We live in a very demanding society. And if you struggle with anxiety, everyday can feel like a baptism of fire.
Some of us (erm, me very much included) get overstimulated very fast. I don’t want to speak for everyone but I know that it doesn’t take much to drain my emotional capacity and make me anxious. Give me a few hours at work being flooded with questions, rammed with social media ads telling me that I am not good enough, surrounded by peers that just seem to be owning every aspect of their life. Throw in a pinch of chores, a dash of life admin and a generous serving of personal problems and damn I got tired just writing that.
To cope with this, I have been experimenting with setting personal boundaries – and being aggressive about them too.
Identify your triggers & figure out ways of protecting yourself from them.
As someone recovering from an eating disorder, a BIG trigger for me is anything to do with food, diet and exercise. Social media is flooded with photos of food, the next health craze, and people showing off the hours they spent in the gym. And in real life too, everyone is always talking about their new low carb diet, running schedule, how ripped they are getting and this really hits me hard.
I have started clearing out my social media, taking some unwanted trash to the dump. Food accounts, health gurus and men’s health ads. I’ve even had to snooze some of my friends from my news feed as some of them are partial to the odd gym selfie.
I also try to mentally exit any conversation about food or exercise. Be this in the office, in social settings etc. I just retreat into my turtle shell and return when it’s all over.
Another thing that puts me on edge is digital communication. Being expected to be available at all times. There are several ways of being contacted – Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, email etc. It’s exhausting. And for years I have been my own worst enemy, trying my best to reply immediately and keep in contact with everyone at all times. This is an expectation I put on myself and a precedent that I’ve set.
Addressing the reply-on-demand dilemma is proving to be a bit trickier than I thought. Letting messages and emails just come through without acting on them has been really difficult. It’s weird to be honest, but that is what I am practising. If it’s urgent I will respond, if it isn’t I won’t.
Initially this heightened my anxiety even more – seeing all the unread messages in my inbox. But sort of like giving up smoking, the longer you let the urge hang, eventually dissipates.
Like I said, this is tricky and I often give in to the craving.
Sometimes something will come and smash into your sturdy little fort, and sometimes you will choose to take a few bricks off the tower. The balance is working out when to do that, who to do it for, and if the consequences are worth it. And that is a matter of trial and error.
But the first step is to identify your triggers. Start there and the rest will unfold.
My counselor said to me when leaving her practice after a session that this is my time. Its “Project Mike” time, and that is how I am seeing this. These boundaries are the tools needed to embark on Project Mike. And may I say, this is the most important project of my life. Give yourself the self-respect of allowing time, and putting up boundaries, to tackle your own project.