It usually hits you on Sunday evenings. That overwhelming feeling of anxiety that makes you feel stuck.
It’s been like this for months. You worry, you stress, but you’re struggling to change anything. Frankly, you don’t have the energy to deal with the simplest of things. You feel trapped. Like nothing would help.
First of all. You’re not alone. In a recent survey by Ben the Illustrator, 74 per cent of illustrators admitted they suffer from anxiety. It’s common.
There is no easy solution. I’m not saying what you have is trivial. All I can do is offer some simple tricks to help you make a positive change. Feeling stuck? See whether the following ideas help.
1. Acknowledge the Chimp in your brain
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight. Your anxiety is normal. We all suffer from these common negative thoughts and worries – it’s what makes us human.
In his book, The Chimp Paradox, Professor Steve Peters blames these unwanted feelings on our “inner chimp”, i.e. the primitive part of our brains that is mainly based in the limbic system.
The Chimp is an emotional machine that works with feelings alone. Whereas the more logical and “human” part of our brains lies in the prefrontal cortex and this is where logic and reasoning comes into play. According to Professor Peters, these two parts of the brain act independently. Either of them can become boss, although they can also work together.
Basically, you can manage your inner Chimp. You can stop it from imposing these emotional reactions – you can kick into action the more logical side of your brain that is rational and makes more considered responses to life’s problems.
If you’re feeling anxious and have spiralling negative thoughts, your Chimp is in charge. By understanding how your brain works, you can acknowledge the Chimp and slow down your thinking to allow your prefrontal cortex to take charge instead.
2. Change your perspective
When we’re down, we often allow negative thoughts to overwhelm us. “What if I’m not good enough?” or “What if I’m not doing enough?”. Replace these negative thoughts with positive ones, like, “I am doing the best I can” and “There’s only so much I can do in one day, I need to give myself a break.”
This is a way of telling your own Chimp to calm down, allowing your “human” self to take charge of your thoughts.
Whilst you’re recognising and understanding the wiring of your brain, change your perspective further by counting your blessings. Consider all the things you’re grateful for. Your health, your home, your family. Remind yourself of your wins and successes; how far you’ve come. We forget so it’s important to remember.
If none of the above works, talk to a friend, your partner or family member. Just getting things off your chest can help. And the other person might be able to help you see things from another angle.
3. Be proactive and make some easy changes
To get unstuck, you have to figure out what’s making you feel stuck. Take those recurring negative thoughts and write them down. You might be surprised to discover there’s a pattern. Once you’ve acknowledged the problem, you can take action.
For instance, when I’m feeling anxious, it’s usually to do with whether I’m good enough. I get frustrated that I’m not “better” than I am. You see, so much of my work is online and, through social media, I’m constantly bombarded by the competition, and seeing the amazing stuff everyone else is doing, it can be overwhelming.
I then turn my anxious thoughts into action. I consider a few small things that I can do to counter those negative thoughts. For example, if I think I’m not good enough, I might set aside some time to make improvements to my website. By doing something, I feel better. I feel in control. Like I’ve taken a small step towards solving the “problem”.
Not able to pinpoint the cause of your anxiety? Set aside an afternoon to do something mindful. Paint, create, go for a long walk in the fresh air – the thoughts will unjumble themselves and the theme will become clear. Then you can look at next steps.
If the thought of making any adjustments to your work or life exhausts you, make one tiny change in your everyday routine instead. One that will improve your mental wellbeing. Move your desk so it faces the window rather than a wall. Add a desktop app that reminds you to take regular breaks – try the StretchClock. Visit an art gallery during your lunch break, if there’s one nearby.
4. Look after yourself by enjoying the “moment”
Anxious thoughts tell us that we can’t change anything. That we’re stuck and it’s impossible to “fix” things. That’s simply not the case. It’s the Chimp way of thinking. And it’s why mindfulness is constantly offered as a solution.
By being aware of our Chimp brain, changing our perspective and realising that our thoughts are merely that – thoughts – we can take control and feel better. By concentrating on what we’re doing at this exact moment, we dispel any negativity further as we focus instead on the present.
Not keen on focusing on the breath? You don’t have to turn into a yoga expert, posting pictures of your perfect poses on Instagram. All you have to do is find things you enjoy that help you “switch off” and do them often. Write a list. Whether it’s reading, writing, having a bath, painting, exercising or dancing – add these mindful activities to your calendar and cherish each one.
One final tip: If you’re always getting the Sunday Night Blues, book a meal at a nice restaurant on Monday evenings, so you have something to look forward to. Mondays will never be the same again.