Stop Ruminating

I think one of the most stark lessons we have all learned in the past year is just how much anxiety we’re all carrying around with us all the time.

Under the cover of normal life, it’s easy to ignore: you plaster over the gnawing sense of discontent and dis-ease with long days in the office, drinks with your friends, a disciplined gym regimen, and movies and day trips and Netflix whenever there’s a gap in the schedule.

But in pandemic life, suddenly there’s nowhere for that sneaky malaise to hide. Your schedule is wiiiiide open and there’s nothing you can do about it.

There are two types of anxiety, as I see it.

There’s the generalised anxiety about the raging dumpster fire that is our planet right now — climate change, systemic racism, political idiocy, uncontrollable public health disasters and so on — all the stuff that as a single individual you are unable to completely solve.

Then there’s the more personalised anxiety:  am I in the right job, am I fulfilling my purpose, do I even have a purpose, am I a good child/partner/friend/parent, am I self-actualised enough, is my life progressing at the right pace, and on and on.

It’s an incredible amount of pressure, from within and without, and some days it’s enough to just make you cry in the shower.

But this is why writing is such an important tool.

It gives you a space to unravel all that pressure. It gives you an opportunity to dig through all those questions, so that instead of endlessly ruminating, you can actually start doing something about them.

When all that anxiety lives in your head, it’s completely amorphous. It’s like smoke, impossible to hold onto. It rolls around your skull seeping into the tiniest spaces, occupying territory it has no right to.

But when you get it down onto the page, suddenly it’s contained, and tangible.

Writing it down shrinks it to the size of your pen strokes, and if you want to, you can rip it up or burn it or eat it or do whatever is going to make you feel like it’s not terrorising you anymore.

Writing transforms anxiety — both the general and the personal — into action. It highlights what you can do to create some sense of control and progress.

There’s nothing else like it, and you can do it right now, this moment, if that transformation is what you need.