a tangible thing I can do to let my voice be heard and try to resist the Trump administration. This may be calling my Senators and Representative, attending a protest or rally, sending a postcard or email, going to an event where I learn about an issue, or donating money or time to a cause I believe in. I can’t do All The Things, but I can do one thing per day to resist and persist.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era | erniebufflo.com

That’s my coping strategy. Are you doing anything to cope with Trump administration anxiety? What’s working for you?

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3 thoughts on “make, move, read, do: coping with anxiety

  1. This is a fantastic post with a lot of important advice, so thank you.

    I do, however, want to vouch for taking small breaks from the news – speaking as someone with anxiety who is standardly plugged in 24/7, has been involved in grassroots organizing for years (which, if nothing else, teaches you to politically labor without sleep for months on end), and would have up until recently offered a very similar response.

    I’m pretty secularly-liberal Jewish which that, while I find meaning in my cultural and faith traditions, I would never claim strict adherence to halacha or Jewish law. Yet, for the past few weeks, I have made a commitment to not checking the news from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday as my own way to observe Shabbat. It drove me up a wall initially, but has sprouted deep rewards for my wellbeing and has now become the part of the week that I most look forward to (connecting me to a faith tradition in a way I hadn’t been before along the way). I feel more connected with people, energetic, and stable.

    And you know what? While my family and friends have permission to disrupt this practice if there is a need such as an emergency protest (which is what the Torah instructs us to do regardless – breaking almost any Jewish law can be forgiven and in fact obligated if it is needed to save a life), my taking a rest from the news hasn’t reduced my ability to morally and politically respond. If anything, it has aided it. Sometimes, that means I’ll come back from a “break” to find out something terrible – like a synagogue in Chicago being defaced with swastikas – but I am able to approach those moments in new ways.

    We’re reading through Exodus right now. It strikes me that, once the Israelites were on the other side of the sea, one of the first things God commanded them to do – after collecting food for their people – was to rest. Not because their survival was no longer threatened, but because that freedom to rest, even in the midst of the wilderness, was such an intrinsic part of creation and to let the oppressor take that if at all possible to preserve it was a deep human harm.

    Regardless, I’m obviously not suggesting that everyone ought to begin observing Shabbat (!) or to invalidate another perspective, as everyone must do what works for them, but I wanted to (and hope it’s ok that I did) share how my perspective on rest has changed since the election. Because if you had told me a month ago that I would be telling you any of these things I would have called it absurd.

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    • Thank you for this lovely, thoughtful comment. I’ll admit, I’ve felt my heart pulled to Sabbath ideas for a while now. I could maybe be convinced that it would be good for my mental/spiritual/family health if I spent one day per week unplugged. So annoying how God keeps knowing what’s best!

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      • Shelly Miller has a great book called Rhythms of Rest which I would recommend on this subject- also she sends weekly newsletters from her blog. I need to employ most of these ideas to keep sane as a mama never mind any of the political crazy!

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