How I deal with anxiety

Hi to everyone reading, whether you’re in lockdown like me, or somewhere else like LA or London, enjoying live music again (jealous!).

This is the first of what I’m calling IMAIL (which is either pronounced Im-mail or just I-mail, who knows really) and it’s going to be a little letter from me every fortnight, a way to delve into some topics and answer questions some of you have asked me on Instagram and Twitter that I feel like need a little more space to unpack.

I’ve been sitting at home for two months in lockdown, when I should have been on the road playing the songs from my new EP Bastards for you with my band. Instead, the tour has been pushed back to November, and I’ve been hit with heaps of anxiety – about the future of music in this country, if I’ll ever play again, how I’m going to earn money, the case numbers and people struggling to secure vaccine appointments, etc. I know many of you are dealing with your own anxieties, and I thought it would be helpful to share my tips for pushing back against those feelings.

When I was a teenager, I heard the song Overkill by Men At Work for the first time. “Day after day, it reappears. Night after night, my heartbeat shows the fear…” Every lyric in that song resonated deeply with me and that was the first time I realised that maybe what I was feeling on a daily basis – fast beating heart, shaking hands, sleepless nights, that sense of impending doom – perhaps wasn’t something everybody experienced. Perhaps it was an anxiety disorder.

In primary school, if my parents went to the shops and didn’t return exactly when they said they would, I would immediately convince myself they had died in some terrible car accident. Later, I started to feel this same oppressive stress about my career and relationships. The best way I can describe it is that I feel like I am living inside a tragedy waiting to happen, either by my own mistakes or by some accident beyond my control. I am no trained professional, but I have lived with this disorder all my life, and if you have too, perhaps I can offer a few ideas for coping mechanisms. You’ll never fully be rid of your anxiety, but it’s about finding a way to live alongside it; controlling it rather than letting it control you.

1) Fresh air, sun and exercise.
You’ve heard this a million times, but these three things make the biggest difference. I understand lockdown can make all of the above hard, but as much as is possible and safe, you should be spending at least half an hour outside every day, breathing fresh air and getting some sun on your skin. An exercise regimen is one of the best ways to battle anxiety because it rids your body of your anxious energy. If I read this advice from myself even as recently as 4 or 5 years ago, I would have scoffed. I hated exercise and thought I’d never be able to run for more than 100 metres. You can do this. Start simple – a timed jog for 5 minutes. Do that every day for a week, then the following week bump it up to 7 minutes, then 9 minutes, and so on. I worked my way up gradually until now I run for 20-30 minutes most days, and it makes the most incredible difference to my anxiety.

2) Limit social media.
If social media is not a necessity for your work life, take a break. Disable your accounts, delete the apps off your phone and give yourself some time in the real world where you’re not tempted to compare your happiness, looks or successes to anyone else’s. If you’re like me, you might need to use social media for your business. If this is the case, turn notifications off, and only go on to post and reply to what you need to address, then get off. No doom-scrolling.

3) As they like to say in my favourite podcast My Favourite Murder, “If you can’t make your own serotonin, store bought is fine”.

There’s nothing wrong with medication. It doesn’t make you weak, it just means you’re managing a chemical imbalance in your brain. In 2016, my anxiety got so bad that I was having trouble eating. I felt nauseous after two bites of any meal, so I started losing weight and losing strength in my immune system. I got sick every couple of months, which was a pain in the ass for a touring musician. My doctor suggested I go on anti-anxiety medication. After a couple of days of mild side effects, my appetite returned and I felt like I was in a much better frame of mind to tackle the habitual thinking side of my anxiety. I think mental health can be a two-pronged approach, which brings me to my next point…

4) Therapy!
Yay! Most people I know are either in therapy, or they really should be. Therapy is about learning how your brain works, how your thinking patterns formed in the first place and how to work towards changing them. Talking to your friends is great, but they’re generally not trained professionals, and sometimes we all need to understand that our friends have their own problems and can’t always be available for us to complain to.

5) Create space to give a fuck about only important stuff.

Who’s read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck? There’s a reason this book is so popular and I highly recommend it for anxiety sufferers. We only have so many fucks to give and when we waste them on stuff that isn’t actually important to us, we’re limiting the fucks we have to give about things we truly do care about. Have I said fuck enough? Great, moving on…

6) Practise gratitude and selflessness.
These two things are the enemies of anxiety and depression. Before going to sleep, I like to lie in bed for 5-10 minutes making mental lists of the people and things for which I’m grateful. I also like to check that I’ve done something good for someone else lately. We all get caught up in our own stuff. But whether it’s sending flowers to a friend in lockdown, posting them a care package, or just checking in with them to make sure they’re doing okay, all of these things are not only wonderful for the other person, but also helpful in distracting from our own struggles by lending a hand in someone else’s. 

I know none of these ideas are ground-breaking or new, but that’s because they all work. These last few months I’ve been struggling harder with my mental health than I ever have before, feeling both anxiety and depression take the wheel. Whatever you’re feeling right now, try to acknowledge it, let it exist and remember that it’s normal. This will end, and there’s joy on the other side. I’ll see you there…

While I was heartbroken to have to postpone my Bastards Tour, I’m equally excited to announce the new dates for November:
Nov 18 – Newcastle
Nov 21 – Sydney
Nov 27 – Melbourne

Tickets can be found at my[website],and your tickets for the old dates are still valid (or refunds provided if you can’t make the new dates). I cannot WAIT to see you!

Thank you for reading, and I love you,
IC x