I Am Worried About Everything All the Time

Avoiding the black hole of anxiety consumes so much of my energy.

It feels like sleeping is the only time my brain turns off. Even then, my dreams are often haunted by strange anxieties. The other night, I dreamt that I received an angry email from an editor telling me I had done something wrong.

I woke up thinking that was unnecessarily dramatic. Whose stress dreams are about emails, anyway?

But anxiety doesn’t pick and choose what you worry about. Anxiety is simple. It’s all-consuming. Like a black hole whose gravity you can’t escape, it is constantly drawing you further in.

It’s not as if the world is short of things to worry about. Take a look at the news and there is one crisis after another demanding your attention. Personally, I already have plenty of things in my own life to worry about — my bills, student loan debt, figuring out how to finish my degree. But just in case I manage to set aside any of those concerns for a little while, the news has plenty of others for me to hyper-focus on.

For example, I scroll through a news story about the winter storms and power outages in Texas. I worry about the people there, and then feel guilty for thinking about my own emotions instead of the people suffering. I look at organizations to donate to and then worry whether my money will make a difference.

And then I worry about not having enough money to donate to make a difference in the first place. And then I worry about finding a job that will ever pay me enough to use the money I earn to make a difference in the world. But hell, how will I even find a job that pays a living wage if I haven’t finished my degree?

So, you know, there’s a lot to worry about.

I like to listen to songs on repeat to quiet my thoughts when they start spiraling. Lately I’ve been listening to Overwhelmed by Royal and the Serpent. Something about the lyrics are really resonating for a lot of people right now, because the song is a radio hit.

It’s a short song with a catchy beat. Surprisingly soothing. Emotional. But mostly, it’s just relatable to a lot of us right now.

I wrote recently about coping with chronic anxiety during COVID-19. What I didn’t get into is the lengths I’ve gone to in order to address that anxiety.

I try to get enough sleep. I spend a lot of time with my cats. I have a horse and I work on a farm, so I get plenty of exercise and time outdoors. I am writing most days, which is good too. When you know the things that help your anxiety, it’s good to be able to fall back on them at times like this.

These things dim the loudness of worry. But they don’t address the ever-present black hole, always ready to drag you in. And there is so much to worry about right now.

Maybe it’s okay not to be fine at the moment. Maybe we shouldn’t expect anyone to be fine. We are all dealing with immense changes and serious issues. I often wonder if the way to support those of us with debilitating anxiety is just to build room into our systems for mental health days.

What I mean by that is time not centered around being productive. Time to indulge in activities that help us cope and calm down. Hobbies that aren’t side-hustles. Reading that isn’t required for work. More moments with family. Time away from work focused on your mental health.

We live in a society that doesn’t make room for mental health. And right now, we are seeing some of the most serious side effects of that system. My hope is that, moving forward, we start to think about building in more time for what matters into a system that seems focused entirely on draining and stressing its workers out.

Resisting the gravity of the black hole of anxiety consumes so much of my energy — energy I would like to put toward activities I actually enjoy or benefit from. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wasting my energy on a black hole.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know what I want it to hold. That’s what I’m trying to focus on when my anxiety makes my thoughts spiral. I may not know what our post-pandemic world will look like, but I can focus on what I want my life post-pandemic to look like.

I am hoping that will be enough. In the meantime, it has to be.

Science writer wrangling words and horses in the Pacific Northwest. | she/they

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