“I’m in a zen bubble,” I tell housemate over drinks in our local pub. “If anyone destroys my zen bubble, I will end them.”
Housemate laughs and takes a swig from her bottle of IPA. “I am so zen. Nothing will now pop my bubble. Nothing.”
“Imagine a force-field,” I gesticulate at the space around me. “That is my zen bubble. No-one is to enter this area.”
You shall not fucking pass.
Its Bank Holiday Sunday and we’ve decided to peel off the pyjamas and head out for a few drinks so we feel like we’re ‘making the most of the long weekend.’ We buy each other drinks, choose songs on the jukebox – Kate Bush, Al Green and The Eagles. There’s no Prince which pisses us off because we wanted to sing Raspberry Beret to each other. We boost each other up for the week ahead. We’re both waiting on things, you see. Big things. We’re both waiting on change.
Perhaps it’s the “age we’re at” (thirties) where things just stop being simple: your body stops bouncing back quickly, hangovers are debilitating, and you just expect a little bit more from your life. Careers, relationships, adventures. Just something else.
That’s where zen comes into play.
Now, I’m not talking about joining a cult, moving your furniture around your house to help the ‘flow of energy,’ or advocating sitting in a forest and meditating naked (although if this helps, go for it). To me, the art of zen is more an attitude. It’s not about giving zero fucks – because that would be nonchalance or defeat – its more an act of self-care, of sticking two fingers up at the world around you and saying ‘please take your negativity elsewhere.’
When my anxiety reared its head again at the beginning of this year, I felt defeated. I’d worked pretty hard at building myself up and getting strong, and I was disappointed that when one of life’s little challenges was thrown at me like a snowball with a stone in the middle, I went down like a sack of spuds. 2015 had been a great year for me – I’d started taking my writing seriously, travelled alone, and gained confidence, so when I felt myself slipping back into that weird headspace where things seem a little fuzzy around the edges, I’d armed myself with things I knew would help.
I became Zen.
An Anxious Girl’s Guide to The Art of Zen
Spend time with people who love you. This might seem like the most obvious suggestion in the world but when we feel a bit lost, the last thing we want to do is bring those around us down. I spent a few weeks rejecting the company of others – invites, nights out, drinks with friends – because I wanted to be alone. I wanted to wallow. I am lucky that I live with housemate who is incredibly no nonsense. I started off with work commitments – reviews I’d committed to, articles I wanted to write, my day job – and then long phone calls with friends, nights out, even a holiday. All these little things, all these little conversations with the people that care help to buoy you. Your mind stops being less blurred, your heart no longer feels like it’s going to burst out your chest and the warm fuzzies take over. You realise that you’re not alone.
Do things you enjoy. We never really think about all the little things we love to do and how great they actually are for us. For housemate, it’s a long, scaldy-hot shower. For me, it’s a luxurious bath and a good book. Or a good hour spent writing. We never really think about “self-care” or if we do, we think about it as being a little selfish or even lazy. Like watching films? Take yourself to the cinema. Love reading? Spend an afternoon with a good book. Like a pamper? Paint your nails. Make a mug of your favourite tea. Spend the evening cooking a new recipe. Stick on a face pack. Walk the dog. Get a haircut. Buy a new outfit. Paint. Hike. Call your mum.
Get Creative. I am a huge over thinker. I delve deep into situations. Most people don’t realise this when they first meet me, I keep it hidden like a diary in my knicker drawer. I worry about what people think of me, whether they think I’m an idiot when I speak, when I write. I don’t worry about the everyday. I’m pretty spontaneous and happy to go-with-the-flow. But I certainly think “too much.” Overtime I’ve come to accept that part of myself and I actually like to think it’s a strong aspect of my personality. Its why I blog, why I write, why I like stories. One of the best outlets for anxiety – or general worries – is creativity. Whether you paint, write, sketch, make jewellery, take photographs, these are all excellent tools to help you make sense of how you feel and what’s going on around you.
Eat Well. Again. Another no brainer. But you’ll be surprised by how much better you feel with a healthy diet. Take a little time to think about what you’re putting in your body. Drink seventeen cups of tea a day? Think of the caffeine intake. Have takeaways three times a week? Think of all those weird e-numbers you’re shovelling in. Eat well. Make food from scratch. Enjoy cooking. Eat fresh fruit and veg. Give yourself treats – a cake, a burger, a bar of chocolate, a bag of crisps – but don’t have them every day. Just making simple changes can really alter how you feel.
Drink less. Sleep more. It’s no secret that I like a drink. When I was living in London, I could mainline wine every night of the week with friends. It took travelling –being broke and having to get up at the crack of dawn – to alter my drinking habits. I rarely drink in the week – unless I’m out with friends, or I really want to treat myself to a nice glass of red – but I don’t berate myself for getting sloshed at the weekends if I fancy it. But sometimes saying no to that last glass of wine and getting some kip is a far better idea. You’ll feel so much better for it in the morning. Make booze a treat, not a crutch.
Have a Kitchen Disco. My friend, Alex, and I coined this term when we were living in Manchester together in 2012. Fresh out of break-ups, we’d bonded over the need to have a housemate, our similar backgrounds and sense of humour, plus a desire for a fresh start. One of the things we loved to do in the early months of our new found friendship was to cook elaborate dinners and have kitchen discos with the cat. We’d take it in turns choosing songs, make up ridiculous dance routines and laugh so hard. It’s something we still do now, four years into our friendship, when we feel the need for perking up. Kitchen Disco is the bringer of so much joy. Crank that iPod up!
Fill Your Social Calendar. When you’re anxious or a little down, the last thing you really want to do is socialise, but don’t give in to the negative thoughts. By all means, take time for yourself – this is hugely important – but also start to think about filling your diary with fun activities with people who make you smile, or events you are really interested in. Go to a book launch. Attend a lecture on something you’ve always wanted to know more about. Visit the theatre. Go for dinner with friends. Look around the place you live and seek out new activities. Get dressed up and go on a date.
Meditate. Now I don’t necessarily mean closing your eyes, adopting a cross-legged pose and saying “om,” while trying not to choke on a waft of incense, rather I mean take time in the day to just be. Close your eyes. Take a walk. Listen to the sounds you can hear. Clear your mind. Declutter. Block out the white noise.
Have A Little Humour. As cheesy as it sounds, laughter really is the best medicine. I have a pretty sarcastic/dark sense of humour so I’m a huge fan of making jokes in negative situations. It’s the sarcastic British girl in me. Once you can learn to laugh at something, and laugh at yourself, things often seem a little less scary.
Change Your Attitude. Pessimism is a default setting for many of us. I try and reject this as often I can. You’ll soon find that just by simply altering your perspective regarding a situation, you’ll feel a little lighter.
And lastly…Eat cheesy snacks. They ALWAYS make me feel better.
Have you adopted something similar to the art of Zen? How do you perk yourself up when you’re feeling down? Do you think rejecting negativity is helpful? Are you an anxious person with tips to share? Spill your coping strategies below!