photo of man leaning on wooden table

I’m Worried Sick: Normalising Anxiety

Anxiety is a weird one, it’s something I don’t write about online very often or at least not publicly. It is a state of mind with which I have a very strange relationship. I don’t know if this article will be useful to anyone in particular or if people might find any of it relatable or what. To be honest, I am writing this to make myself feel better as I sit here in overwhelmed 🤯🤯🤯 mode (explained below) thinking about my post Christmas to-do list.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Anxiety

As far back as I can remember I’ve been an anxious person. It has always been a governing force in my life, often taking the form “I need to do X to prevent Y from happening”. This works well for certain things:

  • I’d better revise for these exams because if I don’t pass my career options will be limited
  • I’d better keep some money in my savings or else if my car breaks down I will have no way to fix it
  • I’d better do this work on time or the client will be annoyed and pull their contract

To some extent this helps me to maintain my reputation as someone who is dependable and reliable – I always make sure that my work is of high quality and delivered on time, partly because I enjoy the work and the challenge but also partly because I worry about not getting it done.

However, sometimes, anxiety gets in the way, particularly if I have a lot on my to-do list. When I get loaded up with work, a somewhat irrational part of my brain starts getting louder and louder saying “you won’t have time for all this stuff, PANIC! PANIC!” even if, rationally, there is plenty of time. At this point I enter overwhelmed 🤯🤯🤯 mode .

Overwhelmed 🤯🤯🤯 Mode

When I’m in overwhelmed mode my personal life starts to take a hit: I am too worried about getting all my tasks done to enjoy myself during my free time. If I’m not actively working on my to-do list I will, usually, still feel guilty about it. I might sit and doom-scroll or just mope around. I refuse to do fun stuff like visit friends or go on day trips with my wife because these things “won’t fit” into my brain. Often I will just repeatedly state that “I am worried about X” and argue with anyone who tries to reassure me that it’s fine, often resulting in them saying “well what do you want me to say then?” and leaving me to it. Basically, in this state, I am not having fun and those around me are probably not having fun (bless my lovely wife and family for expertly dealing with this).

Escaping Overwhelmed 🤯🤯🤯 Mode

I will write a follow-up post about some techniques for getting out of this mode at some point in the near future. Essentially it all hinges on knowing that I’m in it, once I realise that I can empower myself to take some practical steps and interventions to make myself feel better. That might sound silly, “surely you know you are feeling overwhelmed?” you might think. Surprisingly no, when overwhelmed the brain struggles to get meta and just thinks “I’m too overwhelmed”. Personally, I find mindful meditation, in which you focus on your breathing and make a mental note to yourself every time your mind wanders before returning to your breathe, is good practice for breaking out of this cycle.

My late grandfather also suffered from anxiety. He was more open about it in his latter years. He would often phone me and my father and say “I’m worried sick because…X.” X could be a variety of things. We of course took him seriously and supported him with his concerns (as I would want others to do for me when I am in overwhelm mode), but the phrase itself eventually became a bit of an ice-breaker, an almost light-hearted way for the rest of the family to signal to each other that they might be feeling overwhelmed too.

I know that a lot of people probably struggle with anxiety and don’t feel comfortable talking about it. So, I want to use my privileged position to try to raise more awareness of anxiety and normalise it by talking about it a bit more. I also find about it pretty cathartic, so even if nobody reads this stuff it will have helped me.

In Grandad’s honour I am going to start using on Mastodon when I’m writing about anxiety (my own accounts, techniques+tips or maybe reposting other people’s stuff) and I’m going to start documenting my own feelings more frequently too. If you’re following me for Software Engineering or Artificial Intelligence content then I guess you can set up filters to redact content pretty easily.